Teaching to Empower: An Interview with Heide Aquino

July 23, 2019
Rachel Joyce Marie O. Sanchez

For Heide Aquino, a passionate teacher who cares about whoever she teaches—may they be participants in a seminar, lectors in a parish, or students in her classroom, teaching is a way of serving God and her country. She makes it a point to make her lessons interactive, engaging, and fun so that her students enjoy learning. She finds fulfillment in helping others to improve their own skills and capacities. She feels rewarded when she sees the lectors that she trained proclaim the Word of God clearly and confidently, and when her Ateneo students write impressive essays in Spanish.
Heide is a very active member of the Holy Family Parish in Barangays East and West Kamias. She belongs to the Daughters of Mary Immaculate International and has been involved in various Church activities, including fiestas, processions, outreach, and scholarship programs. Aside from these and other volunteer work, Heide also serves God by teaching the lectors and commentators of her parish to read well. She uses an inductive method that is very encouraging for her trainees; she asks them, for instance, to describe what they like at first about how the parish priest, Fr. Louie Caupayan, celebrates Mass. Based on the description that comes out of their discussion, Heide draws out the qualities of good public speaking that can be used as guidelines. Utilizing her extensive experience in teaching public speaking at John Robert Powers for ten years, she helps the lectors develop various techniques in pronunciation, audience contact, and intonation that enable them to read and proclaim God’s Word at Mass. Indeed, even though Heide at 75 years young has already gone past the age limit of those who are allowed to serve as lector or commentator, she does not have hard feelings, for she enjoys teaching the younger lectors and believes that she helps even more people by doing so.
Heide’s passion for teaching and her commitment to God are products of her long experience of Catholic education. She studied religion under the De La Salle Brothers in elementary and taught catechism under the guidance of diocesan priests when she was in sixth grade. She continued her volunteer work of teaching high school students, with her religion classes having a built-in outreach program that encouraged them to teach religion in public school. Her college teachers, especially the Recoletos Fathers, saw her potential and gave her special classes in Spanish so that she could go to Spain to continue her studies there. When she returned to the Philippines, she taught in a Franciscan school that provided many opportunities for exposure to marginalized sectors, and then later at Miriam College and Ateneo de Manila.
She is very grateful for her upbringing which she says is very Catholic; indeed, she is the only Catholic in a family of Christians, with Catholicism having been deeply ingrained in her throughout her schooling and involvement in teaching. Going to Church and serving God  already make up a way of life for her, and she is already resolved to continue living as a Catholic and eventually dying as one. Her faith also finds expression in her teaching which she does a lot of, sometimes teaching in three different schools on the same day. Yet she enjoys what she is doing despite the workload, saying, “When you enjoy what you are doing, it’s not work.” Ateneo is like a playground for her, and the Modern Languages Department to which she belongs is like her family.
Heide also conducts Spanish classes in the Ateneo, where her teaching continues to be an avenue for her to exercise the passion for education which she has nurtured over the years, especially given her background in Catholic schools. During the interview, she shared some of her reflections on the relevance of teaching modern languages to Filipino students, which for her is also an opportunity to contribute to nation-building. She identifies four ways by which learning languages can benefit the Philippines, with the first being specific to Spanish while the other three modes apply to other modern languages as well.
First, learning Spanish opens doors to reading and understanding Philippine literature. Many Filipino heroes wrote books, letters, and poetry in Spanish, and their works contain a profound sense of patriotism that seems to jump out of their original texts and cling to students’ memories. Students of Spanish thus gain this rare opportunity to learn from their heroes. Basic skills in the language, moreover, also enable students to express their own opinions and values in the context of the contemporary situation. They reflect and talk about what they would like to be, where they would like to live, or what they think about different social issues. These conversations and the debates that come out of them then become avenues for nurturing patriotism and human values. Indeed, Heide says that it is such a pity that the required units for Modern Languages in the Ateneo have been reduced to three, which would be just enough as an introduction; at least six units are needed for students to be able to carry out the conversations she describes here.
Second, language empowers people. As the saying goes, “no person is an island”—human beings use languages to connect, and so the more languages a person learns, the more that person can become liberated and well-connected. In Heide’s experience, learning Spanish has brought her to different places where she has met a lot of people. She is not afraid to get lost even when she is a Filipina in a foreign land because she knows how to speak it. Language facilitates her ability to befriend people and earn their trust.
Third, language is also beneficial for the Philippine economy. There are many call centers in the Philippines given Filipinos’ ability to speak English well, and they even pay twice as much for agents who can speak languages in addition to English. The ability of Filipinos to speak different languages thus makes the Philippines more attractive to multinational companies and increases not only their salaries but also the government’s tax income. Indeed, even Filipino migrant workers who know several languages are also very much in demand abroad. By communicating effectively and impressively in multi-lingual contexts, they can contribute to building a positive reputation for the Philippines on top of the economic benefits that they bring.
Fourth, cultivating the knowledge of different modern languages among Filipinos can help the Philippines position itself better in the context of international relations. Philippine schools and organizations can hold and host world conferences; Philippine representatives can establish their rapport with other countries and build valuable relationships facilitated by language.
Heide definitely sees teaching as an expression of her love for God and her country, and she uses her talent in education to contribute to both the Church and the nation. She exercises teaching as a way of empowering lectors to preach the Word of God as well as Ateneo students to engage others in different parts of the world.
Nevertheless, she recognizes that the Church and the country she serves can still benefit from on-going improvement, that the Church, for one, is composed of people too. It is her personal relationship with God that keeps her faithful. For instance, she recalls friends who visit other countries and who feel a greater dissatisfaction in the Philippines as a result, along with a desire to change nationalities if only this were possible. Heide herself has visited several countries and has been impressed by the beauty and development she has observed in other places. Rather than wanting to leave the Philippines, however, she stays, and says, “My heart bleeds.” She knows that Filipinos are not cultivating what they have despite being affluent in natural resources. She believes that loving God also entails caring for the land that has been given to us and yet, at the same time, that we are also wasting our potential. Corruption, according to Heide, is the problem behind the situation Filipinos find themselves in. This, for her, should motivate educators like herself even more to continue teaching values in their classrooms.
Heide’s hope is not to leave the country but to make it better. She believes that the Philippines can be one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. She invites Filipinos: “Go around the Philippines. It is beautiful. There is so much we can be proud of, especially our happy people.”

The view expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of School of Humanities or the Ateneo de Manila University.