At least two senators on Tuesday expressed alarm over the reported suicide of two teachers allegedly due to depression brought about by their heavy workload.
Senator Sonny Angara is pushing for the passage of the Teacher Protection Bill that aims to promote and improve the working conditions of public school teachers.
On the other hand, Gatchalian called on the Department of Education to address the root cause of teachers’ mental health issues.
Angara said it is not enough that teachers are assisted in terms of raising their salaries and providing trainings to strengthen their skills. Caring for their mental health is equally important.
“We must ensure a nurturing and safe school environment not only for our children but for our educators as well,” Angara said.
With the recent death of teachers in Leyte and in Cavite in just two months, which are being blamed on their supposed heavy workload, various teachers groups have urged the Department of Education to look into the mental health issues of public school teachers.
According to Angara, the incident underscores the importance of putting in place the implementing rules and regulations for the Mental Health Law or Republic Act 11036 so that psychiatric and psychosocial services can be accessible to public school teachers especially in rural areas where there are larger class sizes.
The senator has been pushing for wide-ranging reforms, including increasing their salaries under Senate Bill 135, to improve the quality of life of public school teachers in the country.
He has also filed SB 1870 or the Teacher Protection Act that seeks to formulate policies and establish support mechanisms for teachers in matters of student discipline and classroom management.
Under the proposed measure, the DepEd must ensure that there are enough guidance counsellors, who will serve as support personnel to teachers in matters of student discipline.
Moreover, the DepEd will be tasked to provide teachers the appropriate pre-service and in-service training on child behavior and psychology, classroom management techniques and positive discipline.
“With the increasing burden on teachers due to large class sizes, multiple shifts each day, and heavier tasks, there is an urgent need to provide protection to our teachers, who are already deemed overworked and underpaid,” the senator said.
Aside from the salary increase and protection of teachers, other reforms Angara is pushing include increasing the chalk allowance to P5,000 from P3,500 under SB 1871 and lowering the optional retirement age from 60 years old to 55 years old under SB 1872.
Gatchalian said he was truly awed by the teachers and amazed at their dedication, especially those who work beyond their required hours, often for very meager pay. It is no secret that our teachers are often overworked.
“I can only imagine the stress caused by their job—preparing lessons, teaching, and then grading papers, not to mention other non-teaching functions that they are assigned to do,” Gatchalian said.
The lawmaker also urged the Department of Education to utilize guidance counselors not only for school children but for teachers as well.
Gatchalian previously called for the scrapping of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) plan to conduct mandatory drug testing of students, proposing instead that the budget for the drug tests be used to hire more guidance counselors for DepEd.
DepEd requires public and private elementary and high schools to hire one guidance counselor for every 500 students. The Philippines, however, only has 3,220 registered guidance counselors as of July 2017 since the first batch of licensure examinees in 2008.
The neophyte senator said he is thinking of filing a bill to modify the qualifications for the guidance counselor licensure examination as provided for in Republic Act No. 9258 or the Guidance and Counseling Act of 2004.