The Educator

Jaime R. Vergara’s grade 1 class at William S. Reyes Elementary School.

Jaime R. Vergara’s grade 1 class at William S. Reyes Elementary School.

One of the teachers at my school, when meeting her for the first time, called me an “educator,” a term used in the Marianas Variety to identify my occasional foray to public education. Being committed to the Public School System in the next five years makes me a qualitative additive to the team of teachers at whatever level I am assigned.

First, the professional identification. I am presently contracted to be a grade 1 teacher at WSR where an obviously dedicated teacher moved out mid-year not too long ago for one reason or another, and a young graduate tried her hand and found the demand a bit too much for her to handle and decided to cut her term short. PSS curriculum standards could be daunting as the requirements for Core components are the basis for grading.

That left 23 students dispersed to four other classes already carrying the average limit of PSS students. Not a happy situation but the four teachers already on the ground soldiered on without question though with the hope that someone would come along.

Came WSR Phyllis Ain’s phone call when she found out of my availability. I had alerted PSS to keep me on their current teaching lists, was interviewed by a middle school but never got a call back. This time, three schools had me for an interview.

I walked in after recently teaching three years of university oral English in China, taught at PSS from 2003-2008, and before that, worked on basic community level education from 1972-1986 in various locations around the world, primarily Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Latin America—the Caribbean through the Ecumenical Institute (EI) and the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA).

A peripatetic pedagogue, I came to Micronesia with a stint in the Marshalls (we wore blue and while the “blue shirts” were respected in India and Africa, we were thought to be haughty in Majuro to the remnants of the old Trust Territory), then the Marianas through the local church program of the United Methodist Church of Guam (‘82-’83) and Saipan (‘98-’03), and finding the ambience of both still much towards looking up to the heavens for profundity of finitude, I was an oddity having shifted my context to the ‘68 earthrise image of the ’70s.

It is this experience of getting folks to be self-conscious on the way they learn that provided the challenge of 40-some-classdays sessions with grade 1 students, not so much in implementing the standard core curriculum that PSS follows, and lately, through the Sheltered Instructions Operational Protocol (SIOP) method that the district adopted, but on the sole task of teaching them to learn how to learn, to use their brains so that students at the portal of a 16-year journey to a college education, participate in their own learning, if they so choose.

Of course, we keep an eye on the requirements of the Curriculum Office at Central PSS, which pretty much leave teams at the elementary School to determine their course mapped through the Core components. Staying in and with the team is thereby the professional responsibility of any teacher to be in the service. No Lone Rangers here; team players only.

My vice principal commented on a rough supplementary design I prepared, thinking the material was more for a year’s curriculum than the 40 days interim measure. She was right. I overestimated the absorptive capacity and learning capability of my students.

Learning later that only two of them came directly to grade 1 and most coursed through some kindergarten program elsewhere, I assumed facility in words and numbers. The surprise came when four had difficulties writing their numbers and letters, and, at most, four were capable enough to read, i.e., verbalize into recognizable sounds alphabetical notations, so Grade One was truly grade one.

We rolled our sleeves, physically and mentally. I told WSR that at 70, endurance might be the only contradiction as energy wanes after midday. We’ve already narrated our bout with various viruses. We are back to wearing towel in the classroom, to keep the cough down but that was the least of the challenge. PSS has a procurement process that is time consuming and quite bureaucratically involved so we decided to take matters into our own hands. There were not enough trapezoidal tables normally used and maintenance was only able to offer rejects that were falling apart.

A colleague thought I had gone bonkers. I took the plastic to Costco and charge more than my first paycheck’s worth from PSS. Not too smart but 13 tables allowed all 24 of us (teacher included), and a centerpiece (my earthrise are local shells), to have a seat in a manageable classroom.

Educator? Why not. Elementary education, anyone?

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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