Women Can't Have It All


In a recent interview with The Atlantic, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi claimed that women need to give up certain aspects of motherhood in order to have a career. Women and their careers are always in the hot seat because traditionally, women were required to take care of the house and the children, and if a woman didn’t, she would be seen as a terrible mother.

Indra Nooyi’s claim about motherhood versus career does pose some challenges for the fight against the stereotypical traditional family dynamic. Should such a line exists, one that designates how far a mother can go in her career without giving up her role as a mother? What about the opposite—how much dedication does a mother need without giving up her career?

To most parents, the children come first, but should there be a line? Is there no line? Without having had any children at my young age, I can’t possibly comprehend the difficulties that mothers and fathers face.


When Nooyi talks about her daughter’s constant disappointment when she misses her school functions, she says, “… you have to cope, because you die with guilt….” Nooyi has developed an intricate coping mechanism that involves her parenting through her receptionist. Her children would call the office for permission to play Nintendo to which the receptionist would ask a series of questions until she gets a satisfactory answer. Although not ideal, this is how Nooyi manages to be a mother and the CEO of PepsiCo.

On the flip side, can men have it all? Even as women make strides to establish themselves as legitimate colleagues, if they neglect their child even for a minute, it is deemed worse than if a father did the same.

An article in Psychology Today outlines the differences between the expectations of motherhood versus fatherhood. “The modern mother, no matter how many nontraditional duties she assumes, is still seen as the family's primary nurturer and emotional guardian. It's in her genes. It's in her soul. But mainstream Western society accords no corresponding position to the modern father. Aside from chromosomes and feeling somewhat responsible for household income, there's no similarly celebrated deep link between father and child, no widely recognized ‘paternal instinct.’”

RcG6AgojiRecent times, especially movies and shows, have tried their best to reform that view and bring the role of the father to a comparable degree to that of the mother. The “celebrated” role of motherhood and fatherhood put a great stress on the bonding factor between parent and child, but one can’t help but see the obvious societal disapproval if the mother neglects rather than the father.

Women can’t have it all. If they follow their dreams, they are guilty. If they dedicate themselves to their children, they are guilty. No matter what, perhaps coping mechanisms really are the only way women can deal with the guilt.

Photo Credit: Mario Anzuoni (Reuters/Corbis) and

Life Lessons from a Substitute



It was my first day on the job. At the sound of that signal a stream of rowdy sixth grade boys stomped into the Spanish classroom shouting, cheekily pushing each other around, and repeatedly slamming their binders on their desks. They could tell I was fresh meat; I looked young, obviously had little teaching experience, and barely knew anything at all about the school or its students. No, being a substitute teacher isn’t easy.

I started substitute teaching last September because I wanted to gain more experience in the classroom and sample different subjects, grades, and education styles before going to graduate school for a Masters in Teaching. I did not know what I was in for. Challenging though it may be, throughout this school year I’ve learned many lessons from my subbing misadventures that I think are applicable to all sorts of general life situations.

Lesson #1: Fake it ‘til you make it

Walking into a new classroom as a substitute is like walking into the unknown. You don’t know any of the students’ names, what they’re learning, their rules and routines, or whether they’re going to be trustworthy or mutinous. But it’s your job to take charge of the class and make everything run smoothly just as if it were any other day.

When I substitute I need to take full control and act like whatever classroom I’m spending the day in has been mine all year. Whenever you’re trying something new, a bold face and straight spine goes a long way in boosting confidence and presence, and assures those around you while you figure things out along the way. Of course, don’t let your act get in the way of asking questions; being a newbie is still better than screwing everything up.

Lesson #2: Hold your ground

There’s always at least one student who will try to test their limits with a substitute, whether it’s conveniently forgetting normal classroom rules or dramatic displays of outright defiance (I once had a student who refused to stop shouting ‘Yo mama’ jokes in the middle of art class). To do my job correctly and prevent anarchic uprisings I have to be an unwavering rock, laying down the law so that everybody can successfully learn in a respectful and safe environment.

People are always going to challenge you whether it’s at your job, in your relationships, or randomly on the street. Stick to what you believe is right to do what you need to do.

Lesson #3: The power of positive framing

When I first started, my instinct to deal with misbehaving students was to chastise them and warn them with a punishment. I soon realized that by emphasizing their misbehaviors, my words made the students feel threatened and distrusted, causing them to act out even further. Once I started framing my words positively, I immediately saw a change in students’ reactions. Instead of, “Stop shouting or else your free time is over,” I would phrase my directions more like, “Remember, we use quiet voices in the classroom so that everybody can concentrate.”

Using positive framing when trying to motivate people is more effective because it optimistically envisions what one can work towards rather than against. People will feel more encouraged by kind words that respect their free agency and it will be easier to build more trusting relationships.

Lesson #4: Laugh it off and let it go

I have questioned my likableness and abilities as an educator, especially after having so many students challenge my authority in mischievous ways. Then I remember that these students aren’t acting up because they have a personal vendetta, but because historically, students have been messing around with substitutes since the dawn of time. While at times I can get frustrated with the students and with myself, I don’t take any of it personally. At the very least I always walk away with a hilarious story.

It’s not you, it’s them. Sometimes people just react to you negatively because of your position, their mood, or an infinite amount of other reasons. It’s not a reflection of you as a person so just laugh it off and let it go.

Photo credits: Hi Miss Gray

No More Apples, Just Respect


My boyfriend is one of the lucky ones. His life passions just so happen to align with one of the most venerated professions you could ever have: being a doctor. His parents beam at his accomplishment of getting into one of the top medical schools in the country and becoming the first doctor in their family. Genuinely fascinated by his chosen path, everyone he speaks with barrages him with questions about what he’s currently studying and wants to specialize in, to which he replies with beguiling stories about gut-wrenching surgeries and his exploits with cadavers.

I, however, am not as lucky in this respect. What I want to be is a teacher and the general reaction to my career choice is usually quite the opposite. Here’s how the scene goes:

Stranger at party: “Are you also going to medical school?” Me: “Oh, no. I’m planning to start grad school next year." Stranger: “What do you want to go to grad school for?” Me: “Education. I want to teach.” Stranger: (utterly unimpressed) “Oh…”

[End of small talk]

We’ve all heard the saying “Those who can’t do, teach.”  In the United States teaching is grossly undervalued as a second-rate career, as many people liken teachers to over glorified babysitters that get summer vacations off. What many people don’t realize that this conception has a profound effect on America that becomes fairly obvious if you think about it -- devaluing teachers means you are devaluing education itself.

Doesn’t that sound absurd? In a country that is obsessed with standardized tests and Ivy League universities, and where some parents pay $20,000 tuitions for fiercely competitive preschools, Americans know that an excellent education is as vital as food and water in order to become successful. One would think that more respect would be paid to the people who were actually facilitating said education.

Because of its current mediocre status, the majority of talented college graduates pass up teaching for more socially gratifying careers in medicine, law or business, all of which bring potentially lofty paychecks -- along with the prestige and esteem they represent. Teacher and author Ilana Garon reports that only 23% of teachers in the United States come from the top third tier of their graduating classes. In contrast:

“... the world's top-performing education systems – South Korea, Finland, Singapore – have this in common: 100% of teachers come from the top third of the college graduates, which (along with good working conditions, ample training and professional development, and higher salaries) promotes a culture wherein the teaching profession is viewed as selective and prestigious.”

America’s international rankings in education are severely lagging behind these teacher-driven countries, coming in 30th in math, 23rd in science, and 20th in reading out of 65 of the world’s most developed countries.

Even though multitudes of factors (such as funding and policy) are involved in running an effective education system, researchers are finding that nothing tops the impact of an excellent teacher in terms of student achievement. While investigating studies on teacher effects, Malcolm Gladwell discovers that students are “better off in a ‘bad’ school with an excellent teacher than an excellent school with a bad teacher.” The bottom line is, if the United States wants to maintain its position as a globally competitive power, then the societal attitude towards teachers needs to change.

Things are slowly moving in the right direction, however, as education reformers are making grander efforts to find individuals who have the potential to be great teachers, and alter the public perception of the profession. It’s now trendy for graduates (such as myself) to go into teaching fellowships straight out of college. Teach for America’s skyrocketing popularity has made its application process even more competitive than law school. Following up their award-winning documentary, the makers of “Waiting for Superman” recently released a new film entitled “Teach,” which showcases the stories of dedicated teachers on a mission to make a difference.

As a Fil-Am, I haven’t heard much enthusiasm from family members about my interest in education. Instead, they also prefer talking about my boyfriend’s glamorous medical career and insist that I “Lock that up!” Of course, I can understand how for many Pilipino immigrants who uprooted their lives seeking greater opportunity for their children, pursuing anything less than a doctor or equivalently-esteemed career might seem like squandering the American dream.

The true American dream, however, is about equality. So is education. My mission as a teacher is to ensure that every child, no matter their background, has the skills and confidence to uplift themselves out of whatever might plague them (whether its poverty, ignorance, or boredom) and fulfill their potential. Just like any doctor, we teachers hope to change lives. Can’t we just get a little bit more respect?

Photo Credit:

Passing on the M.E.A.L. Plan

It is a running joke in my family that my siblings and I did not take up the "M.E.A.L." career plan championed by every parent. M.E.A.L.–that is, Medicine, Engineering, Accounting, and Law professions–is the golden standard, the life paths parents cross their fingers for as soon as their toddlers start school. M.E.A.L. jobs are hard-earned titles, widely respected, financially stable, and of no interest to my siblings and I. Trust me, I often wish I grew up with dreams to be a doctor like so many of my admirable friends, but my restless mind led me to a different calling–a calling that too often generates furrowed-brow-wrinkled nose-reactions at Pilipino family parties.

"A writer? But, why? Are you sure you don't want to take up nursing?"

Cue: sigh.

From left to right: my two older brothers, me and my younger sister.

I have three siblings. My oldest brother studied linguistics, traveled around the world teaching English for several years, then returned to be a high school Mandarin and French teacher. My other older brother studied Film and Television, had a run as an NBC Page, and now works in production at Discovery Communications. I'm studying journalism–a career my heart was set on since I was 14. My 15-year-old sister doesn't know what she wants to be yet, but the M.E.A.L. plan isn't on her radar either.

Our parents never imposed any M.E.A.L. dreams on us. They let us discover our true passions, only bolstered by being raised in a city where opportunity sits at your fingertips. I was only 12 when my mom gave me a door sign that read "Future Award-Winning Author at Work."

My mom encouraged creative pursuits with gifts like this sign.

Why did we not pursue more traditional careers? Why did we choose the risk of uncertain paths with no set plan or mode of study? Despite my parents' undying encouragement and gung-ho dive into uncertainty alongside their kids, I still have felt guilt. Sometimes, I've wished they could boast about their daughter-the-doctora. I have felt the succeed-or-else urgency unique to second generation kids, and have been reminded of the struggles often associated with parents who leaving the Philippines in order to provide for their families.

I recently read an article in The Atlantic titled "All Immigrants Are Artists," profiling one of my favorite writers, Edwidge Danticat. It put into perspective the creative pursuits of my siblings and I perfectly.

"First-generation immigrants often model artistic behavior for their children... I realize now I saw artistic qualities in my parents’ choices—in their creativity, their steadfastness, the very fact that we were in this country from another place. They’re like the artist mentors people have in any discipline—by studying, by observing, by reading, you’ve had this model in the form of someone’s life. My mother could not have found time for creative pursuits with four children and a factory job. But she modeled the discipline and resourcefulness and self-sacrifice that are constant inspirations in my own life’s work. The things she did, the choices she made, made the artist’s life possible for me. I didn’t know it, but she taught me that being an artist makes sense."

If stringing words together, painting meaning from language, and capturing life's moments with pen and paper fulfill me both personally and professionally–I do not need to apologize. The M.E.A.L. plan wasn't for me, and it doesn't have to apply to others who have felt guilt as like I did. Besides, there are young Pilipino girls and boys with creative dreams like mine, and they need a role model to look to. Why not me?

A Speech on the Tragic Cost of Higher Education in the Philippines

Note from the Editor: Therese Franceazca Balagtas is one of UniPro’s interns for the summer. At our recent Staff Development Workshop, she delivered a speech on the “UniIssue” of education in the Philippines. Read on to see her thoughtful take on the controversial topic.- by Therese Franceazca Balagtas

IMG001f Sixty thousand pesos – That is the average annual cost of tuition for a student entering college in the Philippines. You can expect a high school graduate entering his/her first year of college to shell out somewhere between thirty thousand to up to ninety thousand pesos just for tuition alone.

When you ask Filipino parents about their dreams for their children, an inevitable answer would be to be able to send them to school and finish their education. This isn’t surprising most especially because the Philippines is a nation that values education. For Filipinos, education is a prized possession and a college diploma is one’s ticket to a better life. So it should also come to no surprise that many Filipino parents go beyond their means in order to give their children a decent education.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, higher education comes with a hefty price tag. Private schools are notorious for their constant increase in tuition costs mainly because they are profit driven institutions. But even state-run universities and colleges have a difficult time providing financial support to students due to the shrinking financial funding from the government. This makes the costs of higher education stiff for many Filipino households. You’re probably wondering, how about the public school system, isn’t that free and subsidized by the government? Yes that’s true, public schools are subsidized by the government and can be attained for free or at a very low cost. However, the public schooling system only applies to grade school through high school, which means that for a college education it is expected for the student and his/her family to bear the full cost.

Earlier this year, Kristel Tejada, a student from the University of the Philippines-Manila committed suicide after she could no longer fund her own education at the university and after being humiliated due to her incapacity to do so. It is unfortunate for a student to take her own life simply because she couldn’t afford her own education. It is even more upsetting because the University of the Philippines is a state university known for their “Iskolar ng Bayan” (national scholars), and their supposed higher sensitivity for aiding students from less advantaged sectors possessing academic merit and potential.

Regrettably, her suicide is just a symptom of a larger crisis affecting the country’s educational system. Many educational institutions are notorious for implementing a tuition installment plan, which strategically places payment due dates right before exam time. These plans delay and sometimes even prevent students from taking important exams because they are unable to pay their tuition on time. During the time I spent studying in the Philippines, I’ve seen parents and students alike ask for an extension come exam time because they simply couldn’t scrape together funds to be able to pay their tuition in time for exams.

The sad truth is, many Filipino students discover at some point in their college career that they are no longer able to afford tuition. That being said, they either end up transferring to a sub-par institution or drop out of college altogether. I think the youth should not be denied access to a college education simply because of financial constraints. The government should be able to invest more in student loan programs and full scholarships, which in turn give qualified recipients a clear shot at earning their degrees. They should also keep in mind compassion for deserving students from the bottom of the nation’s economic tiers. Consider the possibility of more young people who are better trained at skills and professions because they were given the opportunity to earn a college degree. Consider the possibility of parents less burdened by the high cost of education. Think about what that could possibly do to make our society better.