Saturday Success Story Seven: MARIA ANGALA

I am a strong believer that the future of our children depends on the quality of education they have and also the kind of teachers they have. I am sure many of us can still remember that one professor or teacher who have encouraged us to do what is best for us; who believed in us; who wanted us to succeed! We all have that one particular teacher who have touched our lives and have been such a great part of who we are. As a manifestation of this matter, one day while I was having lunch with a bunch of my co-teachers we started to reminisce some of our experiences while we were in school. We started to come up with questions such as: can you still remember the teacher whom you hated so much in high school?; can you still remember the teacher who have really helped you get through high school? We went on and on, until we realized how significant these professionals have been in our growth as educators. We all agreed that because of teachers who had faith in us, we are who we are today!

Part of the reason why I became an educator was because of that! I wanted to impart the knowledge I know and to also mold the minds of our future. I want to be part of the future by building the present.

I am certain that a lot of teachers have chosen this field because of the same reasons. We want to become not just the facilitator of the “classroom” but also a community leader, and maybe a change-agent.

Our Saturday Success Story Seven is an accomplished teacher, who graduated from the University of the Philippines for her undergraduate degree, then established her own special education school in Quezon City. After that, she migrated to the United States as a public school teacher in the Washington DC Public Schools. In 2007, she became as one of school representatives to the Washington Teachers Union Leader and has since been involved in the policymaking, ramifications and other related-issues that support and maintain the credibility of the teachers in the entire Washington DC public schools. Then, in 2009 – after undergoing a year-long documentation and the grueling process of becoming a nationally-recognized and certified teacher in the United States, she became one of the elite teachers from the fifty states as a National Board Certified Teacher. This is the highest award a teacher in the United States could have under her belt.

Ms. MARIA ANGALA, also known to many as Teacher Sol shares us her insights as an outstanding Filipino teacher in the United States’s public education.

1. Tell us about yourself; your philosophy in life and your background.
I grew up in the Philippines and graduated from the University of the Philippines. I call myself an accidental Special Educator, because it wasn’t my plan to be in this field. My childhood dream was to become a doctor. And I was in medicine proper, in full scholarship, when I realized I was called for another profession. My goal is not to win. It is to play with a team and play hard, then winning takes care of itself. As a special education teacher I do not work in isolation, I work cooperatively with other teachers, parents, social workers, speech pathologists, and other specialists in my field to provide meaningful instruction and support for my students and, thus, further their academic performance in school. I love having conversations with people and learning about the different ways people think and address particular issues. I have a blog: http://teachersol.blogspot.com and I love Twittering (Twitter page http://twitter.com/TeacherSol) and my Facebook ID: Maria Angala.
2. We all know you are an award-winning SPED teacher and union representative, what is your philosophy in education?
My exposure to Special Education at the Center for Developmental Intervention Foundation at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center has left me deeply encouraged to be with special children who are in need of time and affection. I realized that if a regular child yearns for attention from people, more so with special children. Unfortunately, most of them have been fed with a diet of leftovers- leftover love, leftover patience, leftover laughter, leftover stories, leftover kindness, leftover energy, leftover everything. I did not fail myself by not fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a doctor, I feel that I am now in a better position. As a special education teacher I don’t look after people’s physical health but the child’s mental health. I don’t dissect people’s brain but I open my students’ minds in wonder. I don’t cut people’s hearts, rather, I touch their hearts. With what I do now I am able to save lives in a different way. I have learned so much as a member of the Washington Teachers Union (Local6 of the American Federation of Teachers) executive board (2007-2010), from policymaking, keeping relationships with the staff and partners, to establishing rapport with my colleagues. I have also learned and internalized some core values in life, that it is important for us executive board members to be team players, to respect each other’s views, and to collectively adopt a “can-do” attitude and to be willing to pitch in to get the union’s work done…it’s all about teamwork!
3. Would you please explain to us your teaching experiences in the United States? What brought you here? Your first year hurdles as a teacher and as an immigrant worker.
Seven years ago I was directly hired by DC Public Schools from the Philippines to teach in one of our inner-city public schools. I started as a struggling teacher who was in the dark not knowing how and what to teach my students effectively. The educational system was completely different from where I came from adding to the language and cultural barriers. Honestly, I was not ready for the challenges and I feel like I horribly failed my students and the expectations of the parents. I spent my first three years just struggling to survive in the classroom. One of the immortal quotes that Maya Angelou said was: “We will sometimes have defeats in life but you can have defeats without being defeated, you can fail without being a failure. Winners see failure and defeats as merely part of the process to get to win.” It stuck in my heart. I wanted to be an accomplished teacher, I worked very hard, I survived, and I thrived…things are different now.
4. A lot of us are wondering what is NBCT? Would you please explain to us?
From its website, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards improves teaching and student learning. National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) are highly accomplished educators In America who meet high and rigorous standards. Like board-certified doctors and accountants, teachers who achieve National Board Certification have met rigorous standards through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review. NBPTS offers 25 certificates that cover a variety of subject areas and student developmental levels.
5. What made you want to take part in the NBCT? I know the process is really rigorous, in fact when you tried it the first year, I was reading all about your preparation, the paperwork you had to complete, videos you had to take and document, etc. How was the first process different from the second time?

I remember years ago when I was sitting with the audience listening to new National Board Certified Teachers in our school district deliver their reflections during a reception ceremony for them. I was deeply moved with how the National Board process transformed them as educators that I told myself that one day I’m going to be like them: accomplished, confident, and inspiring. In November of 2009, I made it happen.
6. What made you really go for it, even if you failed during your first try to become an NBCT?
I did not become an effective teacher overnight, knowledge and implementation of the core propositions of the national teaching standards and best practices over time made me the educator that I am today. This has been the most challenging but my most rewarding professional development experience as a teacher! Each round made me a better teacher that my students deserve; each year showed increase in my students’ achievement as evidenced by their authentic work and not just test scores. Being a National Board Certified Teacher is a “dream come true”, it is what made me the accomplished teacher that I am today.
7. How did your perspective as a teacher and a member of the educational community changed after you were awarded the NBCT?
I feel that I am now a more effective teacher who can better prepare America’s diverse student population with the skills it needs to go to college, have a good career and compete in the 21st century workplace.
8. Who were your mentors? How did they help you become who you are today?
After going through a long and meaningful introspection, I realized that working with the people who have the same mission, who I call my mentors, has taught me to fully understand my role as a teacher leader. They are the people who’s always encouraged me and gave me the confidence when I prefer to walk the path less travelled. I realized that when I empower, support, encourage and inspire the teachers to do their best for the kids, I am impacting the lives of more than just the students in my classroom.
9. What would be your advice to aspiring teachers in general? How about for the Filipino teachers who dream to teach in the United States – what would you advise them?
To all our aspiring and great educators, we are in the most noble profession because we touch the future. We need to set higher expectations and higher 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 make a strong decision to take control of our actions and not just to sit by and let others define effective teaching for us. We are the key players in the education arena and not just mere instruments in this education reform. We need to make our voice heard and let everyone know what matters most to our students that we, classroom teachers, better understand.
10. Finally, do you think you are successful? Why or why not?  
For me success is not just being wealthy, or owning a huge business firm, I don’t have that. It manifests to me in the small things of daily life. I always enjoy it many times, every day, like watching one of my struggling students read a grade level passage for the first time in class is success to me as his teacher, or learning how to cook a new recipe. It is all these things and many more!

Daily with you,

- Alpha

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To read other inspiring Success Stories, click here.