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A Maryland teacher’s journey and hope

/ 11:27 PM July 23, 2011

FILIPINO TEACHERS PICKET the US Department of Labor last July 15 to protest a decision that bars bar a Maryland school district from renewing their work visas. Photo by Zarelle Bernardo/sent by Partido Manggagawa

Gemma Manuel, a mother of three, was an awarded special education (Sped) teacher and was two years into posgraduate education studies when she and hundreds of other Filipino teachers flew to Maryland in 2007. They were recruited to teach in the United States at the Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Although she was doing well in her career at the St. Mary’s Angels College in Valenzuela and Pampanga, earning kudos for her work with autistic students, Gemma grabbed the chance to teach in Maryland. She hit the ground running, determined to overcome the challenges of being in a different culture and structure. She also dealt with the emotional strain of leaving her family behind. Her contract spelled out Gemma could only bring them to Maryland six months later.

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“I constantly reminded myself why I was here. I want to make a difference in the lives of these children, and in the process, better the lives of my own kids,” she said.

It didn’t take long before Gemma’s capabilities caught the attention of her colleagues and superiors at the Arrowhead Elementary School.
On her first year at Arrowhead, Gemma’s class of special students showed greatly improved reading and math scores. “There is nothing like getting approval from colleagues. They saw the dramatic improvement of the students in terms of behavior and learning. That really started a good, collaborative relationship with my team members.”

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The following year, Gemma volunteered to co-teach a class of 3rd and 4th grade kids with a general educator in a program which seeks to mainstream Sped in neighborhood schools. “It was a work assignment that nobody in the teaching staff wanted to take. I wanted to share my skills and mentored a beginner teacher, who eventually became a highly effective teacher.”

Gemma earned her Maryland elementary educator certificate in the spring of 2010. After passing the PRAXIS, a series of tests required by many states and professional licensing organizations, she was assigned another grade level—again showing spectacular results in raising student’s abilities in reading and math.

Aside from her teaching chores, Gemma led several workshops for students and colleagues, including the “Therapeutic Teaching by Teachers.” Students had a say in how a class was carried out, and the rather radical project included yoga, dramatic play and art therapy. For her tireless efforts, she received three FIRST awards, a county program that recognizes teacher’s effectiveness in introducing innovative teaching methods.

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PILIPINO EDUCATORS NETWORK spearheaded the protest action in Washington DC to save the jobs of hundreds of Filipino teachers. Partido Manggagawa, in a statement sent to Inquirer, denounced the US labor department’s decision disbaring their employer from renewing the teachers’ working visas. Photo by Maria Angala

his October, Gemma expects to finish her masteral degree in Sped at St.Joseph’s College. She is in the final stages of writing her thesis.

“My adventure in the US has been very rewarding. I have grown and matured professionally. What drives me is that in and out of the classroom, I am making a positive impact on the children and their families.”

Alas, Gemma and the hundreds of teachers like her who several years ago uprooted themselves and their families to seek better opportunities in the US are now threatened with losing their jobs.

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The US Department of Labor recently barred the Prince George’s County Public Schools from hiring Filipino and other foreign teachers for two years.

Gemma, who is also a staff writer for the American Filipino Teachers Association is hoping for legal relief. Her co-teachers at Arrowhead have thrown their support for Gemma, offering to write testimonials for her. She admits to feeling overwhelmed.

“There is so much uncertainty, of course I worry about my family’s future. My kids are thriving here. But my passion has carried me this far. I leave it all up to the one up above who has brought me so much unexpected blessings and deliverance. I believe there is a reason why my journey has led me and my family to the US,” she said.

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TAGS: Employment, Labor, Maryland, teacher, US, wages
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