The world would be a much worse place without teachers: primarily because so few of us are qualified to impart knowledge. Our kids, for example, hardly start out as human—until they start going to school. And even we, take note, start out as kids. It’s not just about the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic but perhaps more importantly, respect.
Compared to teachers, parents in many ways are putty in the hands of their kids . Kids are cunning in that they can figure out how to push our buttons to get what they want. Unless we’re the draconian, authoritarian type of parents who scare the living hell out of our kids, they will usually figure out how to get what they want.
Not so with their teachers. Teachers are tough. Whether they teach at Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School (the public school where I went) or at Hogwarts, they’re the boss at the classroom who brings order to chaos. Without teachers, we’d be walking flesh bags of selfish appetites and entropy; it’s in the classroom where we really learn to get along with complete strangers and do our best to live in civilized harmony with one another.
How many of you greeted and thanked your teachers by SMS, Twitter, or Facebook last October 5th, World Teachers Day? Heck, our teachers probably deserve a whole week off for themselves but then the universe would collapse if they’re gone for that long during the school term.
I had been picked to learn to write at nine years old, as a result of which, my brain has been hardwired to do nothing else with most of my time. It’s very difficult to re-wire one’s brain, so sometimes I actually regret having writing so ingrained in my system. If I wasn’t trained from childhood to write, I might be a fitness trainer-slash-actor-slash fashion model by now. But no. Instead, all I am at this very moment is delusional.
The elementary teachers responsible for my so-called career right now are, in chronological order: Mrs. Imperio, Mrs. Rasing, Ms. Nobleza, and Mrs. Sta. Catalina. All of them teachers from the Dr. Alejandro Albert Elementary School at Casañas Street, corner Dapitan Street in Sampaloc, Manila; all of them have first names, I’m sure, but I can’t remember what right now, except for Ms. Nobleza, who, if memory serves, is “Wilma”. All of them were the writing coaches at the school’s creative writing and journalism program.
They taught me and a few other kids in the program the basics of writing: grammar, syntax, how to make an outline, how to use adjectives and adverbs. Ms. Nobleza and Mrs. Sta. Catalina also taught copyreading, news writing and other important stuff that we needed to learn not only to win at the school journalism contests but also to put out the school paper. We put out two school papers, one in Filipino, called “Ugnayan” and one in English, called “The Horizon.” We did all that without the benefit of alcoholic beverages, unlike professional writers I’ve come to know years later.
I already mentioned a lot of the professional writers who taught me the solitary craft of literature (art, on the other hand, can’t be taught; that’s something one arrives at, hopefully—or not at all) in a previous column. The good thing about many, if not most, professional writers in the Philippines is that they are formally trained as teachers and scholars as well; yeah, with masters’ degrees and doctorates and what-not. So any young person would be most fortunate to train under them.
One of the writing teachers that I and other UST campus writers had was poet and critic Danton Remoto. It was a regrettable personal oversight when I failed to list him along with my other mentors in that previous column. Yes, I do have personal oversights, too, like Sen. Chiz Escudero when he approved the evil libel provisions in the Cybercrime Act. Another similarity we have is that he is now in a relationship with Heart Evangelista, while I am married to someone who looks just like Heart Evangelista. And I have worn the same pair of eyeglasses, in defiance of optometrists’ advice (“For the love of God, sir, please have your eyeglasses checked!”) since the day I got married, to make sure the situation stays that way.
Anyway, Danton was a much-respected and much-loved professor at the Ateneo de Manila before he moved on to other preoccupations that now include a congressional bid. The thing with Danton is, I have the impression that he’s the sort who is always learning something new.
Several years ago, I bumped into him at the Shangri-La mall and he said, after the usual kumustahan, “I’m learning aikido” (he was still teaching at ADMU at the time). I wouldn’t be surprised if, the next time we meet (and I hope he’d be a congressman or senator by then), he’d say: “I’ve learned ninjitsu. I can give you a vasectomy with a butterfly knife from 500 meters.” I’d probably run away after that, while cupping my nasty bits.
Danton, by the way, made a most unforgettable remark to me when I was a college student, during one writing workshop. He said, after kindly giving encouraging comments about my poem, that I possessed a “phallic pout.” What the hell is that??!!! I actually had to pout in front of a mirror, when I got back home, to find out—but I still could not understand what he meant. After puzzling over it for years, I just had to give up. I’d Google it but I’m actually scared to find out what it means.
We may not realize it right away, but we love—or at least fondly remember—even our terror teachers. I had a teacher, dear old Mrs. Siongco, back the fifth grade, who terrorized us with angry exclamations of “Tumahimik kayo! Kumukulo ang t** ko sa inyo!” (Shut up! You’re making my s**t boil!”), a phrase which struck terror in my heart because of the kind of impending doom it implied—what if the stuff didn’t stop boiling? What would happen to all of us?
When I was a high school freshman in UST, we had a terror teacher named Mr. Dimaculangan. He was surly, impatient, and scared us more when he smiled than when he scowled. Scowling was default mode. Smiling seemed to mean something horrible was afoot.
Mr. Dimaculangan always had allergic rhinitis, going all red in the face and having loud sneezing fits from time to time; he used a hanky to wipe his nose and sometimes, he’d forget the hanky and end up using his fingers. Then he’d have us pass all our notebooks, for him to check our homework—turning the pages with those very same fingers.
I remember Mr. Dimaculangan talking to us about Jesus Christ one day—not unusual in a Catholic high school—and it was about how superhumanly forgiving Christ was for pardoning the people who tortured and killed Him.
“Biro niyo? Pinatawad niya. Eh kung tayo yun, di ba, baka kahit nakapako na tayo, gaganti pa rin tayo. Kahit duraan man lang natin yung mga kalaban sa ibaba,” he said. (Translation: Are you kidding? He forgave them. If that was us, right, even if we’re already nailed to the cross, we’d still want revenge. Even if all we could do was spit on the enemies below us.)
That made me realize that Mr. Dimaculangan was actually cool—it was the whole Macho Vengeance Christology that got me to respect him.
Then one day, we saw a huge blackboard standing in the lobby with the news and request for prayers, written in huge, chalk letters: Mr. Dimaculangan died of a heart attack. I was very sad.
Of course, we also remember our hot high school teachers. Ms. Olondriz who was our Speech and Home Room teacher. Wow. Then there was our Physics teacher, Mrs. Gapasin. For a Math imbecile like me, having a crush on a Physics teacher was just embarrassing. She must have needed treatment for her neck vertebrae from all the head-shaking she did while checking my exam papers.
Anyway, Mrs. Gapasin is my FB friend now—she’s going by her maiden name for reasons I did not inquire about—and I see from the photos that she’s still beautiful and she actually looks very young for her age. Maybe she even looks younger than me. In that respect, she’s like writer and academic Jose Wendell Capili, whom she also knows from UST High School (I’m not sure if he was his student, too). They both have this mutation that makes them look younger as the years pass.
What would our young lives be without these teachers who devoted so much energy, so much patience, and so much wisdom to us? World Teachers Day has passed but our gratitude ought to remain year after year after year.