Filipino teacher finds work at WMS challenging, rewarding

Cindy Mullet
Sunday, December 1, 2019
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Leody Cerenio teaches a science class at Washington Middle School.

Brendan Heidner photo

There is English, and then there is Washington Middle School English.

WMS eighth grade science teacher Leody Cerenio said he quickly discovered there is a big difference between the English he learned in the Philippines and the English his students speak.

Especially in the first few weeks of school, his students would sometimes say something “not good” and then wonder why he was still in a good mood, he noted, adding that he was not used to colloquial English and didn’t understand what they said.

The students also had problems understanding him at times as his enunciation was not the same as theirs. As time passes, that communication improves. He is learning their English and they are learning to understand him, he said.

Cerenio is one of three teachers who traveled from the Philippines to work in the Glendive school system this fall. Maria Bayla teaches FACS at Dawson County High School and Cristina Tomimbang teaches math at WMS. A fourth teacher Dianne Hernandez had hoped to teach math at DCHS but was unable to get a visa, Cerenio said.

The teachers learned of the Glendive position from another Filipino teacher who is now in Lambert but had taught at DCHS. Cerenio said he submitted his application and went through an interview by Skype. After Glendive school officials had checked his references, they notified him he had the position and in mid-August he headed for Glendive.

His 26-hour flight from Manilla turned into 35 hours when he missed his connections in Minneapolis. He only had a two hour layover there, and going through immigration was a more lengthy process than he had anticipated. He ended up staying in the Minneapolis airport for nine hours before he could get another flight, he explained.

Even with the problems with his flight and the language problems that make communication difficult at times, his reception by students, faculty and the community in Glendive has been really awesome. He is not missing his family too much because of this. The salary, which is six times what he made in the Philippines, also helps, he said.

Cerenio celebrated his birthday on Nov. 5, and when he came to school that day, he found presents in front of his classroom door. A banner wishing him “Happy Birthday” had been hung in the classroom. They also had a cake for him. One of his more “unruly” students made a simple card and had other classmates sign it. Enclosed in the card was a $5 bill. The student told him to use it to buy ice cream because “you are stressed with me,” Cerenio related.

“I felt at home,” he said, explaining that in the Philippines his students, friends and family also plan birthday surprises for him.

Cerenio is the main bread winner for his extended family so being able to earn enough to send money home for them is a dream come true. He also is eager to experience American culture and to share his culture, he said.

The teacher who contacted him about coming to Glendive had also warned him not to expect a big city, explaining that living in Glendive was more like living in a province in the Philippines.

“That is awesome for me,” he said. “There is nothing to spend money on. I can save for my family.”

While he taught 17 years in the Philippines, teaching in Glendive has been an adjustment. Classes in the Philippines average 55 students. He has had 60-62 students in a class. At WMS he has only 26 but class management is more difficult, and he is still figuring out the best ways to maintain discipline, he said.

Students in the Philippines don’t have the right to say, “No” to a teacher. Even if an assignment is hard, they are obligated to do it and really want to learn. Here he has to figure out how to motivate students to want to do the work, he said.

While Cerenio recognizes the subject he teaches is hard and there is a bit of a language barrier, he is always ready to give individual help and do what he can to make sure they understand the subject.

“I don’t want to have failed students,” he said.

Food has also been a challenge for Cerenio. He is used to a diet of mainly rice and vegetables but has not been able to find familiar vegetables here or the spices he would use in the Philippines so even food he prepares doesn’t taste like home, he noted, adding that he has lost weight since coming to Glendive.

Cerenio has a great support system with his co-teachers and the administration who have offered advice and tips on class management. They have also passed on positive feedback they have heard from the students in his classes which is encouraging. Having other teachers from the Philippines in the area is also helpful, he said.

Since he is a first-year teacher at WMS, he spends a lot of time in class preparation. Other than time with his friends from the Philippines, his life consists of going to school, coming home, working on lesson plans, correcting papers, sleeping and going back to school, he said.

He is in the United States on a three-year visa that can be extended to five years, and he hopes his contract will be renewed so he can maximize that visa. He appreciates the opportunity he has to teach at WMS. Even when he struggles with class management or motivating his students, he never thinks about giving up, he said.

On the hardest days, he simply reminds himself that he is making six times what he would make in the Philippines and working with WMS students is not six times harder, maybe twice as hard, but not six times, he said.

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