Work, family add up to success for teacher

A Filipino math teacher loves his job in Arnold even more now that his family has joined him

September 16, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Azur Oducayen has had to get used to a lot of new things in his first year teaching and living in the United States - children who try to cut class, calling fellow teachers and supervisors by their first names, and, well, snow.

Oducayen, 31, emigrated from the Philippines last fall to teach math at Magothy River Middle School in Arnold. As his second year begins, he said, he is more relaxed and prepared to manage his class of American students.

One reason is that he can do it with his wife, Maribeth, and 3-year-old daughter, Blaise, by his side. Oducayen, who lived apart from his family last year, returned to the Philippines this summer to help them move to the United States.

Fellow math teacher Daria Capps said Oducayen's whole manner has changed since then.

"Oh my, he is such a happy man," she said. "He comes in whistling and singing."

Oducayen is one of 12 Filipino teachers in Anne Arundel County this year filling vacancies for math and science teachers. The opportunity is lucrative for foreign teachers both financially and professionally, Oducayen said. He makes as much money in a month in the United States as he would in an entire school year teaching in his native country. He also learns new teaching methods.

"I want to excel in my teaching," Oducayen said.

The process has been emotional. The family took only their clothes with them when they made the 33-hour trip to the United States in August because it was too expensive to ship furniture. Oducayen's mother is living in his house in the Philippines. Fellow teachers have donated furniture and toys for Blaise. Members of the Filipino community have chipped in utensils and cookware.

Maribeth Oducayen, 28, laughs easily and giggles when she talks about not knowing how to use the dishwasher in her new apartment in Arnold. And she cries at the first mention of being away from her family in Davao City, in the southern part of the Philippines. It will probably be two more years before the couple can afford to fly home to see family.

Through tears, Maribeth Oducayen said how grateful she is to the teachers and administrators at Magothy River Middle for making the family feel welcome. Every time her husband comes home from school, he brings another donated item with him, she said.

"The teachers were very supportive of him and of us," she said.

The teachers learned of the family's circumstances after Capps, the other math teacher, went to Oducayen's apartment to meet his wife. She saw a table and two chairs and sheets on the floor where the family had been sleeping.

"That's when we put out the word," Capps said.

Within a week, fellow teachers had outfitted his apartment with beds, a sofa and coffee table, a vacuum cleaner and other supplies.

Azur Oducayen had to rely a lot on fellow teachers last year as well because he did not have a driver's license until Sept. 7. They took him to work, to shop and to have dinner, said Liz Edwards, chairwoman of the math department at Magothy River. Last year, teachers donated money and their frequent flier miles to send Oducayen to the Philippines for Christmas.

The staff took to Oducayen immediately because of his quick sense of humor, modesty and naivete about certain modern conveniences - he marveled at a revolving door on one sightseeing trip. Used to a more strict Asian etiquette, Oducayen initially referred to his supervisor as "Ms. Edwards" and his principal, Christopher Mirenzi, as "Sir."

"When I come to speak to him, it's clear he views me as a supervisor and not a colleague," Mirenzi said. "That's starting to wear off a little."

That level of respect is carried over to his students, Edwards said. Oducayen takes it personally when a child does not do well on a test and looks to see how he can improve his teaching, she said.

Oducayen apparently takes his teaching so seriously that he had to be warned that his students might try any excuse to get a hall pass. He couldn't understand why students would want to cut class, Edwards said.

"In the Philippines, education is valued more," she said.

Oducayen started the process to get his family a visa to come to the country in February and made final arrangements with the U.S. embassy over the summer.

Now Oducayen is trying to get his wife a work visa so that she can teach, but it might be difficult. Maribeth taught the Filipino language and culture to students. Although she can speak English, she is out of practice and sometimes has trouble understanding the American accent, she said.

In the meantime, Maribeth Oducayen is looking forward to meeting the physical education teacher at Magothy River Middle. She prides herself on being an athlete and plays volleyball and pingpong. She can't wait to make new friends and learn American sports, such as lacrosse.

"Teach me, teach me," she said and smiled. "I have the energy."

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