Malilong: The Cola and my Grade 1 teacher

The Other Side

I REMEMBER my Grade 1 school teacher. Her name was Mrs. Penagunda. She was a kind and caring lady. I think of her every time I hear someone describe a teacher as a child’s second parent because the description fits her.

She was a stickler for discipline but she never laid a hand on us. We were quite a naughty and boisterous bunch but Mrs. Penagunda was forever patient with us. She was very protective too and took pains to make sure that none us had reason to cry in her class.

Before the Christmas break in my first grade, Mrs. Penagunda organized a party. We were all beaming with excitement as the date of the party approached. The parents cut a native guava tree at the back of the school, planted it on an empty kerosene can that was half-filled with stones to prevent it from toppling.

Mrs. Penagunda said we should exchange gifts during the party so each one of us brought either guavas, manzanitas or bibingka, among others, which we wrapped in old newspapers and hanged them in our Christmas tree. Our choices were

limited because our school was located in a far-flung barrio where there were no stores.

My gift was different and, in my mind, the best and most wonderful package hanging from our Christmas tree. It was a pencil brought by my father from the poblacion where he was stationed as a policeman.

We did not draw lots to determine who gives to whom. Mrs. Penagunda had already decided that. Her choices worked to my disadvantage, I would later find out. The classmate I was supposed to exchange gifts with did not show up so my gift—in my mind, the best one—was left still hanging in the Christmas tree when the program ended.

I remember squatting in a corner of our

classroom, my face resting on my arms as I sobbed. But not for long. Our teacher, the kind and wonderful Mrs. Penagunda, gently took my hand, gave me a piece of budbod wrapped in an old newspaper, and with the sweetest smile I have ever seen on someone’s face wished me a merry Christmas. I will forever treasure those moments.

Yesterday, when I read about Mayor Edgardo Labella’s plan to resume granting cost of living allowance (Cola) to the city’s 7,000 public school teachers, I happily remembered my Grade 1

teacher. If she had been born in another age and taught in Cebu City, she would have benefitted from the mayor’s generosity. Nobody, in my mind, deserved it better.

The public school teachers are the most

underpaid and overworked among government employees, Labella said. I wonder how much my Grade 1 teacher received for preparing her lesson plan, teaching his pupils how to read and write and good manners and right conduct and making sure that nobody cried in her classroom.

The Cola is not much, the mayor conceded, but it can go a long way in helping the teachers as they celebrate Christmas. And, if I may add, in comforting a little child sobbing in a corner, his face resting on his arms, because he felt deprived and insecure.


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