Magic Penny

Over the last several days, we had the opportunity to visit a variety of schools in the province of Iloilo: elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. Most private schools had affluent students with plentiful technology and other resources, while most public schools functioned with large class sizes and severely limited resources. The desks housed in a museum of historical artifacts at one fancy private school would have been welcome additions in the classrooms at some of the public schools, where students sat at broken, rusted desks or had no desks at all.

Typical public school desks.

Typical public school desks

Private school students.

Private school students

No matter the setting, the best resources in every school we visited were the teachers. Universally upbeat, they teach with passion. Each teacher we observed focused not only on imparting knowledge but also on creating a warm, family-like classroom atmosphere. We witnessed no negative interactions between staff and students. Zero yelling, zero put-downs, lots of supportive comments and occasional gentle reminders, always delivered with a genuine smile.

A high school teacher supports a student as he presents.

A high school teacher supports a student as he presents.

An elementary school teacher models respectful listening.

An elementary school teacher models respectful listening.

Like their teachers, students displayed a consistent attitude of resilience. While I was teaching a journalism class, a storm hit, knocking out electrical power. Strong winds blew through the open windows and shattered glass objects in the classroom. The students calmly closed the windows and continued their lesson, completely unfazed. Their American teacher was a little fazed!

Journalism class in the dark

Journalism class in the dark

Intrepid journalism students (with their trepid teacher)

Fearless journalism students (with their slightly fearful teacher)

As we became more comfortable in different school settings, my teaching partner and I eschewed formal presentations for open dialogue with staff and students. Their insightful questions impressed us. Here’s a sample:

How do you think gay marriage will affect life in the United States?

I think it will improve life in the United States!

Is life in the United States as violent as portrayed in movies?

Nope! One student wanted to know how many shootings there had been at my school, and was surprised when I answered zero.

What will you miss most about the Philippines?

That’s an easy one: the people.

What do you really think about gay marriage?

I support it! At one Catholic school, I quoted Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” and students applauded.

When are you coming back? And will you bring those guapo stepsons of yours?

Soon, I hope, and yes, I hope so!

Music is a central part of life in the Philippines. At each school, students sang or danced for us. The fifth graders at Leganes Elementary performed “Magic Penny.” For me, the lyrics exemplify the attitude of the students and teachers of the Philippines:

Joy is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

So let’s go dancing till the break of day,

And if there’s a piper, we can pay.

To the wonderful students and teachers of the Philippines: like a magic penny, I hope to return to you one day! Salamat and palangga ta ka! Thank you and I love you!

Thank you notes from Leganes National High School students. Gratitude is something if you give it away - it comes right back to you.

Thank you notes from Leganes National High School students. Gratitude is something if you give it away – you end up having more.

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