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Journal of Academic Research 03:3 (2018), pp. 1-13

Lived Experiences of Elementary Teachers in a Remote School in Samar, Philippines

Ailyn B. Quejada 1 , Ronald L. Orale 2

1 DepEd, Villareal District, Villareal, Samar, Philippines 2 Samar State University, Catbalogan City, Philippines shameng_aning@yahoo.com

Abstract: To date, remote schools in the Philippines still faces scarcity of teaching resources and teachers are continuously challenged in delivering quality basic education in the countryside. The conditions of far-flung schools require passionate, committed teachers to provide the much needed

services. This study tried to document the lived experiences of six far-flung elementary school

teachers in south-western part of Samar. Experiences of teachers in this school are similar to many teachers in Geographically Isolated and Depressed Area (GIDA) in the country. The school, their students, and the community exhibit poverty. The school lacks the much-needed teaching-learning resources. Many students are slow-learners, and some are non-readers. The families of the students are poor; some skips meals and could not afford to buy school supplies for their use. Teachers need to ride a motorcycle and walk for kilometers in sometimes slippery/muddy trails to reach the school. Some students come from adjacent barangays and also walk daily to school. To facilitate learning, teachers shed a portion of their salaries to buy school supplies for classroom use. Giving money for food and school supplies for students is also common to them. Despite fulfilling experiences for serving a deprived community, teachers in this study are also looking forward to a much better assignment in the future.

Keywords: GIDA, far-flung school, elementary school, ethnographic study, teaching, poverty

1. Introduction

Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world (USAID, 2013). Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education of the United States during the World Bank Human Development Forum have said that education eliminates gender inequality, reduce poverty, create a sustainable planet, prevent needless deaths and illness and foster peace (USED, 2011). But not everyone is given a chance to enjoy this privilege. There are about 263 million children, and youth that are not in school (UNICEF, 2016) and 759 million adults are illiterate (Humanium, nd). These conditions have deprived them of the much-needed know-how necessary to improve both their living conditions and those of their children (ibid).

The Philippines constitution emphasized the importance of education. Article XIV Section 1 of the 1987

Philippine Constitution states that the state shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all. However, UNESCO (nd) says, less than 10% of children of primary school age (6-11 years old) in the Philippines are out of school. In the report by PSA (2017), less than 2% are not attending formal school. Family matters, financial concern, lack of interest, hunting for work and health conditions are the top reasons for not attending classes (ibid). Accessibility of school is just shared by about 0.9% of them (ibid), one of the lowest in the world. The Philippine government is exerting efforts to make schools especially elementary level accessible to all barangays. This initiative has resulted in about 94.5 percent of school-aged children enrolled in the elementary levels (House of Representatives, 2017). Quality of education received by students will depend

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on the facilities and the facilitators of learning. Far-flung schools are often deprived of the much-needed facilities (Figueroa et al., 2016; Philrights.Org, 2016) and teachers who are exposed to various types of stress which may affect performance (Hartney, 2016; Rabago- Mingoa, 2017).

Teachers or learning facilitators are key support person who is responsible for supervising/facilitating the learning process and activities of the learner (Congress of the Philippines, 2001). In general terms, the most common role of a teacher plays in the classroom is to teach knowledge to children. Teaching is a vocation more than a mere job (Cookson, 2005); some termed it as a calling (Bluestein, 2010); concepts that are more associated with religion. Contextually, education is considered as such due to the extreme dedication to delivering the expectation or beyond at all cost.

According to Enhanced Basic Education Information System (EBEIS) of the Department of Education and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) survey, there were 37,697 public elementary schools, and 12,225 of these are multi-grade for various reasons such as low enrolment, and lack of teachers (SEAMEO INNOTECH, 2013). Many of these schools are isolated and sparsely populated, geographically inaccessible or lack of educational resources making multi-grade classes the best option (ibid). Department of Education database listed 3,684 public elementary schools in Eastern Visayas 688 of which are in Samar (DepEd, nd).

Additionally, Samar is one of the poorer provinces in the country (PSA, 2017) with communities in the far-flung villages or geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) as the poorest. Areas considered as GIDA are still many in Samar (see figure 1).

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Teacher’s in these areas needs to walk kilometers of rough terrains. In the Philippines; few research articles have documented lives of teachers in GIDA areas. Documentary from news agencies has illustrated their ordeal to deliver their services to children. These are stories of an elementary teacher who walks 23 kilometers daily (Legaspi, 2012), or trekking into the mountains (Mallari, 2010), conducting classes anywhere available (Umil, 2015) and other challenges.

anywhere available (Umil, 2015) and other challenges. Figure 1. Geographically Isolated and Depressed Areas (GIDA)

Figure 1. Geographically Isolated and Depressed Areas (GIDA) in Samar (Reliefweb, 2014)

2. Objectives

This paper aims to present the lived experiences of teachers in remote areas of Samar.

3. Methodology

3.1. Design. The study used an ethnographic research design. It explored the lives of teachers in a far-flung elementary school somewhere in south- western part of Samar. The data presented are from the perspectives of the teacher- participants.

3.2. Sample and Setting. The setting was one of the remote schools in Southwestern Samar with six teachers. A meeting was

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held to give the participants information about the study and sought consent. Teacher-participants received research brief for more details.

3.3. Data Collection. Collected data come

from the observation and interviews. Data drawn from the reflections of participants towards their experiences as teachers in a far-flung school as well as their interaction with the community were also gathered. The observer blended with the students and the community to minimize disruption of their day-to-day activity. The recorded interviews were transcribed when the participants were not around.

3.4. Data Analysis. Observation data,

conversation transcript, recordings were

coded. Data sets were re-arranged and analyzed to give a clear picture of the experiences of teacher-participants.

3.5. Ethical Considerations. Permission

from the head of the school was sought before the conduct of the study. Participants' informed consent/waiver was obtained before data collection commenced. Assurance to the participants that their anonymity will be secured was emphasized. The participants were

informed that they were free to withdraw from the proceedings at any time without any explanation.

4. Results and Discussion

The study locale is one of the remote schools in one of the School Districts of Samar, Philippines. It is situated 13.5 kilometers away from Central School and mode of transportation through motorcycle and hiking unpaved road and rugged trail. It has a land area of about 1.25 hectares and is one of the oldest elementary school established in 1938. The teacher-participants is composed of five female and one male. They were in the school between four months and five years.

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4.1 The Road to Being a Teacher.

Some of the earlier motives in choosing to teach as a profession include (a) need for interpersonal relations; (b) desire to serve others; (c) the theme of sticking to familiar school habits; (d) material benefits of the job; and the time compatibility with family demands (Lortie, 1975). In the Philippines, student-teachers motives in choosing education career are almost similar. A study by Hao and de Guzman (2007) summarizes these motives as idealistic, migratory, developmental, employment security and stability, supremacy, liberating, altruistic, and perpetual.

In the school year 2016-2017, one in every five students in college is taking- up teacher education (CHED, 2017). This is the second most subscribed program in the country. However, not all who are enrolled in education dreamed of becoming a teacher. Many of them were influenced by people around them or forced by circumstances. Some of those who teach did not consider the profession as their first choice. Many have second thoughts of the profession at first. Out of the six teacher-participants, three have chosen the profession early on of their lives.

“I wanted to become a nurse. I like helping people, early in my life," says Participant 2

Participant 3 says, “Teaching is not my first choice course in college. When I was in high school, I considered myself working in the office answering incoming calls; I like their appearance, they look like a boss.”

On the other hand, Participant 6 wants to be an accountant; she likes to be in an office setting.

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According to Participant 2, some of her classmates in college, enrolling in an education program were their last option. Some of her classmates in college were told by their parents and friends to take up teaching because they are not good enough for courses like engineering and other science and math-rich courses. There are some who decided late what course to take. They have grabbed whatever was available just to be in school. She expressed that later on in their college life; many have grown in love with the education program.

“My classmate in college took-up education because he was not too good academically, and teaching courses has no entrance requirements; another was a flanker in an engineering course. Their reason for taking up the course in a way offended me as I enrolled in the course because I like to become a teacher," says Participant 1.

Others chose it because according to them there are opportunities available nearby or because of the influence of their parents or guardians (SEAMEO INNOTECH, nd). Participant 2 shared how she ended up in education.

“I eventually enrolled in education. This was after my mother disapproved of my choice. Who doesn’t want to make his/her parents happy? My decision was further influenced by my principal in high school as I admired her dedication. She changed my perspectives, and I like to do the same"

The increased in salaries of public school teachers have improved lately. It has become relatively competitive attracting more students to take-up the course. There are however no data available if the higher salary was the reason for the surge of students in education programs.

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Participant 2 shared the attributes of her principal that eventually made her decide to enroll in teaching.

She cared for every student in the school and felt like she was responsible for our growth. The principal held regular discussions about life, and many other things. She is sort of mentoring us, she was very inspiring. She discouraged me to give up just because of financial constraints; she had given me some options to overcome the obstacle. Maybe she saw something in me that she told me I will be a good teacher someday. I can say she had greatly contributed to what I am now.

Participant 3 is the youngest among four siblings and perhaps the one who struggled the most in her studies. Among the teacher-participants, she thought she is the poorest among her co-teachers. She lived also in a remote area without electricity. Both of her parents were farmers and were unable to finish high- school to help support their own families back then.

"During daytime, I was in school, and at night I do a lot of household chores. My tuition comes from my earnings. I sell loads and packed food inside our classroom,Participant 4 said.

Although half of the teacher- participants were not inclined taking-up education as their course, they have learned to love the profession. They particularly were moved by the state of the school and the students' profile.

Knowing that my students have not eaten yet and it’s a way of life to them, I feel pity for them," Participant 3 said.

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4.2 Big Task for a Neophyte Teacher.

It is a practice in the Philippines that neophyte teachers are assigned in less attractive places, like far-flung schools. In some cases, the desire of new teachers to gain employment for economic reasons is most of the time the main reason why neophyte teachers accept teaching jobs in far-flung places.

At first I was hesitant at accepting the teaching position because of the nature of the assignment. However I need the job to help my family financially", says Participant 3.

Participant 1 shared “I was afraid to accept the challenge to work in a distant place. Maybe it was a natural reaction for me, a fresh graduate female teacher to be assigned in a remote place, a place I do not have idea how it looks like. I was imagining myself as a helpless teacher. I imagined myself bullied or my student disrespecting me."

Far-flung schools are difficult to reach and often dangerous. Traveling to and from the nearest accessible road requires stamina and courage. This is most likely the reason why younger teacher are the ones assigned to it.

At first I was hesitant to accept the assignment because I will have to walk for 4 km after a habal-habal (motorcycle) ride, but I need a job so I accepted the item. The hike is particularly difficult when it is rainy; it's slippery, its muddy” says Participant 6.

A neophyte teacher given a first professional teaching task is already a huge challenge. This is further aggravated when he/she is assigned in a remote school, far from all possible comfort. Food, accommodation, security, and safety

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are some of the initial fear of the new teachers.

That first year at school were the most challenging year of my teaching life as I was still learning the different twists and turns in my career.Participant 1 said.

Common strategy used by the Teacher-Participants during their first months in school was to establish respect from students and their parents.

Participant 1 had a hard time to deal with the individual differences of her students. As a first time teacher, she was afraid of the consequences of her actions. She wanted to provide the ideal classroom but find it very difficult.

I wanted everything to run smoothly. I wanted to be the perfect teacher that every student dreamt of having as I wanted to address what each student needed and wanted. However, some of my ideas are not possible," says Participant 1.

From trying to please each one of them which I think is not working, Participant 1 tried attacking the issue as a whole; it helped her to be fair to everyone, claiming it was quite effective. She makes sure she was respected in the class by making firm decisions. From time to time she showed some compassion to students to gain their trust. She also believed that integrity would help her sustain the respect that her students afforded her.

Having a huge class with some non- readers made teaching very difficult. What I did was to apply the things I learned from school like differentiated learning. I grouped pupils according to their reading levels. In every afternoon I always asked the slow performing pupils in my class to stay for class remediation, and I keep

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reminding the parents to follow-up their children at home.” Participant 1 said.

Teachers bring their theoretical frameworks into the classroom. They bring their theories and practice alongside a personal history of routines and a level of capacity for change (Hubbard et al., 2006). Participant 2 expressed that having a purpose in life specially in the profession is essential. She further expressed that optimism is very important in handling classes of a far flung school. Problems in the classroom are reduced when there is a well-planned classroom management, she added.

I recalled the days when I was still like them. I put myself into their shoes. It made me closer to them; I believe that for effective learning to occur, relationship building must come first.”

4.3 Status of a Far-flung School and its Students

Geographically isolated communities are usually poor (Reliefweb, 2014; Cisneros, 1995). The study area lacks so many things. Most household served by the school are very poor, parents have low educational background, and some have not gone to school. Other students walk to the school for kilometers on daily basis. Some of the teachers' were teary-eyed sharing the stories of their students.

“I was tongue-tied seeing students gathering guavas and coconut fruit for their lunch. I now understand them better, like when they cannot answer to some of my quizzes or if they cannot absorb my lessons. I know that it will be difficult to learn with empty stomachsays Participant 6.

“One time I have noticed that one of my students were not attentively

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listening to me. Eventually, the child fall asleep. I woke her and told her to remain in the classroom after the class. I have learned that she has not eaten breakfast and was a bit hungry. I thought it was just that day that she was not able to eat; I later learned they skip breakfast always, sometimes even lunch or dinner when the parents really do not have anything for meals,says Participant 3.

Studies have shown that food deprive people will result into poorer learning. Learning of students as well as their growth is affected if they belong to food-deprived households (Winicki & Jemison, 2008; Tamiru et al., 2017; Frisvold, 2015; Hannum et al., 2014).

School activities often require students to have some materials to work on. In many cases, teachers tries to avoid such activities knowing the students are poor and could hardly eat like the student described by participant 3 where her students have skipped meals.

"After I talked to her and learned about her condition, I have given her some money to buy food for her stomach and materials for our class activity," says Participant 3.

The school in itself is also poor. It lacks the needed resources for teachers to deliver the kind of education described in the Philippine constitution. Most of the time, the teachers need to provide classroom paraphernalia from their own pockets. Perhaps because of confluence of many factors, many of the students are not doing well academically.

There were so many slow-learners and non-readers,” says Participant 6.

Most of the time than not, far-flung schools are multi-grade schools. This particularly makes it even more

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challenging. But for participant 5, it becomes her duty to treat them uniquely.

"As a teacher, I make it to a point that I take note of the principle of multiple intelligences and understand that every child has his/her special talents and skills.

Classes in the study locale are multi-grade. Handling a mix of students with varied state of competencies and grade level is one of the greatest classroom knowledge-management challenges.

Being a teacher is not easy, but a gratifying one. Tackling the multi- grade classes and the differing level of competencies is a real challenge. I try applying the principles of multiple intelligences and understand that every child has his/her special talents and skills,Participant 5 says.

4.4 No Barriers to a Passionate Teacher

Teaching in a remote school is a huge challenge. Teachers would encounter variety of uncomfortable means of transportation like “banka," "habal-habal," and even the use of animals such as horse or carabao just to reach the station (Barcena, 2018). Teachers risk their lives and that of their entire family just to pursue their chosen vocation (ibid).

“Teaching in far-flung area is not easy especially when you do not know who you are with, the people, kind of pupils you will have and location of the school. But, I am here today in this field because I am called to touch millions of young minds, though it took miles away from my home and it exceeds sometimes my expenses. There are instances I visited a lending company just to sustain my weekly allowances. Everything is paid off every time my pupils learn from me

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and when I see some changes in their behaviors” Participant expresses.

She added that as time passed by she gets attached to the community because of the hospitality of the people towards them. She realized that teaching is not for all, it is for people who really love to serve. When the love is there, no amount of distance will hinder a teacher in achieving their goal.

It is very fulfilling to teach in a far- flung school; I know they need us here, and we have responsibility to give them what they expect from us. The community look at us as their hero; they appreciate our presence and our sacrifices here, that alone fuels our desire to give more, to do more,Participant 2 added.

One of the most important factors in the development of passion for teaching is teachers’ on-going commitment and dedication to students and learning. Passionate teachers are fiercely devoted to their work and greatly inspire their students (Fox, 1964).

4.5 Teaching as a Vocation

There are many arguments about

teaching as a vocation and not just simply

a profession (Khan, 2007). This is

probably because of the extent to which a teacher exerts her effort to serve beyond the call of the profession. In religious context, a vocation comes from the root, vocare, means “to call.” The term is often used to describe both secular and religious commitments like a person who felt the

call or inspired to serve divine purposes such as fulfilling faithfully one’s service to

a community (Hansen, 1994). Vocation,

career, and job are three words used interchangeably that should not be according to psychologist Timothy Butler. Vocation, the most profound of the three terms is what a person is doing in life that

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makes a difference for the person, building meaning for him/her in the future and see the impact the person has made to the world (Whelchel, 2012).

Seeing my students competes and recognized for what they do despite of the limitations is fulfilling,” says Participant 5.

I have seen some of my students improving their lives because they are in school, studied and learned," says Participant 3.

“When I see changes in my class I then realized how influential I am. This encouraged me to become more effective as an educator as the world needs quality and productive individual for teaching. I think teaching is not just a job, but, a vocation to change people lives.” says Participant 6.

Participant 5 felt the calling to guide young students for a better future. Being a poor himself, he knows the importance of the role of teacher’s in changing his future. His teacher back then also sees it in him.

“One time my teacher saw me struggling to write on a banana leaf because I have no paper. I was trying to save my very limited money. My teacher pitied me that he provided me

a sheet of paper. He was so inspiring;

I know he touched many of us, the lives

of the children from poor families who strive to learn and excel despite financial limitations.

“For four years as teacher, I think I am already like my former mentor, making a difference in the lives of my poor pupils in this barrio. Teaching them how to overcome poverty,says Participant 5.

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Their day-to-day experiences with the students allowed them to love their profession more. That love of profession even go to the extent of shedding part of their meager salary for classroom use. Home visitation is regularly conducted to engage parents and provide feedback to them about their children performance in school.

I need to spend part of my salary to purchase some classroom items. I need them to better teach my students,says Participant 3.

"There was a time I borrowed money from loan sharks to sustain my weekly expenses. My salary is not enough, and I have to spend for my classroom too" says Participant 2.

“I go out of the classroom sometimes and be with my students to know them more. I need to win their hearts to encourage them to study” says Participant 4.

Students are expected to have higher level of achievements and improved student behaviour when there is strong support of the community, particularly the parents of the students (NMSA, 2003). In today’s society, genuine family and community involvement are fundamental components of successful schools for the young (ibid).

Teachers in the remote areas also put their lives at stake. Teachers' in the subject school walk for kilometers to be in the class. The ordeal is doubly difficult during rainy making the trail going to the school muddy and slippery. Filipino teachers are like second parents to their students and even to their colleagues like Participant 2.

Major task for a teacher is to ensure their students are learning. Challenge is greater when students in the

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class cannot read, or have poor comprehension.

"Despite the limitations concerning teaching resources, I strive to provide quality education innovatively. I do not like that someone is left behind,Participant 3 said.

4.6 Dreams and Aspiration of Teacher- Participants

Teacher-participants dreams a lot for the students, the campus, and the community.

“I wanted to be a perfect teacher, someone who can deliver the quality education they deserve. However, I later realized there are so many issues. I think I have the passion to teach, but there were so little resources for teaching," says Participant 4.

Almost all of the students in the study locale are considered marginalized. They have limited resources for them to live comfortably and live on day by day basis.

“How we wish we could produce teachers who come from this place. It will greatly benefit our students, their teacher will be available all the time unlike us who from time to time go home,” says Participant 6.

Going to school is great challenge for the teacher-participants. Other students also walk for kilometers to get to the school.

“All of us are hoping that the access going here will be improved very soon, better access will allow this place to be developed. It will surely improve living condition of the people here,” says Participant 3.

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With so much fulfilment of what they are doing despite of the challenges they wish is absent, the teacher- participants know they will not be staying long in the place.

We have a lot of dreams for these students and the community in general. We wish someone from here will graduate and become a licensed teacher and replace us here. Later on, we will be replaced with neophytes; which is usually the case. We will eventually be re-assigned to a much nearer place to where our home is; unless our single teachers will find their partners here. Our immediate family is far from here. If a native of this place becomes a teacher, I wish they will work here and not migrate to other places. I think, if we who are not from here learned to love the place, how much more them. This is their home; they would have much larger heart for this place than us,” says Participant 3.

4.7 Rewards and Recognition

The school has so many slow learners and some non-readers. Some of the teachers put it as a challenge to themselves to reduce their number. Other teachers capacitate their students and compete, and sometimes they are successful.

“Year on year we participate in journalism competitions. One time we won third place in the district level. I find it a huge success already. My advisee were competitive, despite being in a geographically isolated and deprived school,” says Participant 3.

“One of my students is a Palarong Pambansa athlete in chess. I was so proud that our lowly school has produced one athlete for the national games; there were very few coming

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from Samar. That made my student’s recognition more meaningful,” says Participant 5.

Other rewards are unquantifiable; those are awards gratifying the hearts.

“Later on, I learned to love my work as I am touched with what I see. Every time students sees me coming, their faces brighten up with smiles, those cannot be bought with money,” says Participant 6.

Discussion

The teacher-participants have shown their commitment to their responsibilities as elementary teachers.

According to Fox (1964), a committed teacher has the following characteristics;

(a) Desire to be a good teacher; (b) is more

than a purveyor of facts; (c) recognizes

and accepts the worth of an individual; and

(d) fulfills his/her professional

responsibilities. The teacher-participants have shown these characteristics. They know of their responsibilities; that is to give the best quality of education they can offer. Because of this desire, the teacher- participants learned to become more resourceful, making use of what is available and adapt to the situation. They have even shed portion of their salaries for classroom activities in their desire to help their students. The multi-grade nature of classes in the research locale was a great challenge to the teachers.

The teacher-participants in this study have not considered teaching as their early choice for a profession; they have been influenced primarily by their immediate family and by the teachers or school leaders whom they have encountered early on in their lives. Availability of teaching position was also a factor for them enrolling finally in teaching.

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Although the teaching was not the priority courses of some of the teacher- participants, they have learned to love it fully while studying and more at work. They particularly have been moved by what they saw on site, and their compassionate nature fuelled their interest to do more for the students.

They look at their assignment in the far flung school as temporary, a stepping stone to a more comfortable work assignment. Despite the worries of the assignment with emphasis on the location and access, the Teacher-Participants accepted the challenge out of necessity. That is to have a job to help their respective families.

Eventually, the teacher-participants will be re-assigned to carline schools or to where their homes are. They believe neophyte teachers will replace them in the future. Some of them felt sad to that reality as they learned to love the community where they are currently stationed.

5. Conclusion and Recommendation

Teachers who are assigned in the study-locale; a far flung schools are usually neophytes to teaching, young but dedicated, committed and passionate. They look at their current assignment as temporary and will eventually be re- assigned to a much better school.

The lived experiences of teacher- participants are consistent with other teachers’ experiences in GIDA areas of the Philippines. It is characterized by poverty of the school itself, lower student competences and poverty-stricken community. The poor state of school in terms of teaching and learning resources forces teachers to slice part of their salary to support classroom activities in their desire to deliver better education. Teachers need to ride relatively less-safer mode of transportation and walk kilometers to

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reach their working stations. Classes are multi-grade, have many slow-learners and non-readers due to confluence of many factors primarily due to poverty. With committed teachers, they produce few achievers. For the teacher-participants, their life as a far-flung teacher is fulfilling but is looking forward for better assignment closer to their homes someday. They dream of many good things for their students and the community as a whole.

Larger support for far-flung school, their students, and the communities the school serves is very necessary. A teacher from the villages where the school is located is the most ideal specifically today when access to these stations is wanting.

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