HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 8, 2017 – 12:00am
Last Oct. 5 was World Teachers Day. It made me remember and reflect on the many teachers I had in school.
I spent my formal education at the Ateneo de Manila from my first day in prep till my graduation with a communications degree in 1973. I have met teachers whom I grew to love and respect, and I also had some whom I never warmed up to, and even disliked.
I would like to talk about those who influenced me in positive, indelible ways. They were the ones who showed patience with me as a young boy who (in my estimation) was slow to learn in the beginning but managed to pick up speed later on.
In grade school, I remember teachers who not only patiently taught us our lessons, but shepherded and cared for us as they nurtured our minds. They were kind and loving. Teachers like Mrs. Belleza, Ms. Lardizabal and Ms. Sandoval were memorable. Mrs. Belleza was my teacher in prep. She helped allay the fears of this six-year-old who cautiously entered a classroom for the first time. Ms. Lardizabal was beautiful. And thoughtful. She was sweet and occasionally received flowers from some students who had a crush on her.
I remember Ms. Sandoval with extra fondness. She was my teacher in fourth grade. She chose me to represent the class in an elocution contest. I was mortified. I was too insecure at that time to even talk in public, much less join a contest. She assured me I could do it and made sure I was trained well.
She and her boyfriend who had a radio announcer’s voice trained me for many days after class. Daily, they would correct my diction, improve my projection and remind me not to swallow my words. They were trying times. I remember crying out in frustration because I could not perform the material the way they wanted me to. After a week of practicing, they felt I was ready. I was in great doubt. To my surprise, I won the top place in the elocution contest delivering a speech on “The Despair of Judas.” I can still remember Ms. Sandoval flashing a big smile and being so proud of me.
Many of my high school teachers had an impact on my life. There was Onofre Pagsanghan, or Pagsi as he was called, who founded Dulaan Sibol, a theater group that presented the play Doon Po Sa Amin. It was a “transplanted” version of the American play Our Town written by Thornton Wilder, translated and directed by Pagsi. After its Manila run, we toured some provinces.
He believed in me enough to assign me the role of director during the tour. I learned not just theater from him but also openness, love, respect and sensitivity. He was truly a teacher who shaped me.
There was also Mr. Justino Roque, a math teacher who taught a subject I never liked. But he was so creative and funny that I managed not just to like math, but to get the most decent grades I ever received in this subject. He would sing the multiplication tables. He wanted us to call him “Justine Rock”! He was a cool guy.
In college, I had two teachers who became National Artists. They were Rolando Tinio and Bien Lumbera. Rolando was loud, dramatic, challenging and brilliant. He challenged the way we thought. He opened our minds and pointed out our bias towards the west and how our mastery of English but our lack of skills in speaking Filipino was isolating us from the rest of the country. And he did this while teaching us English literature.
Bien Lumbera was the opposite. He spoke softly, and was more patient. But my memories of him extended outside the classroom. I remember visiting him in YRC, a big government facility that was converted into a detention center for political prisoners during the early days of martial law. I boldly asked him to collaborate on a musical I had in mind then. It was a “historical fantasy” about the what-could-have-beens during the time of Rizal.
By the time we started working on it, he had already settled in Hawaii. He sent me the lyrics via snail mail. Our musical called Bayani was staged in 1983, a few months after Ninoy was killed. He never got to see it since he was abroad and it hasn’t been restaged ever since. I had already started writing songs in Pilipino then. His lyrics encouraged me to write with more elegance.
A professor of philosophy, Tony Romualdez, opened me up to a deeper understanding of life. He was responsible for setting me on my life path with a profound yearning for the metaphysical and the spiritual. I remember attending every class and thinking a lot about the lessons and discussions for days, weeks and even months after.
On our 50th anniversary year as graduates of grade school, our class threw a party in honor our teachers who were still around. It was great seeing them. They beamed with pride at how we had turned out. There was a teacher who asked for forgiveness for the physical pain he had inflicted on some of us then. It was politically correct at that time for teachers to spank us or even punch us in the arms. I found it strange but touching to listen to his apology, even if we had mostly forgiven and forgotten what was done to us.
As a teacher, I realize how important my role is in shaping the hearts and minds and attitudes of my students. Quality time spent in the classroom and the teacher-student relationships are critical elements in influencing young people. I listen to them a lot. As a teacher, I learn a lot from my students and I know that a lot of what I teach is also something they can keep for life.
I have been teaching for almost 10 years now. I have students who have excelled in their work. I don’t claim much of the credit. But I fancy that I may have had something to do with the success of some of them. Receiving letters of gratitude from some who changed career directions after attending my class has encouraged and inspired me.
I have been lucky in having great teachers in school who taught me things I have kept for life. These lessons were not necessarily about the subjects they taught. Sometimes it was more about the way they modeled adulthood and how they permanently awakened my curiosity to learn as much as I can while I am alive. They had passion, patience, and yes, they loved what they did and it showed.
What a teacher leaves behind may not be noticeable until years after. Seeds are planted. Sometimes, they grow into deeply rooted trees just as a student with good teachers later on excels in his profession. There is a saying that goes, “teaching creates all other professions.” It is true.
Without inspiring teachers, I ask my generation what kind of people would we have become and what kind of lives would we be living today?