By Rodney Jaleco, ABS CBN North America Bureau
Washington DC -Times are changing, says Washington DC special education teacher Marisol Angala and she says the diversity that’s fueled much of the growth in places like the nation’s capital should be reflected in their workers unions as well.
Angala, a University of the Philippines-trained teacher at the Jefferson Academy Middle School for the past decade, has been outspoken and passionate about finding better ways to educate America ’s school children. It’s driven her to an unprecedented campaign for the presidency of the 4,000-strong Washington Teachers Union (WTU).
She is one of hundreds of Filipino teachers – the vanguard of a foreign recruiting binge by US public schools – who were lured by the promise of better pay and a slice of the “American dream”.
They filled an acute teacher shortage especially in tough, rough and tumble inner city schools that struggled to meet standards imposed by the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act. The Filipino mentors can be found virtually everywhere in America , from top-tier East Coast academies to sparse Indian reservations in the New Mexico desert.
“Times have changed,” Angala declared, “and public education has evolved.”
She wants to steer WTU towards her vision of the future. “There’s a battle being waged right now,” Angala averred, “It’s not about unions standing up for teachers; it’s about teachers standing up for themselves through their unions.”
“There are so many things happening right now at the local and national level which lead to frustration, anger and all those are harmful not only to the teachers but also to the children whose lives we continue to influence daily,” she said, adding that “when I empower, encourage and inspire teachers to do their best of the kids, I am impacting the lives of more just the students in my classroom.”
Angala is a familiar face in the education protest scene of DC (something she attributes to years at UP where she says she learned stand up for what’s right). She was WTU’s vice president for special education from 2007-2010, a member of the Asian & Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the Teacher Leaders Network and the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Key Women Educators.
She is board certified as an exceptional needs specialist and was named Outstanding Special Education Teacher (2008-2009) by the National Association for Special Education Teachers (NASET). She also has two blogs – “Digital Anthology” is the online extension of her classroom and “Teacher Sol” where she tackles education-related issues, including the plight of Filipino mentors in Maryland .
She says the “prospects are both exciting and frightening” as she cobbled a multicultural and multi-generational ticket which, she vowed, would bring much-needed changes in the WTU. “We have exceptional candidates in our slate (4 of them are also Filipinos), who carry the promise of being real game-changers because of our diversity, problem solving skills and courage to speak on behalf of our teachers and students,” she explained.
They are pressing for an “objective and fair evaluation system and due process aligned with that system.” She sees the inordinate emphasis on high-stakes tests and the lack of support and resources to teachers as the biggest problems bedeviling the DC Public School system today.
“We should now be thinking how we can change our traditional practices to better reflect the tasks assigned to our schools, teachers and students,” she said, stressing that “teachers should be treated as partners in reforms.”
Her “platform” includes providing more resources to DC public school teachers, lower class sizes especially for schools in poverty-stricken communities, and building respect for teachers.
Unions, she added, are “only as good as their members. I believe we need to set higher expectations and standards for ourselves so we can inspire our students and encourage them to do what it takes to be successful in life. We need to take control of our actions and not sit by as others define effective teaching for us.”
If Angala sounds like she’s gearing for a fight, that’s probably because she’s been there before. A tireless advocate of change, she was part of the WTU panel that negotiated a “progressive” teachers’ contract which led to a 15 caseload limit for special education teachers, among other concessions.
She promised to “rebuild our teacher’s union and make great things happen” as WTU president. The ballots have been mailed out and should be due back in the Post Office by June 7.
Her feisty attitude is stark contrast to the publicity that Filipino teachers have received lately – as hapless victims of illegal recruitment, from Prince George ’s county in Maryland to the Baton Rouge parish in Louisiana . Angala offers the contrasting image of a fighter ready to pounce on behalf of her fellow teachers and perhaps more importantly, for the school kids.