Remembering The Teachers

I spent 17 years in formal education. It spanned five institutions and learned 26 different subjects under 48 different teachers. I met about 530 classmates and befriended another 750 in that period. It took 70 notebooks, five dozen of pen and pencils, a dozen pairs of shoes and immeasurable number of hours to study my lessons before I could say I made it. Yet until now, as you all agree, we are still learning new lessons in life everyday. One of which may not have been discussed before in the class but one which comes from our instincts to appreciate the efforts done by our teachers by remembering the past as years roll by.

My first teacher in school was Mrs Beatriz Canillo. It was 20 years ago when I first got admitted to a formal academic training. It was the so called Project Hope kindergarten, initiated by the late Elias B. Lopez who was then the mayor of Davao City. I can remember when my mother put on my shining, heavy brown shoes, plain white shirt and navy blue shorts after an early morning breakfast. It was my first day in school. The school was a good fifteen minute walk from home, just across the house of our barangay captain. I can see little kids also there, playing the swing and the slide, others hesitant to part from their mothers, too shy to talk to others. I was carrying my baon — a couple of sandwiches and a small orange juice container – and my
Flash Gordon bag when I was helped to find my way inside and look for a suitable table to stay. The rattan chairs are available though I was told I needed to get one for my own use next time.

Then the bell sounded; classes will start soon. In a little while I can see a few of my classmates, mostly boys beginning to cry as their mothers or lolas move out of the room. It was a tough task for Madam Betty to keep the class in order, but all the while, the crying ended and we soon started scanning our Coloring Book with our new set of crayons.

It was a small classroom, just enough for the thirty of us in the morning. Another thirty students are accommodated in the afternoon. And it’s the only classroom we have. But despite the water flowing out of the thatched roof on a rainy day, Madam Betty made sure we are ready to enter the First Grade. It was tough for her since meager funding for the school from the local government meant various needs have to be subsidized by parents. And parents do have to do more than just that. Just as we were assigned cleaners in our classroom once a week, parents have to tend to the beautification of the school’s lawn on weekends. Some will trim the grass, some will sweep the floor, and some will prepare refreshments. After all things have been set properly, it’s time to unwind with some funny anecdotes from their beloved children.

When I was in Grade School, I began to wonder how it takes someone to be a teacher. Maybe I could not be a teacher, I wanted to be a fireman (I later wanted to be an airline pilot, owing to my first flight experience). I am too shy to face the class. I also thought of the pains a teacher endures. When I was in Grade 3, I could see our substitute teacher Ma’am Emnace grimacing during our lunch break when she suffered ulcer. My Grade 5 class also witnessed when Mrs Alejandro fainted out of stress while discussing our midmorning Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) subject.

But I had some fond memories too. Sporting my crisp Kab Scout uniform in Grade 2 while singing the song Madam Papin taught us:

Come young citizens of the world
We are one, we are one
Come young citizens of the world
We are one, we are one
We have one hope
We have one dream
And with one voice
We sing…
Peace, prosperity
And love for all mankind

And of course, to culminate my elementary years was in the class of Mrs Umusig where the self-proclaimed quintet of me, Rodel, Jergen, Christopher and Ray Amador were dubbed Comedian Brothers. Especially memorable to me are my lonely walks going home in the rain, with my blue raincoat hanging loosely as my feet got numb. At home awaits my share of champorado made by my late grandma and Scooby Doo every Tuesday afternoons. In high school, I wondered how big, or how small the salaries of our teachers in school. It was good they have their children study for free there. But much later I would know the salary they receive was smaller than what I got in my first job out of the University.

Never mind, I told myself “Even if I don’t have a good salary, as long as I am happy, I will be fine.” I think they are fine. But sooner I would realize most of them are not. Many of them have been desperately trying to move out and get a slot at the public schools. Some have succeeded while others have failed. One example is through a tragic story I got when I was still on my first few months in Hong Kong was the death of our CAT commandant, Sir Picar. He was a stern man with looks able to melt down our senses. He was a great mentor in the sciences that is why I got inspired to receive the Best in Math and Best in Science, partly because of his motivation. It was just too late I never met and thank him personally of my achievements recently.

When I was a college freshman, I thought professors enjoy the most relaxed job and better paid than high school teachers. They just give lectures, random quizzes to intimidate us and do not mind if I am wearing my prescribed uniform in class or not. By the power of impulsive judgment, they can pass a dozen and drop the rest, I was told. Had I got what I wanted the past summer it would have been a totally different scenario. My mother told me I could not study at UPLB due to our finances. As you may know State U imposes one of the most liberal student policies in the academe. Add that woe of not getting admitted at UP to getting the chance to try my luck on other schools during high school. Yet scholarships offered consolation and a big shot in the arm for my wounded pride. I remembered Mrs Fuertes, our high school registrar shrugging her shoulders upon knowing I gave up the slot.

Giving up the slot meant I had to look elsewhere, not faraway but just the outskirts of the city. I tried every school possible just to make it, but eventually ICC was the last say. Just before my first day of classes in College, ICC became UIC. When I read the Student Handbook, it’s just a more elaborate high school catalog when it comes to imposing student policies and discipline. In UIC, we are asked to wear white polo and pin our ID anywhere in the campus. No smoking, no fraternities. The school policy made teachers and security guards target of students’ ire. In the Engineering Mechanics class of Engr Escalante, students who do not wear socks are denied entry in the classroom. Engr Sabate requires T square/0.5/0.3 pen as gate pass to his Engineering Drawing class. I thought teachers ought to impose such ‘guidelines’ to instill discipline and self reliance. It was never a problem for teachers who have played as role models. But to others, it was simply disgusting. I had a teacher who got involved in a relationship with another student in school.

It would have been alright if he/she had an A++ quality of teaching. While we were in the classroom waiting for Mr. Bajo’s History 18 class, an unusual commotion was heard from outside. As we perched out of the corridor, we saw faculty members out in protest, with black armbands and one carrying a symbolic coffin to resemble the
quality of education of the three year old University. The bottom line of the argument is money and benefits undelivered as stipulated in contracts. Shortly after we had our own protest actions which echoed our teachers’ sentiments, we were asked to sign Terms of Agreement prior to being enrolled for the semester. It was a basis for a possible suit against us, had we made the same set of actions like we did the past summer.

Once I graduated and soon enough looked for a job, I felt compelled to practice being a teacher while grabbing the job I desired. What was important for me then was to land a job and avoid being unused, unproductive and useless after five grueling college years. And so I did not become a pilot and instead fell into that job I used to think I was not fit at all: to be a teacher. Every morning I have to be awake at 6, be ready to leave home by 7 and hope traffic jam have not clogged up the mainstreams of Matina
or our driver is quite clever enough to negotiate the road, despite the frowns passengers on other jeepneys. As I reach the office, I just leave my bag at the Computer Center and head upstairs where I have to catch the 7.30 class. Whenever I am late, I hope the DSA secretary won’t reach the noisy classroom of mine and record I was not yet; else, it means salary deduction and worse, reprimand from the DSA or VP for Academics the next time she holds a meeting.

On times I am an early bird, poring over the book of Love and Rainville is a must. Differential Calculus is the harder subject for me to learn than Integral Calculus but here in my teaching profession, it’s the latter which is harder to teach. Clad in our 40k (pesos) uniform (to quote Jerome Lomada), I feel dignified to talk to my students confidently over the notes. Patterned generally for non-teaching personnel, we become used to be branded as colorums as only a handful of teachers wear them. To add confusion, we at one point, did not know where we really belong. As hired professionals to work at the office, we are technically members of the Non Teaching Personnel. As instructors who handle as much as 9 units a Sem, we felt obliged to join faculty development  programs to improve our teaching ways and methods. Anyway it did
not affect me too much. I have taught mostly Math subjects to Computer Science students while handling some IT and EDP classes for both CS and Commerce Departments.

Somehow every school year ends, I find myself on a lonelier end. Friends from the student body have to go back to their provinces or move elsewhere which makes it hard for communication. Remember I was almost at their ages so we share a lot of common things. That was the time text messaging started to proliferate, however most handsets were in the teachers’ possession and still an expensive, luxurious gadgets to students. While it was fulfilling to see some of my students already like me – teaching or working somewhere else – I felt losing interest in this field anymore. I want to go out and be in an adventure. I wonder my teachers in the past have felt the same. Perhaps no, as evidenced by the number of years they nurtured this particular noble profession.

Changes and changes have taken place and soon we felt as if the office I am working for the past three years were kept under constant renovation: in three years, the office underwent three major overhauls, something that in a way, disrupts the plans we laid out on those organization planning. Over the years I count them up and make sure I make something out of the milestones as they unfold: a) 1998 was the 10th year since grade school graduation. While the class reunion failed to materialize, a simple card addressed to all my teachers from Mrs Camcam to Mrs Umusig. b) 2002 was the 10th year since finishing high school. Ditto. But what I missed was that it was 20 years ago when I was clad in that shiny brown shoes and proudly showing off my Flash Gordon bag in the class of Ma’am Betty. Maybe on 2007, I will not forget the Silver Anniversary thank you card.

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