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The Best Grade School Teacher in Town
by Vladimir Rom Matias, LLB
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"Experience is the best teacher,” sages say. But during the six years I spent as a grade schooler in Claveria Central School (CCS) in my native town Claveria, Masbate, one teacher stood as the finest among her colleagues in the academe, inspiring young minds to think analytically and creatively and motivating them to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly and purposively. Teaching in a public school in rural areas in the Philippines is definitely a strenuous job to venture into, teacher's salary and compensation too low to support a family, class sizes reaching past reasonable level, lots of workloads and extra-curricular activities in conspiracy to ruin an already overburdened psychology. Besides the regular headaches and sore throats begotten by different acts of juvenile mischievousness and the enormity of expectations set by a superior who loves to enslave his subordinates into a life full of threats and intimidation, a teacher's day can always be a fatigue day. Yet, despite all the negative aspects of public teaching in the elementary grade, the true measure on how good a teacher is is her capability to rise from the challenges and emerge victorious not just in winning the hearts of her bosses but more importantly, in uplifting her students from the vices of ignorance and backwardness.

The best grade school teacher in our town was a mom who considers the classroom as her home, the pupils as her children and the lesson of the day as a present to her kids. Because she considered the classroom as her home she regularly checked attendance to find out who was well or ill, to know what bothers a baffled member of the class and to suggest solution to an emotional, physical or spiritual problem besetting anyone in the classroom. As a boy scout who had to be away for a week or two to participate in a regional jamboree, I, together with the other boy scouts in the class, missed several topics in her Science class, and upon our return, she asked us immediately how was the experience of being there in our own at the far-away campsite away from our parents. I told her, “it was a wonderful vacation in a lifetime to meet and befriend young men from other parts of the globe and to appreciate their respective cultures and awesome practices.” As if we traveled a hundred miles to Japan or Europe to ski or snorkel, the truth was we had come to sleep for five nights or more at the gently rolling slopes of the feisty Mayon Volcano.

Inasmuch as she treated the pupils as her children who knew little about English and spoke different Hispano-Malayan languages such as Bicol, Waray, Masbateno and even Chavacano, she usually went out of her way as a Science teacher and assisted her pupils in understanding difficult Science terms and terminologies by using easy-to-grasp English and translating many a difficult word into native languages to facilitate pupils' comprehension of highfalutin concepts. Once in our classroom I asked her a curiosity-laden question: "What is a hypothesis and its purpose?" That was the first time I heard and encountered such a word and it was really strange to my ears. She responded responsively, "Hypothesis is a guess or in Filipino a 'hula.' You have a scientific problem which was laid out in the in the beginning of the experiment, and hypothesis is one of the possible or probable answers to the problem. It can be debunked or proved based on the results of an investigation or inquiry." Well said. That reply was an enduring sound to my ears because from then on till I entered high school and college, I always carried such comprehension of the term whenever a science and technology teacher mentions the concept in an scheduled experiment or activity.

As she liked to bundle the lesson of the day as a present to us, it was a marvel to see her use both her left and right hands alternately in writing her daily lesson plan, checking our examination papers and laboratory tests, and drawing something on the blackboard to set our imagination into motion. As soon as her right hand lost energy, she automatically switched gear to her left hand to continue writing against illiteracy and maleducation in the society. The handmade visual aids we saw, characterized by uniformity and rhythm in the flow of the letterings misled us into thinking that they were purely a product of her right hand. But to our disbelief half of the material were also done by her left hand. A closet prince nicknamed Jr. remarked that she's one in a million; meanwhile, pretty but frightful girls such as JP, MA, and SR testified that since the school campus was formerly a portion of a huge graveyard, even unwelcome guests like rattlesnakes and ghosts and other lost souls from the adjacent cemetery came in to listen intently to her box office-hit lectures and discussions. I second their motion: as I climbed the educational ladder, I would never encounter again such an ambidextrous teacher like her who was very compassionate, affectionate and infectiously industrious.

Just as Jesus Christ employed parables such as the stories of the Good Samaritan and of the prodigal son to reinforce obedience to universal values, and Socrates propagated his dialectical method to deepen our concern for ideals and of wisdom, her style of teaching is quite kaleidoscopic: books on education label such technique as eclectic. Basically, at a time when we were a bit confused and enervated, she adjusted her rhythm to a slower pace. When the topic was light and easy to the senses, she raised the tempo to the medium range. As Science is one of the most difficult subjects in the curriculum - math is the hardest, she was very careful not to make any wrong move to raise the baton at a faster heartbeat. In short, she has already mastered the art of gauging the class temperament, knowing when to be slower, moderate or faster. If a law classmate claims it is only with the maestro, Atty. Francis Sababan that she come to appreciate and learn Taxation Law, I say with pride that it is only with her that I came to love Science topics such as experiments, chemical and physical properties which I previously hate to read and remember.

My Grade V Science teacher was really exceptional. She has never raised her voice inside the classroom nor did she resort to corporal punishment in order to impart morals. It was not her practice to embarrass a student in front of the class; neither was she a harborer of ill-feelings against her co-teachers. Unlike some lazy teachers who consider giving out more information as equivalent to spoon feeding, she was very unselfish in sharing her thoughts and feelings just to make us happier, better and freer individuals and citizens of the country.

Scanning a list of my former teachers in CCS and taking into consideration the qualities that a good mentor should possess, I find out it is not an easy task to pinpoint who's the finest. After narrowing the choices to the five best, comparing and contrasting their respective strengths and weaknesses is next. But all the remaining five are equally impressive. My Grade II class adviser, EF, was a prefect of discipline and gave a monetary reward - 25 cents, a big amount during that time - to anyone who scored perfectly in a quiz or test. My Grade III teacher nicknamed IR was an excellent grandmother and expert in Health Education emphasizing the importance of 3G - Go, Glow and Grow. A Grade V subject specialist in Values Education, HA, was a champion of both the divine and humane virtues, juxtaposing love of one's country with the love of one's family. My Grade VI Filipino teacher, EM, is the epitome of a true Filipina ( her Spanish mestiza look notwithstanding ): she speaks and teaches Filipino as if there was no tomorrow. And finally, my Grade V Science teacher tops them all.

A follower of the empiricist John Locke who likened a child's mind to a tabula rasa or a blank tablet that has to be filled, she had a noble philosophy: never to shortchange pupils when it comes to the learning process. In the Holy Bible, Jesus said "whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me (Matthew 18:5)" Thus, a teacher like her so welcoming and warm to children not just fears God but also observes and preaches His teachings.

I still clearly remembers the name of the best grade school teacher in our town. She was ... Mrs. Belen Labustro, my Grade V Science teacher. Godspeed, Ma'am.

(For comments, email the author at valentino200720@gmail.com or baldomeromatias@gmail.com)

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