Sabrina Ongkiko: Teaching as a Work of Heart
How many of us dream of becoming teachers?
Sabrina “Sabs” Ongkiko, a 2016 Ten Outstanding Women of the Nation awardee, initially wanted to become a doctor so she studied biology in Ateneo de Manila University. Today she teaches Science and English to grade six students at Culiat Elementary School in Quezon City.
When asked how she got here, Ongkiko says it is a result of several factors that combined her passion for service, her discovery of her skills, and the need of the country for teachers.
Ongkiko has always been passionate to serve others. Growing up, she heard stories from her dad’s meaningful work for those who have less, including building bridges in hard-to-reach areas.
“Noong ako na ang gagawa ng kwento ko, gusto ko malaman anong field ako.” (When it was my time to write my story, I wanted to find out what field I would be in.)
Ongkiko with the Panay-Bukidnon, an indigenous people community in Iloilo (Photo courtesy of Sabrina Ongkiko)
She volunteered for two organizations that made her discover and embrace her teaching and mentoring skills – Alay ni Ignacio, a summer program managed by Pathways to Higher Education dedicated to preparing junior and senior public high school students for entrance examinations to college, and Jesuit Volunteers Philippines, which assigned her as a youth organizer in Iloilo.
“Nakita kong natututo yung mga students sa lessons. May nagbabago.” (I witnessed how students learned from the lessons. There were changes among the students.)
When Ongkiko decided to pursue teaching, she studied in the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore through a scholarship that required her to teach for three years in a Philippine public school upon her return. She was assigned to teach science for grade 5 students at Culiat Elementary School.
The current state of education constantly affirms Ongkiko of the need for quality teachers in the country. With at least 15.9 million public elementary school students (as of 2015) and 377,513 public school teachers (as of 2013), there is an estimated teacher to student ratio of 1:42 (from DepEd datasets).
Ongkiko uses her speaking engagements to spread the message of love. (Photo courtesy of Teacher Leaders for Peace)
As a teacher, Ongkiko gets excited when she sees students building their confidence over time. She is encouraged when students realize that they can learn and get better instead of getting disheartened by failing in exams.
Teaching in a public school, however, has its downside. She shares, “Minsan may mga pumapasok na gutom, pagod, o may problema sa pamilya. (Some of them go to school hungry, tired, or while going through a family problem.) These are often things we cannot control, which even makes it more challenging.”
Ongkiko with some of her students
One of her former students, Gabriel (not his real name), had been a troubled child who did not have the best relationship with his parents. His mother used to be an overseas Filipino worker and this led to strained relations between them. Although Gabriel was smart (being part of the top section), he did not prioritize his education and was always absent or late.
The teachers in Culiat Elementary School worked hard to convince Gabriel to go to school and do better. Even when he had been out of school for several weeks, the teachers gave him one-on-one lessons when he came back so he could catch up with his batchmates. The efforts ended well, with Gabriel graduating from elementary school.
A few months ago, Gabriel messaged Ongkiko on Facebook to let her know that he was still in high school and would continue his studies. He expressed his gratitude to Ongkiko and the other teachers, who helped him graduate.
At least 15 million public school teachers have the same experiences with Ongkiko. Because of their similar plight, she and other teachers founded Kape’t Guro (Coffee and Teacher), a community for teachers by teachers.
Kape’t Guro aims to provide a safe space for teachers to share stories. Teachers meet at least once a month when time permits and bring food to share. Activities include art, music, and sharing of stories by teachers from all levels.
Teachers in one of Kape’t Guro’s sessions (Photo courtesy of Kape’t Guro)
During their sessions, teachers tell stories of their hardships and wins. They try to uplift each other by sharing reasons why they keep going.
“Kape’t Guro is also a word play with Kapit Guro, since teachers often have to depend on each other to go on,” Ongkiko explains.
Ongkiko hopes teachers are more empowered to lead classrooms and schools. She says, “I hope teachers realize that we are powerful enough not only to change lives but also societies. Imagine if all public school students are mentored by empowered teachers, that’s powerful!”
On her other days, Ongkiko also conducts training for teachers in different parts of the country – even in the remote Miarayon, Bukidnon. (Photo by Ross Lu)
Teachers may be licensed to teach science or math, but the real lessons they teach us often go beyond addition, subtraction, or the solar system. More often than not, teachers inspire us to become better persons. With their courageous hope in their students’ ability, teachers teach us how to believe in ourselves and to dream big.
Visit Kape’t Guro’s Facebook