Meet teacher Fredierick Castulo, an elementary school teacher for the indigenous Palaw’an tribes in Barangay Ransang, Rizal who has been trying his hardest best to cope with the so-called “new normal” teaching that takes into regard the present pandemic.

“Itong panahon ng pandemic naging mas challenging ang buhay bilang isang guro. Mas magiging researcher ka kasi need mo matuto online, which most of the reports are online and meetings are virtual. While on meeting naka open ang camera at nakikita ang mukha kahit need i-off, naririnig ang mga usapan at sigawan na dapat ay i-mute,” Castulo said.

Even in fulfilling his administrative routines and obligations, teacher Fredierick often finds himself in awkward situations.

“May mga online reports na kailangan umakyat ng puno, isabit ang cellphone o kaya ang wifi, maglakad ng malayo (sa kabilang bundok), maulanan, magbaon pang maghapon (sardinas the best), matumba sa motor, magtawid ng ilog, para sa online submission. Nakaka-self-fulfilling kapag na send mo na reports  pero nakaka-smile din pag minsang hindi mai-count report mo o kaya may mali sa ginawa mo,” he added.

Fredierick is also the acting teacher-in-charge of Balen-Balen Elementary School (BBES) in the far-flung barangay.

Fredierick said he didn’t realize that COVID-19 would have so much effect on his life. Among the challenges is learning how to cope online — researching, doing reports, and even attending virtual meetings when connectivity is weak.

He said he is undeterred even if he had to climb trees to get a better signal or hang his mobile phone higher on a ledge to submit his reports, walk hours, brave heavy rains, fall on the muddy road with his motorcycle, cross the river, and eat sardines for his whole day meal because teaching is his passion and he believes in the importance of education.

“Tinitingnan ko siya as positive kasi alam natin na mahirap dito sa lugar namin, mahirap ‘yong sitwasyon dito kasi IPs ang aming learners at parents, hundred percent ng aming learners. Tini-take namin as challenge kung paano namin ma-i-deliver ‘yong lesson na dapat nila matutunan,” he said.

Fredierick said he started teaching about two years and eight months ago. He admitted that the current modified or blended learning setup of teaching is “new” to him as what most of the educators are experiencing.

He said he is only starting to realize how it has become different from the usual face-to-face learning in school.

As an extension school, Balen-Balen Elementary School has no Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses or MOOE budget. It continues to educate by relying on the shares given by the mother school to support the need for printing of modules and sanitation such as extending supplies of alcohol.

Aside from the struggle experienced in preparing the modules, Fredierick is one of the five teachers in their school who needs to walk in mountains for an hour to reach the other number of students.

Their school depends on the weekly learning plan to be guided on what the students should learn within the week. The distribution and retrieval of modules happens every Friday.

“Nitong first week namin, sobrang hirap sa parents kasi hard for them to understand, read and write so mahirap ang kanilang kalagayan kaya nag-request kami sa aming mayor na mag-ikot kami para i-guide ang mga bata sa kanilang modules from Mondays to Thursdays,” he said.

Fredierick is tasked to teach a multi-grade level (grades three and four) with a total population of 40 students. Balen-Balen Elementary School has now a population of around 120 students who are all members of the indigenous Palaw’an tribe.

Even it is risky due to the threat of transmission, he said that they are assuring that they are compliant with the minimum health protocols to also protect themselves while doing their job.

He said they would even expose the modules under direct sunlight believing it as a way to prevent the spread of the virus.

He added that their school plans to do mapping of households that have someone who is literate in reading to address the issue in distance learning and the challenges of teaching the students. The Department of Education (DepEd) also provided forms to indicate the interventions needed to assist the students to cope with the lessons.

“Nagpa-plano kami for mapping na sinasabi, which yong mapping, meron naman household na marunong magbasa, kunyare si student A at B ay hindi marunong magbasa pero si student C ay meron naman, pwede naman sila sumama kay student C para matulungan sila. Iyon ang ginagawa namin para tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang learning ng bata kahit di namin sila mapuntahan sa dami nila,” he said.


Love for teaching

“Personally, malapit ako sa bata, gusto ko talaga na may batang matuto lalo na sa IP community. May mga bata na nagsasabi na hindi na raw sila tutuloy mag-aral, may parents na naiiyak pero patuloy namin in-encourage na mag-aral though may risk nga ng COVID pero as long na mag-iingat naman,” he said.

Fredierick shared that his “pure love” for teaching and his family continuously motivate him to pursue his profession despite of the challenges and the high risk of exposure to the virus.

“Love ko kasi talaga ‘yong teaching at family ko, sa post ko, ako na ‘yong bumubuhay sa family ko, parents ko may sakit din, may stroke, dalawang kapatid ko nag-aaral, kumbaga ito rin ‘yong pinakasandalan namin, ‘yong work ko. Pero love ko talaga ang teaching,” he said.

He said that their school is still in need of supplies of bond papers for modules. Aside from the share they get as an extension school, they are also sourcing out from friends to support the needs in preparing under the new normal set up of education.

“Personal na diskarte na rin, meron na rin kaming hugot sa sariling bulsa para lang ma-i-provide namin ang kailangan ng bata pero ‘yon ay hindi pahirap sa amin, sama-sama kaming tumutulong para ma-provide ‘yong para sa mga bata at the same time ay hindi namin napapabayaan ang mga pamilya namin,” he said.

“Sobrang challenging sa part namin bilang mga guro kung paano namin tuturuan ang mga bata, paano namin ibibigay sa kanila lahat ng kanilang pangangailangan in terms of learning. Pero ‘yon ay tini-take namin as positive dahil kami ay isang guro, hindi kami ‘yong unang mamomroblema kundi kami ‘yong unang sasagot ng mga problema,” he added.

Fredierick recently drew support from netizens after he posted online his experience and insights as a teacher under the new normal landscape of education. He shared the struggle of an educator especially those who need to walk and distribute modules on far-flung areas, challenges in signal to submit their reports.