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The Learning curve

Three gentlemen on the Ateneo campus

It has been said often enough that teachers, even without their being conscious of it, wield a tremendous influence on their students. A word, a careless gesture, a random act of kindness leaves a lasting impression on their students. And even if my graduate school days on the Ateneo Loyola campus belong to decades past, I cannot shake off the influence of three professors.

Fr. Joseph Galdon, SJ, wore many hats during his many years in the country. He was chair of the English Department, college dean, and well-loved English teacher at a time when Filipinization was a heated issue on campus. We were even encouraged then to do our MA thesis on Filipino authors.

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He remained professional and was very encouraging to part-time graduate students like me. Without his periodic boosts, I would not have persevered. He, whom we loved as a teacher—and whom we teased as a Bob Hope lookalike—taught us to decode and appreciate John Donne. And haven’t we all been brainwashed by his signature acronym SHE—for “significant human experience” in literature and in writing? He loved the Philippines so much that he lived and died here. He was witty and warm, so it was sad to see him lose much of that in his later years.

Eric Torres was an intimidating poetry teacher, but his classes were always inspiring and welcoming. It also helped that classes were at the Ateneo Art Gallery, of which he was the director. It was conveniently located at the ground floor of the Ateneo Library, always a haven but only if one complied with library director Fr. Robert Suchan, SJ’s strict code of conduct.

One sat in rapt attention during Mr. Torres’ fascinating lectures on poetry, from art appreciation to theories of literary criticism. And what a colorful stream of students would drop by or sit in, all of them lovers of poetry and apparent Torres disciples, like Ediboy Calasanz, Conrad de Quiros, Eman Lacaba.

How I struggled with a final paper on a reading of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, wondering if my teacher would find anything worthwhile in my critique. I was beside myself when I got my paper back with Mr. Torres’ positive, even glowing comments—and a grade of A. How empowering that was; it continues to inspire me today, when I face a blank screen and feel I have exhausted my vocabulary and writing ideas. I continue to hope I will still find that Dickinson report in my endless spring cleaning.

It is unfortunate that I have lost touch with Mr. Torres—but he needs to know how much his dedication to literature and the arts continues to inspire.

Well-known writer and dramatist Nic Tiongson was not that celebrated or “titled” yet when he taught our Philippine writing in English class. But he was already impassioned about our literature and Philippine culture to be discovered, appreciated, upheld. Social history was an aspect of research he valued. He was always fascinating to listen to, and liked to elicit meaningful class conversations.

He had much to offer and thought it the students’ loss when they came to class unprepared. He meant serious business; one afternoon, he stormed out of the class when he discovered that we had not done our readings. It must have been our glassy stares that gave us away. It took many other class meetings before we felt comfortable in his presence again.

And then, suddenly, he was the celebrated Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, not much older than most of us, but now hailed as a scholar, critic, book author, playwright. He had awakened in all of us a love and a curiosity for the rich legacy of our culture.

What a privilege to have been mentored by these gentlemen. Much of what I know and hold dearly today, they have had a hand in. If only I had conveyed these sentiments and debt of gratitude much earlier. Still, how fortunate that the annual celebration of National Teachers Month provides this opportunity.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of  the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: ATENEO, column, education, opinion, students, Teachers
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