10. For the longest time Peggy only worked with one teacher, but she didn’t know if she could handle much more. She hoped to teach Mrs. Acuin enough new math that she could teach her students, but she felt so unsure of herself that Peggy ended up doing most of the teaching. Only … Peggy, after a while, began to wonder how much teaching she was doing. To find out she gave a short quiz. She didn’t put grades on the papers, but if she had, she saw that not more than 8 or 9 (out of a class of more than 40) would have passed.
The trouble was that these kids had learned practically no math in their previous years of schooling. And the class was one of the lowest sections of fourth graders at the school. Some spoke almost no English (when English was the medium of instruction), and many could barely read. Their subtraction was atrocious (43 – 7 = 41, or even 46 – 8 = 54), and their multiplication was worse (63 divided by 9 equals 71 or 49 divided by 7 equals 5).
Peggy had worked with multiplication and division with these kids. She used 3rd and even 2nd grade techniques, but she had to start at almost zero with them. It was also the first time they were forced to think and reason (new math required this). Peggy thought if she could take them at her own pace, she could really begin to lay a foundation, but they were forced to follow, at least halfway, a prescribed “budget of work.” And it didn’t provide for treating 4th graders … even the slowest section … as 2nd graders.
Peggy thought that the Filipino school system was really in sad shape. They were pushing an “Emergency Plan” because the school-age population was growing much faster than could possibly be coped with. Schools were on double shifts, meaning that the children got five straight hours of classes, with a 15 or 20 minute “recess-lunch.” The classes were big … anywhere from 40 to 60 students … and the children’s desks were unbelievably small.
The poor teachers got the worst deal. A beginning teacher’s salary was P200 per month, but her take-home pay was more like P140 per month. From this she (there were few men) had to buy all the supplies she needed, including brooms and floor-wax for her rooms. Textbooks were scarce, and duplicating machines non-existent. This meant that everything had to be written on chalkboards or on large pieces of paper, which could be thumb tacked to the blackboard. Some of the morning teachers arrived as early as 5:30 a.m., in order to get ready for their classes, which began at 7:00 a.m. The afternoon teachers had to try to get to the board while the morning teachers were still trying to carry on their classes.
Primary teachers (grades 1-4) taught 12 classes every day … which meant 12 lesson plans every night. Was it any wonder that only the surface was frequently touched … especially when classes were only 30 minutes long. Peggy easily spent all evening preparing for one class and was thankful that she didn’t have twelve.
10. A single stick of gun (Doublement) cost 5 cents, and we didn’t think we’d enjoy chewing it at that price.
11. During those early days our weekends were just as busy as our workweek. Naturally we attended quite a few plays … all of them in Tagalog. One Sunday we went to a beach with some other volunteers. Although it wasn’t a very clean place, we had fun picking up seashells; and it was a relaxing day. The next Sunday the husband of a University of Philippines professor (of social work) took two other couples and us to Taygaytay, a lake resort overlooking a steaming volcano. And the following weekend we had some drama people over to our place on Friday night and some nationalistic Filipinos over on Sunday night. And Peggy’s principal kept saying to let him know when we had a free weekend.
12. The head of my department at the University of Philippines felt very strongly that part of my duty as a professor was to read a lot. Since working in the theater before my Peace Corps days allowed little time for reading, I really took advantage of the attitude at the university. I bet I read 12 or 15 plays in a couple of weeks. I also prepared for two of the courses I later taught there: Children’s Theater and Directing. Then every afternoon I crossed the city to Fort Santiago, where I worked for PETA (the Philippine Educational Theater Association), helping Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (and many other Filipinos) create a national theater in the fort.
13. During those first months we saw some nasty weather caused by a typhoon. It rained, and the wind blew worse than we had ever seen it blow. The typhoon was predicted to hit Manila directly, but the city was lucky because the full force of the storm didn’t hit it. But many trees were uprooted, and hundreds of poorly built homes were destroyed. Electric wires were down all over the city. We were lucky: we only lost two windows, and by 7:00 p.m. we had electricity again.
Peggy expressed how she felt watching the storm in this way: “It made me feel very helpless: nature had changed the plans of the whole city of Manila. Randy and I were lucky that all it did to us was change our plans for one day.”
Peggy and Randy Ford