Anyone who reads the blogs from our resident Filipino blogger, Ben Vacio, will appreciate what a dedicated teacher he is - but what do we NOT know about him? Well, he’s written a book or two for starters.
Hi Ben. Welcome to the ajarn hot seat. You have a lot of Filipino fans and followers on the ajarn website so I’m sure they especially would love to know your background. Where in The Philippines were you born?
Hello, Philip. First of all, I would like to express my sincere thanks to you for having me in your ajarn hot seat.
So, for my fans and followers I would like to tell you that I am from a small town of Antique called Valderrama which is located in Panay Island in the Visayan region near Iloilo, Capiz and Aklan provinces.
However, I spent my high school and college days in Manila so I preferred to practice my profession in urban areas.
You’ve clearly been involved in education for a long time. How long did you teach back in your own country and at what kind of schools?
That’s right. I have been an educator for more than 40 years. In that span of time, I had the opportunity to hold various positions as a teacher, an English coordinator, a school principal, a supervisor, a consultant, and a trainer.
While in my country I taught in private elementary schools for nearly 30 years because in private institutions teachers were well supervised. I only taught for two years in the public schools.
You taught in a refugee camp for a couple of years. Tell us a little about that.
My working stint at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) with the International Catholic Immigration Commission (ICMC) was one of the most significant events in my life. There, I taught Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodian refugees ages 18-55 with 0 or little proficiency in English. I taught ESL for 2 years and later on became an ESL supervisor for 5 years.
I said, it was a very significant part of my life because from ICMC I was able to earn and save well, establish my family, acquire my house and lot, get a lot of benefits and privileges from it, and most of all enabled our students to speak English within 3 months.
You’ve been a teacher in Thailand for 9 years. It’s a long time. What made you decide on Thailand initially?
Initially, I decided to teach in Thailand to fulfill a dream. You know, it’s like a love story Philip. My first love about Thailand took place when I was in high school knowing that it was the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by any sovereign power.
Although I was willing to venture to this country, I couldn’t afford it so, I just confined myself watching Thai movies like "The Bridge over the River Kwai“, “The King and I” and reading materials about Thailand.
Then when I went to Afghanistan to work with the UN, we happened to stop over at Don Muang Airport, so my love and interest for it deepened. Once again, my love developed more when I heard stories about the refugees in Phanat Nikhom, in Chonburi.
So, when opportunity knocked at my door, I didn’t give it a second thought, for that time I also needed money for the improvement of my house. So, for 8 years I’ve been With Chula Unisearch of Chulalongkorn University Nonthaburi English Teachers’ Project and less than a year at an international School in Chiangmai.
I couldn’t believe it when you told me that your wife and child aren’t here in Thailand with you. That must be horrible? How do you keep in touch or how often do you go home?
It is indeed horrible, but with God’s love, protection, and goodness to me, every single difficulty I have encountered has been overcome.
Thanks to the advancement in technology like Facebook and cell phone, for it has kept me in touch with my family any time. Somehow, I do go home once in two years or when needed just like when my father and mother died.
What do you miss most about your homeland?
Oh, I miss Filipino food like adobo, mechado, menudo, and lechon. Of course I miss Christmas and New Year celebrations the Filipino way.
Does it sometimes feel lonely being here?
Yes, it feels lonely here not only sometimes but many times. I get over with my moments of loneliness by immersing myself in my work, preparing teaching materials, painting, writing doing outreach activities with New Life Fellowship Center (SDA) - teaching free English lessons to the blind, the out of school, and the orphans of Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi.
I also get comfort from the Lord, from close Filipino friends, and from the Don Bosco Church parishioners in Thailand.
There is a large number of Filipino teachers in Thailand. What are the attractions to come here and work?
The big demand for teachers here is the primary reason why Filipino teachers and even other professionals who want to be teachers come to Thailand.
The cheap cost of living, affordable housing, safety, less pressure in work, less workload and a little bit better salary are the other reasons why our people like to teach in Thailand.
One of the hot topics on Ajarn is always how Filipino teachers get paid less than their Western colleagues to basically do the same amount of work. Where do you stand on the issue?
Personally, I think it is an act of discrimination.
I don’t know how this can be rectified for Thai people really prefer native speakers’ accent and color. In fact I experienced this in an international school in Chiangmai.
The American and British teachers whose degrees were not in education received twice my salary. Every time they had fieldtrips, I would be left at school taking care of other things for the school needed photographs of their students with the Western teachers for promotion.
I didn’t like the system, so I left.
As I said in the introduction, we’re always impressed at what a dedicated teacher you are. Seeing your students improve and make progress is very important to you isn’t it?
You’re absolutely right, Philip. My greatest happiness is to see my students improve, progress, and accomplish something in their work because if they don’t I would consider myself a failure.
I have always desired to make my students better. I would create new materials for them, go to the extent of buying new teaching materials for their sake, apply new insights and learning from seminars, and help in English camps of friends so that I could learn new ideas and share them with my students.
As a result, I enjoy teaching.
Let’s talk about the books that you have written. The first is called ‘Rainbows in English for Grade 6’ Can you tell us a bit more? How did it come about? Where is the book used and what levels is the book aimed at?
In 2003, I had read in the daily newspaper that there was a lesson plan writing contest sponsored by Vibal Publishing Company Incorporated in Manila. Because I needed money for my urinary bladder operation, I joined.
It took me almost a week to finish my entry. When the result was announced, I luckily bagged the grand prize. To write “Rainbows in English for Grade 6” and 50,000 pesos (about $1,300) were my prizes for winning.
The original plan was for me to write a textbook with another author. Unfortunately, when I went to Thailand, it was printed with 4 other authors. Anyway, Grade 6 students enrolled in private schools in the Philippines whose school subscribed to our series, have been using this for 10 years now as their textbook in English, for Language and Reading.
In fact, some years ago, I found out one international school in Thailand using it for their Grade 6 students. I came to know this because the son of my friend used my book. So far, I have enjoyed my royalty for 10 years now and this could be passed on to my beneficiary as long as the book is being used.
And you’ve recently finished writing another book but it hasn’t been published yet. Is that right?
Yes, but it is in the process of publication in Texas. The printing began last December 2015 for my co-author, Dr Felipe Cofreros, an accomplished Filipino author in Texas, USA, who has written a dozen of children’s books and other books, took advantage of the 50% discount in publication cost for books that were published in December 2015.
I was telling myself, I could already die any time now that I have finished writing my second book. At least, I have something to leave as a legacy for my family and friends to remember me by.
Dr. Cofreros and I plan to attend the TESOL and the JALT conferences in USA and Japan
respectively in the years to come. We also plan to offer it to the Philippine, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese private school owners so that our book could be used worldwide.
Our book, “English Workbook for the Elementary Level 1” is geared towards developing reading, listening, writing, and speaking proficiency of beginning ESL learners using stories, poems, riddles, blogs, and games. In addition to this it has more grammar exercises that require individual students’ responses.
By the way, I designed the cover.
Is there much money in writing ELT textbooks?
Sorry, Philip. I really don’t know much about that.
What I know is that once big schools or even several small ones in so many countries use our textbook, as authors we will get our royalty on and on.
Do you think the general standard of English in Thailand has improved in the time that you’ve been here?
Yes, of course. There has been slight improvement. I’ve seen that in my past students’ performances.
As long as foreign teachers are here, they will be greatly helped. The onset of ASEAN also is another push for the improvement of English in this country. Thailand’s improvement in English is quite slow but when given sufficient time it will surely be better.
I just hope that someday, foreign teachers will not only be teaching in private schools, unlike in Bangkok and Nonthaburi wherein almost all government elementary and high schools have foreign teachers, for it really pays to have English taught by foreigners.
Finally, I guess your long-term plan is to return home and be with your family though?
Of course, probably next year, I’ll enjoy my retirement days, make up for the last nine years of being away from my family, do community service, and actively participate in our church activities.
If things will materialize I hope to go to the US for at least a year or two because Dr. Cofreros has invited me to work there as a staff in his International Center for Adults.
So I may I now reiterate to thank you, Philip, not only for having me here, but also for making me a part of your most popular website, ajarn.com.
Many people on several instances and occasions made me feel like someone or a celebrity because they knew me as an Ajarn blogger and would ask, “You are from Ajarn, right?” “I am an avid follower of your blogs.””I like your blogs" etc
So, thank you, Philip. Thank you ajarn.com. Thank you to all my fans and followers. God bless us all.