Estremera: Teachers...

WHAT causes us great happiness is seeing our students become successful because that means we have been good teachers,” said Ma. Lita Montalban of EMAR Learning Center, as we shared a table in the lauriat dinner tendered by the Colegio de San Ignacio for its 15th anniversary.

I always remember her and even still refer to her as Miss Anayon. She was called that when she was still my PE teacher and girl scouts adviser in fifth and sixth grade. I liked her when she required us to make scout patrol posters complete with cut-outs of our names and roles in the patrol (never mind if I always end up as grub leader, ugh!), but I hated her when she was forcing us to do calisthenics and dances, counting and clapping, her voice booming loudly with a distinct Ilongo accent. Grumble, grumble…

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She was invited to the dinner by Mrs. Rose Cementina, CDSI's administrator, who was our principal in sixth grade. Observing the two of them during the dinner, I couldn't help but wonder how many students have gone under their tutelage.

Close to four decades ago, they were my teachers. They are still in the teaching profession now, maybe not as classroom teachers and advisers, but they’re still there, shaping children's minds as they have been doing for the past four decades...

“Hi Stella,” a petite fair-skinned lady greeted me as I arrived to judge a photo contest during last year's Mindanao Culinary Festival. “Do you still remember me?”

“Of course, Miss Simpao,” I replied. That elicited a questioning look from the lady beside her.

It was only then when I realized that it must have been a long time ago since anyone called her Miss Simpao. Maybe the lady beside her wasn't even aware that four decades ago, children called Mrs Gigay delos Santos, Miss Simpao.

Miss Simpao, Ma'am Gigay as she is now known, was my art teacher in first grade and the class adviser of the room across our section. I don't remember much except that our art materials – scissors, colored paper, Oslo paper, and tube of paste -- have to be neatly placed inside plastic envelopes.

December last year, I shared a bottle of wine with Mrs. Adelina Rex, my third grade English teacher, and recalled how our elementary school librarian made borrowing books from the library (and reading them) a sign of prestige among pupils. Miss Marundan may not have been a classroom teacher, but she made visiting the library such an exciting part of our day, and thus made bookworms of all of us.

Call me sentimental, but I bet not every adult today have the chance to meet up and share stories with their elementary school teachers and I say, while all teachers are very valuable in every person's life, those who took us under their wing in elementary school (by chance or by choice) are the most valuable ones. They were the ones who filled our still empty minds with the lessons and values that we instinctively resort to when caught unaware; they were the ones who instilled good habits like neatness and reading. All the basics, including the most hated and boring subject called GMRC (good manners and right conduct).

Would I have turned out to be what I am today had our lives not crossed when I was still a kid? I can never tell. But one thing I'm sure of, I may have forgotten a lot about elementary years, but the instinct to stand up when an old person enters a jampacked bus, the penchant to smile when meeting a person, the "po" and "opo", the firm handshake as against the limp uninterested one, and yes, keeping the mouth shut when someone else is talking… which of these teachers pounded these in me. I can no longer tell. But one thing I'm sure of, they were pounded into me way before I entered high school in the same way that I met the parts of the speech when I was still in third grade. Everything else that came after elementary school is but enhancements of the basics.

Are our elementary school teachers today just as nurturing and serious about their craft and vocation? I don't know although I wish they still are. The English and Pilipino grammar I'm getting from all those elementary and high school pupils as part of campus journalism exercises, however, are saying the basics are no longer there.

Days after the Ampatuan massacre, I chanced on a photograph of the wake of lawyer Connie Brizuela, one of the two lady lawyers killed in the massacre and gasped at a tarpaulin that carried the name "Connie Jayme Brizuela."

I immediately texted lawyer Kaloi Zarate asking if lawyer Brizuela was an English teacher before she became a lawyer.

"Yes, in English and Literature at Ateneo," lawyer Kaloi replied. Thus, flashed memories of a very petite lady with a very small voice trying to be heard over the din that our class was making, and failing big time. I remembered how she rushed out of our classroom in tears as the terrible class of sixth graders that we have become upon seeing a very small, very young teacher try to crack some discipline among us. I knew her as Miss Jayme… It was weird though because one classmate and a teacher I got to talk with and ask about Miss Jayme cannot even remember her. Maybe I shouldn't find that so weird because I cannot even remember if she returned after rushing out in tears. Maybe, she didn't. Maybe she was just a substitute teacher. Maybe. But I can still remember her high-pitched voice struggling to be heard among the chatter of sixth graders… the recognition came too late though, her name lost in the change of surnames of married women and thus no stories were ever shared, no lessons recalled and reinforced. saestremera@yahoo.com
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