By FLORANTE LACHICA*
The story of the young teacher who took her life to get away from the stressful and enormous workload has been a hot topic circulating on social media in the past few days. Her colleagues even launched a “Justice” Facebook page where expressions of grief and sympathies flooded. They were seeking justice while ranting against piles of paper work the DepEd has been requiring. They also expressed concerns that if their sentiments were left unattended, such incident would happen again in the future.
The fate of Emylou Malate of La Paz, Leyte, exemplifies the dismal condition of our public school teachers nationwide. In our Division, the teachers lamented they could relate much to the lady teacher’s anxieties and pain, as if they were in teacher Emylou’s place battling the pressure of beating the deadline to submit lesson plans and school reports, the apprehension that she might get admonished or even shamed when she failed, the stress that was slowly taking its toll on her health and family, and all those hostile circumstances that she went through before she ended her life.
A teacher-friend who has been in the service for a quite long time is now contemplating of early retirement. He moans for his backache and blurred eyesight due to his stillness in front of his laptop working on unending school reports. A female teacher is also tearfully narrating how her husband turned unfaithful because she failed in her duty as a wife. Another male teacher who suffers from Diabetes even lambasted the Deped for being adherent to foreign dictates that mostly translate into mountains of paper work.
Most of them pointed out they are human beings and not machines, and that they, too, have families and children to attend to. Also adding to their headaches are their daily subsistence, allowances for their children, medications, home repairs, unpaid loans and other household problems.
Ironically, the Deped was quick to deny the “overworked” factor as the major cause of Teacher Emylou’s depression that eventually led to her demise. Instead of easing the burden the teachers are clamoring for, it even questions their mental and professional fitness, proposing for them to undergo mental health education. It offers insignificant solutions like maximizing the use of technology to manage stress and work pressures, without considering the use of such can no longer cope with the increasing volumes of paper work it is obliging the teachers to work on. It says that making lesson plans and school reports are parts of a teacher’s life, insinuating its intention not to give the teachers the break that they need. Obviously, the DepEd missed the point or just deliberately disowned the responsibility that the kind of work it was demanding from its workforce had contributed much to the deterioration of their physical and mental well-being.
DepEd’s formation of mechanisms to address teachers’ grievances is just for a show. Our traumatic experiences would attest that teachers who aired their grievances were usually met with negative response, inactions or even insults. Revolting statements such as “get out of the teaching profession if you cannot endure, or teaching is your bread and butter so you must sacrifice, or build your own school if you have questions, or wait until you become a principal” and other offensive remarks were often heard from our superiors, bringing us heartaches, developing hatred among us, and diminishing our dignity as teachers. Some teachers just chose to keep their mouth shut or turned blind and would just go with the flow, otherwise, they would be given additional workloads, or their performance rating and promotions would suffer.
What more is disheartening is the fact that amid the tormenting workloads and bitter treatment, the Filipino teachers are getting just a penny compared to their Asian counterparts. Teachers in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are receiving salaries 10-20 folds higher than those in the Philippines. The unceasing price increases of every commodity, not just of prime commodities nowadays, brought by the anti-people TRAIN law has extremely reduced our teachers’ take home pay. Not to mention the inadequacy of education tools and school facilities that compels the teachers to empty their pockets to provide for their teaching needs. No wonder why most teachers live in dire economic conditions and thrive at the mercy of lending institutions. The exodus of teachers abroad looking for greener pasture is inevitable as well, and the government is silent for its ruinous consequences.
The death of Teacher Emylou has reminded us that our struggle is far from over. Overworked yet underpaid, our teachers shall be more united and militant. The punishing situation at work and the economic deprivation that are gradually killing our teachers shall embolden us more to organize ourselves, be strong enough to advance our interests, uphold and promote our democratic rights and welfare. We shall be steadfast in our struggle and work hand in hand with our teachers’ unions for stress-free working conditions, professional growth and economic security.
Our struggle and collective efforts shall be as massive as the paper work required of us to accomplish. It shall be unrelenting until such time the Deped corrects itself and repudiates its anti-teacher programs and policies to avoid another Teacher Emylou in the future. The “Justice” Facebook page is clear in its message for DepEd to ponder on, “She took her life thinking it was the easiest way out of all the gazillion paper work a public teacher is required to pass … Our main goal is to educate children and not the endless paper work that would just end up in the trash bins after being checked.”
Let not Teacher Emylou’s death be in vain. # nordis.net
*Florante Lachica is a public school teacher and the Secretary General of ACT Region 1 Union.