A Champion of Reading
For 2009 SORT winner Grace Rabelas, there is nothing more satisfying than helping her students discover the joys of reading.
My mother was my first reading teacher,” shares Grace Urlanda Rabelas, winner of the 2009 Search for Outstanding Reading Teacher. She believes one can only be a good reading teacher if you are a lover of books. “When I was a child, the first book my mother introduced to me was Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham,” she recalls. “When I was in elementary, I finished reading the entire Nancy Drew detective series, which I would borrow from our school library.”
Having good role models is one reason why Grace excelled as a reading teacher. Aside from her mother, she looks up to some of her former teachers who were very enthusiastic about their work. “They really strived for excellence up to the day they retired,” she says.
Early Teaching Years
Grace is a native of Iriga City in Camarines Sur, Bicol. She studied at private schools for elementary and high school. Upon her mother’s advice, she enrolled at the College of Education at the Bicol University in Legaspi City.
After she graduated in 1993, she started teaching grade four and grade six students at La Consolacion College, where she studied elementary. “My field of concentration in college was actually social studies,” says Grace. “But they were looking for an English teacher—that’s where it all started.”
After two years at La Consolacion, Grace decided to teach in a public school. She was hired by Ogbon Elementary School, a barrio school in Nabua, a town near Iriga city. “It was a totally different experience,” recalls Grace. “I had to travel a long way from my home to the school, passing by bumpy roads.”
Grace taught at Ogbon (which literally means “offspring”) for a year. Then, she got a scholarship for an MA in Values Education at the University of Asia and the Pacific. It was a 14-month program sponsored by the Department of Education and the Hanns Seidel Foundation.
Promoting Good Values
Studying at UA&P was another unique experience for Grace. “I was in a different environment again. The physical set up alone was impressive—air-conditioned rooms, carpeted floors. My classmates and I found out later that most of the kids who study there are quite rich. We were joking with each other and saying, ‘Tayo lang ang ‘di nakakotse at naglalakad pauwi!’”
Despite being thrown into an unfamiliar environment, Grace found the program to be very enriching. “It was a tough program considering the academic work, but it brought out a lot of potential in me,” she shares. “When I went back to my station after the scholarship, the things I learned in UA&P influenced everything about me—my life and my work as a teacher.”
After she graduated from the program in 1998, she was assigned to Nabua Central Pilot School, where she has been teaching until today. She recalls, “At first, I had a dilemma. How am I going to teach values to my pupils? But then I realized that teaching reading is a very good venue for teaching values. When you read stories, there’s an element of good triumphs over evil. The characters in the stories show some virtues which students can emulate.”
The Search for Outstanding Reading Teacher
In 2009, Grace’s supervisor nominated her to represent their district in the division level of the SORT. Organized by the DepEd’s Bureau of Elementary Education, the contest is part of the Every Child A Reader Program, which aims to raise the reading and comprehension levels of elementary students.
“I spent one sleepless night preparing my documents,” Grace recalls. “Later on, I found out that this would only account for 20% of my total score.” SORT contestants were judged using several criteria: demo teaching (40%), an interview (20%), essay writing (20%), and other documents (20%).
Grace sailed through the division level competition and went on to compete at the regional level. She says, “The regional level was also very tough. We had to do a demo teaching with real kids in a real school. It was challenging since it was our first encounter with the kids. We were given only 20 minutes to prepare a lesson plan and materials.” As she worked, she thought about her students in Nabua. “Modestly speaking, my pupils in Nabua are quite good. They do well in my class. They were in my thoughts when I was doing the lesson plan.”
During the demo teaching, the students were not very responsive since it was also their first encounter with Grace. “Pinagpapawisan na ako,” she recalls. “The judges were all there. But later on, I was able to finish the lesson.”
The contestants were also asked to write an essay. “In the regional level, we were asked to write about the joys and pains of a reading teacher,” Grace says. Impressing the panel of judges, she went on to compete at the national level.
Rising to the Challenge
Grace represented the Bicol region at the national level. “The pressure was great because the defending champion was from region five as well,” she says. During the competition, the 15 finalists stayed at the Manila Pavilion Hotel for a week in November where they went through several challenges including interviews, essay writing, and demo teaching all over again.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” says Grace. “My competitors were very good—the best in their region. I was just doing my best and enjoying the experience. I was praying a lot too!”
During the closing ceremony, all the finalists were awarded a trophy and a cash prize of P10,000. Then, the chairman of the board announced the top three winners. When her name was announced as the champion, Grace was very surprised. “I just kept saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God!’ It was like winning a beauty contest,” she shares. “I was asked to deliver a short speech. I can’t even remember anymore what I said. It was a different feeling—masaya na nakakanerbyos.” Grace took home P75,000 as her prize money as well as a trophy and books for her school.
Making Reading Fun
Grace attests that teaching reading is a tough job, especially when there are non-readers in her class of grade five students. But the greatest fulfillment comes when those children finally learn to read. “I usually stay for a few hours after class to tutor the non-readers,” she says. “I feel fulfilled, when at the end of the year, they are already able to read.”
To make her reading lessons enjoyable and meaningful, Grace creates activities that tap her students’ different intelligences. “If they are good at drawing, they can express their understanding of the story in their drawings. If they sing or write well, they can express it in poems or songs,” she says.
She also has a mini library in her classroom. “During the kids’ free time, instead of playing under the heat of the sun, I let them read in the mini library. I am very happy because when my pupils go to the next grade level, the feedback of the teachers is that my students are very good and that they like reading.”
Aside from teaching kids, Grace also teaches her peers through the Department of Education’s Reading Education Training Program in her region. “This was another program that brought me out of my shell. From a participant, they were able to discover a trainer in me. It feels good to be able to share what I learned with my fellow teachers.”
Whether she’s teaching children or adults, Grace remains committed and passionate about spreading the joy of reading. No doubt, she will continue to inspire others and develop in them a true love of reading.
Go the Extra Mile
Develop a love of reading in your students with Grace’s tips.
- Create a literate environment for children. “It’s not just about providing books but also setting an example. Let your pupils see you read. When they see you read, they tend to imitate you.”
- Make yoyour reading lessons meaningful and enjoyable. “This will make the lesson memorable for them. When they enjoy a story, they start to look for the book and they want to read it again. It means they like it and find it interesting.”
- Teach with compassion. “Make an effort to teach with genuine concern for your students to be able to bring out the best in them. This should be the personal commitment of a teacher.”
- Have enthusiasm for teaching. “Don’t ever be lazy. When you have enthusiasm, your students will also be excited about your lesson.”
- Keep on learning. “With the kind of learners we have, teachers need to learn more to provide the best for their students.”