As we contemplate the meaning of Labor Day, which is typically marked by Guam’s annual Labor Day Picnic for GovGuam departments and agencies at the Governor Joseph Flores Memorial Park, also known as Ypao Beach, it behooves us to pause and recall what this annual holiday celebrates.
Labor Day is an American holiday created to pay tribute to the contributions of workers to the strength, prosperity and well-being of the country. Let us not forget the unpaid workers who unceasingly toil in our families to care for children, the elderly and everyone in between. There are also many workers who are underpaid and exploited because of their perceived vulnerability or undocumented status. They often do the grunt work that no one else wants to tackle. We need to express gratitude to these often-forgotten laborers.
When thinking about unsung heroes and heroines, I’m mindful of one specific profession that is near and dear to my heart. Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to become a teacher. In 1955, I gave the commencement address at my kindergarten graduation at Infant of Prague in Tai and declared that I was going to college to become a teacher. More than six decades later, I am still a teacher.
Being profoundly inspired by the teachers in my life accounts for my early passion to become an educator. We recently had the opportunity to provide transformational leadership training to the Sisters of Mercy and their associated ministries. Teaching my former teachers was a mind-blowing experience, to say the least. I also just attended the 70th-anniversary celebration of St. Francis School run by the Sisters of Notre Dame, which I attended from first through fourth grade, before transferring to the Agana Cathedral school run by the Sisters of Mercy. The religious sisters – my teachers – were paragons of discipline and dedication as they guided our young minds to discover the keys to accessing knowledge. In a strict yet kind sort of way, they universalized my spirit and kept the fires of my childhood dream alive.
Several years ago, my cousin, Lisa Martinez Bitanga, and I visited the school sisters of the Sisters of Notre Dame from Guam, who were housed in a retirement facility in Wisconsin. We were able to spend time with our first-grade teacher, Sister Elsa, on her 100th birthday. We asked her if she remembered teaching on Guam. She smiled so lovingly and shared that being on Guam as a young woman was the greatest gift in her life. We were in a not-so-fancy, hot and muggy wooden school building in the valley – but to her, it was “heaven on earth.” Wow. She smiled ever so warmly when I told her that I was a teacher. “Like you, sister.”
My fascination with teaching also had spiritual roots. As we were preparing to receive Holy Communion at the ripe age of 7, I was so impressed by the image invoked by Father Alvin’s description of Jesus as the greatest teacher. I learned that by telling stories and helping people to understand how to relate with one another, Jesus totally changed the world and history.
That “power of teaching” really fueled my imagination. To borrow a phrase from Sammy, “I was hooked!”
Samuel and I have just conducted two weeks of training with Guam Department of Education administrators, board members and teachers on the development of authentic literacy and culturally relevant pedagogy across the curriculum. Providing training to colleagues here at home is such a privilege. Our collaboration to strengthen the teaching profession through our work with GDOE, Guam Community College and the University of Guam is assuredly a continuing journey.
As we celebrate Labor Day, I want to give a shoutout to all our teachers on Guam. I am honored to be counted among these laborers. In the words of writer Kurt Vonnegut, “Teaching, may I say, is the noblest profession of all in a Democracy.” Biba!