Determination defines former Tzu Chi scholar Jonalyn Alfonso in a word. Hailing from a family with financial troubles, Jonalyn strived for excellence in her studies to be able to help them. Now, she teaches Filipino and Civics at a private school in Cainta, Rizal, not once to forget the lessons she has learned during her time with Tzu Chi.
Before 22-year-old Jonalyn Alfonso can teach at the school of her choice, she must first make a demonstration of her teaching style.
With the panel of teachers watching intently, she asks for a pail to use—an unusual request. She divides the pail in four and asks the teachers to write down things they envy about their peers: material things, attitude, looks, etc. Then, the teachers drop them into the corresponding partition.
Then, she chooses the partition with the most number of entries to discuss. She takes a page from the Filipino literary classic, Ibong Adarna (“The Adarna Bird”), to further her point about the destructive tendencies of envy. Astounded by her creativity and, more importantly, fortitude, the teachers granted her the post.
“Through that, I showed the need to discard all our envy towards others. If he can do it, so can you. If he can change for the better, you can do it too while being yourself,” said Jonalyn.
The former Tzu Chi scholar is now the youngest teacher in Peniel Integrated Christian Academy of Rizal (PICAR), a private school of some 200 students in Cainta, Rizal. She teaches Filipino and Civics in a total of six classes: two in kinder, and one each for Grades 1, 2, 4, and 8. While Jonalyn graduated with honors, PICAR principal Audreylie Villegas says she is more impressed by her determination.
“When she is called out by one of her co-teachers for faults like addressing the students, she will adjust her work ethic accordingly. Others would frown when being corrected, but not her. And that’s a good sign of character,” explained Villegas.
Such character was nurtured over the years she spent as a Tzu Chi scholar, having entered on her first year in high school. The determination that has defined Jonalyn among family, friends, and fellows can be traced back to a frugal upbringing.
From student to teacher
Jonalyn is the second of three daughters in the Alfonso household, a small two-story home near the riverbanks of Barangay Malanday, Marikina City. One can make out the signboard of a store the family used to run but has to close due to financial constraints. Some items are still on sale, but the store is no longer a viable source of income.
The siblings have to rely on their parents’ day jobs for their needs. The father is a construction worker, while the mother Arlyn works at a textile factory in Quezon City. But Arlyn only reports for duty two days a week. And the fact that her employer is experiencing some issues doesn’t make it any easier for her.
“At one point, I thought about working while studying, but my mother encouraged me not to. ‘Your father and I will handle it,’” Jonalyn narrated.
When Jonalyn got word of Tzu Chi’s scholarship program at her old high school, she informed her mother. The latter wasted no time signing her daughter up.
“[The humanity classes] have been a great help, especially in teaching values. This is the most important, as teaching is pointless without the proper behavior. When you teach, you teach with a positive attitude,” said Jonalyn.
Since becoming a teacher, she has been shouldering the allowance of her youngest sister.
“I felt a huge burden lifted away,” remarked Arlyn.
Whereas she lent an ear to lectures as a student in the past, now Teacher Jonalyn’s the one giving lectures. It’s an entirely different world that she has come to appreciate as she carries lessons from her years as a Tzu Chi scholar. Regardless of the evolution of her role in the classroom, she still has to study just as hard as her students about what she teaches.
And she will need to study harder for the Licensure Examination for Teachers next year.