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‘The Learning’ Follows Teachers From the Philippines to Baltimore

September 16, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the new documentary, "The Learning," filmmaker Ramona Diaz follows four Filipina women facing their first year as teachers in Baltimore's public schools. This excerpt is part of The Economist Film Project, a series of independently produced films aired in partnership between The Economist and the NewsHour.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a different take on how to solve teacher shortages in inner-city schools.

It comes from our Economist Film Project, showcasing the art of filmmaking.

Tonight’s documentary is called “The Learning.” It follows four Filipina women recruited to teach in public schools in East Baltimore. The women hope to earn enough to transform their families’ lives back in the Philippines. However, their dreams collide with Baltimore’s tough realities.

Filmmaker Ramona Diaz is Filipino-American and lives in Baltimore. She began this project in 2006.

This excerpt focuses on the experience that year of one teacher, Dorotea Godinez.

MAN: One of the things we’re finding is, in the United States, that we don’t have an abundant supply of math teachers and science teachers and special-ed teachers. And we have been contemplating coming to the Philippines for about three, four years. And then, finally, last year was the first time that we came. And now we’re back again.

TEACHER AND STUDENTS (singing): Goodbye, my teacher. Goodbye. Goodbye, my teacher. Goodbye, my friend. We will see each other again.

(LAUGHTER)

WOMAN: Why the United States?

DOROTEA GODINEZ, teacher: I would appear hypocrite if I wouldn’t say — tell you this, that it’s for greener pasture, because, you know, Philippines is financially ill. And employees are receiving salaries below the poverty line.

WOMAN: So how much money are you going to make in the United States? Twice as much?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Maybe.

WOMAN: Is twice as much — is that enough?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Twice as much. Yes.

MAN (through translator): We don’t want her to leave, but life here is so hard, she has to go.

WOMAN: So it would be worth it to you to leave the country where you have lived your whole life, your family, your friends, your support groups, everything that you know in your whole life, and move to a different country? You’re ready to do that?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Yes, ma’am, if that is possible.

Good morning. Come here. Do you know me? I’m Mrs. Godinez. I’m Mrs. Godinez, your science teacher. Welcome to my room.

Seat number one. Good morning.

STUDENT: Good morning.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: I am Mrs. Godinez, your science teacher. We are in good hands.

Now, you might not like me because I am a Filipino. “No, I don’t like a Filipino teacher.” And I may — I may not say also that I don’t like my students because they are Americans. No, I would never do that. I like everybody. You might be a Filipino. You might be an American. You might be a Chinese. It doesn’t put a gap. Whoever you are, whatever you are, I am here to help you.

It’s not really as tough as far as content is concerned, just on the disciplinary portion. You know, before I go to class, I need to make my lesson plan. I always picture it out that it should be, like, enjoyable, that they should be learning.

OK, the distance from that point to there is 32 meters.

But, sometimes, I’m so depressed because the picture of my class which is in my mind doesn’t show in my class.

Measure the time it takes you from the starting point to the end point, then back.

So, oh, my God I have prepared this lesson, but then it doesn’t come true.

Demarco (ph), this is not a dancing hall.

Sometimes, I say I cannot do it, but I am trying. It’s depressing. Oh, go on, just go on, just go on, just go on anyway. Just go on, just go on, just go on.

I ask them, why don’t you respect, like, a Filipino teacher like me? They say, no, we respect you. But they’re just taking advantage of your being soft. No, I’m not that soft, you know, but I can’t really cope up with the behavior that you have. I — this is my very first experience in teaching where it’s…

(LAUGHTER)

DOROTEA GODINEZ: It’s..

(CRYING)

DOROTEA GODINEZ: I’m sorry.  

So far, this is my 24th year of teaching, but I guess it is the — not really the horrible one, but I guess it’s full of — like, full of adjustments, full of disappointments, full of hurts, full of — full of ill feelings.

NICOLE DANTZLER, student: You miss your family?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Oh, sure, I miss them.

NICOLE DANTZLER: Do you cry?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Sometimes. I will be going home in June. Will you miss me?

NICOLE DANTZLER: Yes.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Are you sure?

NICOLE DANTZLER: Yes. You’re not coming back?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: I will.

NICOLE DANTZLER: No, you’re not.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: I will.

NICOLE DANTZLER: I wouldn’t leave my family if I was you. I would stay over there. Do you like it in the Philippines?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Mm-hmm.   

NICOLE DANTZLER: You like it over here better?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: That’s a very tough question.

NICOLE DANTZLER: Oh.

Thank you.

KARL PERRY, Renaissance Academy: So, how do you feel?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Nervous.  

(LAUGHTER)

KARL PERRY: Why are nervous? Don’t be nervous.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Nervous. Nervous.

KARL PERRY: All right, so tell me, what will you do differently so that you can maintain more order in your classroom?

DOROTEA GODINEZ: One fault that I have, I admit, is, if this is — if these are the rules that I set, I stretch the rules, some of the rules…

KARL PERRY: Right.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: … just to — you know, sometimes just to please them.

KARL PERRY: Right.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: And it is because there is fear in myself, because I’m afraid if I will be so mean with them, they might sue me or they might charge me with something which I never do. So I might just be in jail in America, which is — which is — I don’t ever dream of. Oh, my God, so…

KARL PERRY: Every new teacher, no matter where they’re coming from, even if someone’s come from Baltimore City, it’s always a challenging year. Your overall rating came out to satisfactory for your first year here with us.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: OK.

KARL PERRY: The only thing that pulled you down was classroom management. We’re truly lucky to have you here, to be honest with you. It’s been a pleasure working with you this first year, and I look forward to many more years working with you.

DOROTEA GODINEZ: Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to next year, that you will still be there and here for me.

(LAUGHTER)

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Baltimore public school system no longer recruits teachers from the Philippines, but Dorotea as well as the three other Filipino teachers followed in the film are still teaching there five years later.

You can watch the entire documentary next Tuesday, Sept. 20, on the PBS program “POV.”

And you can learn about The Economist Film Project or submit your own film at film.economist.com.