Should teachers be role models or agitators of learning?

Gauging from the terms of a recent order, the Department of Education (DepEd) aspires for the former.

DepEd Order 49 seeks to create a culture of professionalism among its personnel in their delivery of basic education programs and services.

As reported by Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo in SunStar Cebu on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, the order reiterates the parameters of “acceptable” norms of conduct and relationships found in Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

As the line agency mandated to mold the minds and characters of young Filipinos, the DepEd must be “primus inter pares (first among equals)” in leading public stakeholders in steering the young to become good citizens of society and the ecosystem.

A lasting lesson in learning is that unlearning is difficult, even impossible.

Students and junior members of the faculty look not to the ideals that are often lifted to their notice for emulation but to the actual behavior and practices honed to a habit or even a culture by their mentors and elders in the faculty and the school administration.

DepEd Order 49 has to be wielded with political will and personal resolve if this is envisioned to be a hatchet hacking at and felling the ingrained bad habits, malpractices and abuses institutionalized for decades in the line agency.

The parent who donates to the adviser a lechon or an electric fan to ensure her child finishes the school year with honors is but an echo of the system of patronage and corruption that has teachers, seeking a promotion or a transfer, being told by a DepEd official’s secretary to return for a 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. appointment (decoded to refer to P200,000 or P300,000 as the bribe to be brought when the aspirant returns for the appointment with the official).

DepEd Order 49 is welcome if this will be effective in weeding out the scoundrels and predators taking advantage of his or her students while clothed with a teacher’s authority.

It takes a community to nurture and sustain a meritocracy or its opposite. Students, parents and guardians welcome this latest initiative if the DepEd will encourage mentors who will not only stimulate the intellectual and emotional flourishing of lifelong learners but also will steer the young to be engaged and involved with the community, especially those who are most vulnerable.

One hopes that the DepEd Order 49 will not be treated as a muzzle to restrain teachers from expressing their differences and grievances with education officials or the country’s leadership. While there are channels of mediation and resolution observed in the line agency as with other organizations, the right of self-expression is guaranteed and protected by the Philippine Constitution.

There is a thin line trod between good morals and right conduct (GMRC) and complacency, apathy and self-censorship.

Many public and private school teachers and administrators do their utmost to serve their students and the public in their daily duties, as well as in special occasions, such as the elections.

As frontliners in the communities, teachers and school administrators are immersed in the travails and challenges of their students, families and communities.

Who knows better than teachers the cost of education when one comes hungry to school? When one belongs to an indigenous community or survives natural disaster, armed conflict or domestic abuse?

The DepEd should open channels rather than close them to teachers who, beyond picking up the chalk, become the voice of the voiceless, the conscience of the exploited, the solitary light in places unseen by the rest of society.

For DepEd the true challenge is not to implement a code of conduct but to destroy its old culture of patronage and corruption and create a new one that is truly in service for the Filipino.