BRENDA BACOSA-FELIZARTE was born and raised in a small island town of AGUTAYA, in the Province of PALAWAN. The island is a four-hour motor boat ride from Cuyo, then another island hop to a bigger boat to the provincial capital – Puerto Princesa City. On a rough sea this would mean another 14 hours of braving the big waves and sea sickness. Traversing the ocean symbolizes Brenda’s great journey from Palawan to America.
As the only rose among the thorns and the eldest in the brood, Brenda assisted her younger brothers in doing household chores, including their homework and school projects. To support their family, Brenda had to go around town selling fresh fish caught by their tatay. “Tatay was my first teacher. His wide back would be my study table. He would play games of words with me, mostly from Reader’s Digest and newspapers used as wrappers for commodities sold in small sari-sari stores. He made me believe that education is the one and only key to succeed in life,” she shares.
Brenda finished her elementary years as a consistent second honor from grade 1 to grade 6 and completed high school with an honorable mention. She had a very strong commitment to her studies.
After high school, she needed to help her four brothers to attend high school too. Being the eldest, she had to bear the family’s financial burdens. She worked as a saleslady in one of the biggest department stores in Cuyo, owned by the Ching family. For 6 long years her tiny physique had to go through so much work. Brenda recounts, “I enjoyed those years, financing my family’s basic needs. (This) is what older children have to take care of in addition to sending all my younger brothers in high school. I have no regrets. We have a commitment that when they’re done, I will continue my studies in college.”
She dreamt of being an accountant, having been influenced by her bookkeeping experience while working as a saleslady but she did not have enough money to pay for tuition. “I worked full time at my aunt’s dry goods store in the old public market in Puerto Princesa City and waited ’til the second semester and this time, I found myself taking the entrance examination at then Palawan State College. I made it to the scholarship. I was an academic scholar from first year and that helped me finish my course in Elementary Education. I never even expected that I will earn a Latin Honor on my graduation day. I was grateful for the people who helped me vault my energy, challenged my intellectual ability, and pushed me almost to the edge. My college days were spent well and good. I was a walking entrepreneur. I sold papers, pencils, ball pens, candies, anything you need; I have what a student needs. I chose to stand in the middle aisle of the school bus for half fare and save the other half for the next day. There were times when I went around the apartment complex, getting laundry from my neighbors. I felt great helping them while earning a little for school.”
“After graduation, I was very lucky to have worked with the only state college in the province then – the Palawan State College. I have taught all grade levels during my formative years in this institution, a total of 15 wonderful and thoughtful years with the Laboratory Elementary School! I did not only work with my students as I also worked with their parents. I served as a cooperating teacher to hundreds of student teachers during those years. I made every effort to provide them with strong background in content knowledge, pedagogical theories, and teaching methods. I provided them field experiences that will expose them to different classrooms and students. These experiences included practice in lesson planning and instructional delivery.
“After the completion of my master’s degree in education, I was assigned in college where I taught courses that are foundations and preliminaries to student teaching. This time, my students are adults and behave differently than my young students in elementary. Later that year, I was designated Chairperson of the Elementary Department with a total of 50 Faculty members in both elementary and college level, and almost a thousand students in both levels as well. It was a tough job leading, training, attending meetings with the university administrators, traveling to different places to attend workshops and seminars, but the reward was remarkable! I got to mingle and meet with other educators from the national level. Those were some of the perks of being a teacher!
Being an educator and an administrator, taught me to consider all my patrons – the faculty, staff, students, and their parents. I was responsible for overseeing the administrative duties in my department and ensure a safe and productive learning environment both for my faculty members and the students. I believe that teachers should not just confine their students in the classrooms, instead, extend into their home and communitie and even in the world. Today, information is not bound primarily on books alone, it is now available everywhere in bits and bytes.
“Those were my busiest years! Teaching, leading, and administering faculty, staff and students can be truly draining but I always take the stride a step at a time, no rush! I was very much attached with my students, making sure they were learning, knowing their parents are around to support them and certainly my faculty, with my steadfast trust that they are doing great jobs training our students. Our cohesive goal was to raise our graduates’ passing rate in the teachers’ board exam and we surely hit the mark! Thanks to my hardworking faculty and staff.
“My heart is in teaching- no doubt about this! Reading the excerpts of Parker J. Palmer’s ‘We Teach Who We Are,’ I came to a point where I knew in my heart, that is who I am! Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. I teach with my heart and soul in it so I can move my students, the lessons and that’s how I played the game for us to be together in it. I spent 25 years of teaching in our country and found that it matters most because I thought, God has prepared me for what I am doing in this beautiful country right now.
“Moving out of my comfort zone was not a great feeling at all. I have fears but learned to adapt with the new culture, new system, new conducts of instructions, everything seems new to me. I battled that fear inside, for my family and love ones left in the country and I have to take care of myself as well. Living with other nationalities helped me to adjust with the new culture, it helped me to be stronger inside and out, while struggling with homesickness. My teaching license was only good for the contract I signed, or I can renew it by passing eight examinations, then I will get a professional teaching license. I worked three jobs at a time to get through. With those jobs I had, I always leave an impression that ‘I am a Filipino, hardworking, endowed, capable, competitive, and person-oriented.’ I earned a lot of compliments for being one!
“I started working as a Family Advocate Assistant at the University of Minnesota, where I worked with children who are considered at-risk and vulnerable. On evenings during weekdays, I teach English and Math at Volunteer to America. On both institutions, I worked with different people around the world. I was still on my learning stage all those years. I wanted to start looking deeper and understanding people, apart from me. I started off networking with families and friends and found myself working in a child care center, caring for very young infants to school agers. It was a part time job but I felt, it is even more hefty and difficult working out with people who are providing care but I am dumbfound knowing more and more about the young population. I got hooked in early childhood education from then on.
“While working full time as a teacher in St Paul City School, one of the charter schools in the Twin Cities, I also work part time as a Director of Excellent Child Care Center. I do reports of the program to the Department of Human Services (DHS). I led a workforce of 30 providers while at the same time, earning my second master’s degree in English as a Second Language. This experience led me to love early childhood education even more.
“I have also served as a science instructor at MAD Science of Minnesota for two straight years. This is an after-school course that students enroll in while waiting for their parents to pick them up. It inspired me working hands-on with students whose science skills are at its peak! We shoot spaceship on winter, mix paints without having our hands dirty, make dough without water and many more! I love when I see my students’ eyes spark. Those sparks I see in their eyes, the notes and emails from their parents, telling how their children used to hate science until they got into my class, really encouraged me to perfect my presentation every week. I was the most requested instructor back then.
“Consequently, I work as a CDA National Council, Professional Development Specialist, where I observe, retain and renew candidates to be certified for Child Development Associate or CDA. I was able to help the national council conduct and determine verification visits with CDA candidates to assess competency and support teachers’ growing skills. This directed me to apply as a trainer of child care providers in the state of Minnesota. I am one of the Master Trainers recognized by ACHIEVE, Child Care Aware of MN, and the Department of Human Services, also in the state of Minnesota. I design my own classes that I consider will boost child care providers’ teaching skills and leadership roles. The agency needs quality training from trainers who have background on content knowledge and training skills in early childhood, where knowledge will be applied to practice and effectively communicate this and other skills, facilitate adult learning and should be committed to strengthening children, families and communities that will ensure high standard of quality care providers. I have received several recognitions from different agencies of the government for my persistence and determination in the field of early childhood education. Slowly but surely, I am making a name not only for myself and my family but for the country I love the most, Philippines!
“I will never hesitate looking at the mirror and not run from what I see, I am sure and I know myself well enough now, and that is crucial to good teaching. My students’ parents will always commend the efforts I am doing with their children and communicating their essential milestones. I believe that good teaching cannot be reduced to technique, it comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. I am grateful that I was trained by passionate teachers and in every class I teach, I always connect with my students. I use that on the degree to which I know and develop trust and will always make myself available in the service of learning. I listen to their stories as they listen to mine, as well. Overwhelmed with students’ behavioral issues? I take a step back and investigate why these problems are occurring in the first place. As I investigate, I found some solutions to the problem like classroom atmosphere, so I brainstorm ways of developing relationships with them. I guess the book, “Teach Like a Champion” by Doug Lemov, has all the answers to some of the teachers’ issues in the classroom.
“Normally, towards the end of the year, I work on a power point slide presentation sharing my travel from the Philippines to the United States, how I finished my college and got a job, how I studied hard to achieve my dream, all those heart talks! I thought that letting them know where I came from is an essential thing to share and hopefully inspire them to do the same. Sometimes, during story telling time, I would have to hold my tears but my heart knows I have shared an authentic story of my life and have moved their tiny souls.
Right now, I am still working on my passion, “teaching”. Animated by this passion, I promised that I will continue to care for, help young children to learn, be patient with them, believe that they will succeed, and that no matter what, I will never give up on them! I will continue to be an advocate of early childhood. I have put up a website for early childhood educators, where I can share some of the reflections while I work in the field, most of which are proven teaching strategies for early childhood.
“To all young and smart boys and girls out there, never cease dreaming, work hard to succeed in life, let not poverty stop you, rather be a strong push to the achievement of your dreams. Keep going, your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Tough situations build strong people in the end.”
POVERTY IS NOT A HINDRANCE TO SUCCESS…