SOME educators take greater leaps as they bravely become entrepreneurs and launch their own businesses.
One of them is Milagros Castillo-Espina, who founded Speechcom International in 1976.
She pioneered English skills training in all levels in Cebu, which developed countless professionals.
“I am a passionate educator with a song in my heart,” said Espina. “I love teaching and integrate it with music to nourish and complete the student’s quench for education.”
Espina took an education course in college (major in English and minor in history) at the University of Santos Tomas in 1960. She pursued a master’s degree in literature and a doctorate majoring in English with a minor in anthropology, both at the University of San Carlos.
Espina served as dean of arts and sciences at the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) for 27 years until her retirement in 2000.
“I have inherited my passion for teaching from my mother. She, too, was an education graduate in the University of the Philippines,” Espina said, adding that it was only she who followed in her mother’s footsteps. Her six other siblings ventured into other professions.
But while passionately working as a teacher, Espina also dipped her toes in business.
She created Speechcom to continue training students even during vacation breaks and to conduct service seminars for big companies, socio civic clubs and the academe.
“The desire to use my knowledge and expertise on a broader scale was something I always longed to do, especially that teaching in (school) is not forever,” she said. “But you can combine teaching and business.”
After her retirement, Espina expanded Speechcom. She crafted projects accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Civil Service Commission and Department of Tourism (DOT).
The courses focus on English and the communication arts, English as second language, review of International English Language Testing System and Description Test of English as a Foreign Language, personality development and management, public speaking, theater craft and journalism.
Besides being active in the academe, Espina is also one of Cebu’s staunch tourism advocates.
She conducted tour guiding seminars in coordination with DOT 7 and the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Tourism Congress. She was also appointed by the Cebu Provincial Government as an academic representative in the East Asia Inter-Regional Tourism Forum and was a co-founder of the academic team composed of 12 Asian countries.
What was your first job?
I taught high school for three years in Manila before moving to Cebu. When I moved here, I joined USJ-R where I spent 27 years of my teaching career.
As dean of the university’s arts and sciences department, I crafted courses in tourism, hotel and restaurant management and mass communication, among others, which later on became the cutting edge of USJ-R. I helped introduce new concepts that would allow the university to produce qualified and skilled graduates for industries like tourism.
Who inspired you to get into business?
My creative and lucrative entrepreneurial skills and management were honed by my mother, who managed the family’s taxi business in Quezon City. In Cebu, the Espinas also owned and managed taxi businesses for decades.
In 1992 to 1997, I founded the Mary Carmel pre-school but gave it up due to the increasing responsibilities as a dean. I opted to focus on USJ-R before my retirement in 2000.
When did you realize this was what you were meant to do?
I was born to be a teacher. I have always liked teaching, even as a kid. In fact, I would play in our backyard and imagine myself as a teacher.
I wanted to be one because once you are a teacher, you will always be a teacher, even if your students have all grown up or have become successful in their careers. They will always look at you as someone who helped shape their dreams.
Being a teacher makes a difference, and doing it by heart affects a student’s formation. It always gives me a sense of fulfillment every time I see my students improve or have become the better versions of themselves.
It’s always a joy to see them become confident when they talk, show off their talents before a huge crowd, and rise from ranks in their profession. Being in this business is more than just about profit, it’s the quality of students you produce that matters.
I have worked not only with students but also business owners, corporate leaders, employees and politicians. And my best reward is to see them go, grow and glow in their professions.
Why did you pick this type of business or industry?
Providing English skills training in the past was a lucrative business, and only a few of us offered such services. I don’t really consider it as an additional chore because I just expanded my classroom. I built Speechcom because I wanted to have a broader impact on education in the community. Learning shouldn’t stop.
The courses I crafted for USJ-R have also produced successful graduates who have become company owners, community leaders and proficient professionals.
Where did you get the training you needed to succeed?
My stint in the academe brought me to places and universities around the globe. I took a cross-cultural course at the East West Center in the University of Hawaii. I was a grantee of the US International Visitors Program with observation and lecture in curriculum design and teaching English in eight universities to include University of San Francisco, Boston University, Harvard University, East West Center, City University of New York, University of Los Angeles and University of San Francisco.
I also took a short-term course in management at the Ateneo de Manila Graduate School of Education and took a special course in tourism at the Asia Institute of Tourism.
These all helped me broaden my knowledge and hone my teaching skills, and the things that I learned were re-echoed to my students and were used in my instruction tools.
How many times did you fail before you succeeded?
Challenges are opportunities to grow. Like other teachers-turned-entrepreneurs, I also had a fair share of challenges. But I am hands-on. Through affordable logistics and budget management, Speechcom has remained stable for decades.
It’s not easy to get students to enroll, so I enriched my seminars and workshops in the corporate, academe and other organizations.
The secret? Relationship building. USJ-R helped me expand my wings. I got to meet people because of my affiliation with the school. I got involved in various organizations and I was able to create my own network.
I would like to be remembered as the educator who touched the lives of people with a song in my heart.