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Going beyond the curriculum

For National Teachers Month, I’d like to pay homage to five teachers who have made a difference in their students’ lives.

Fernando Pagsibigan is now a teacher training adviser in Cambodia but cannot forget an experience from 13 years ago as a Grade 5 teacher at Dr. Albert Elementary School in Sampaloc, Manila. He was concerned about “Maria,” who was often absent. He was not her adviser but was disturbed that no one seemed to be as worried as he was about her absences and failing grades.

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Well into her teens, Maria was too old to be in Grade 5, indicating an erratic school life. Her teacher knew what potential she had because whenever she was present, she was eager to learn.

In his desire to help, Fernando called for her parents, but they never showed up. He decided to make a home visit, and he realized what was keeping Maria away from school: She was tending to her two siblings aged 5 years and 8 months whenever her mother, a washerwoman, had to work. He reassured the mother that he would take care of Maria’s school expenses and even make-up tutorials.

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Maria managed to graduate from college in 2011. She is now well-employed and is putting her siblings through school. Both mother and daughter cannot forget Mr. Pagsibigan, who inspired Maria with his belief that she can make it in life. To him, it was enough to have nurtured a learner.

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Fely Rose Vallejo Manaois has a special May 2012 entry in her journal about a freshman writing class at the University of Asia and the Pacific. A motivation technique she used was to elicit pick-up lines from her students, in an attempt to use their everyday lingo. John’s line was “Are you Alice? Whenever I see you, I feel like I’m in Wonderland.”

The class hooted, as expected, but it was Fely who experienced what she called an epiphany. “How I wish I could turn every classroom experience into Wonderland, a place to be lost in wonder and discovery. I would like to be seen as Alice, and not the Queen of Hearts demanding erring students’ heads. That perhaps is what every teacher strives for—leading their students to Wonderland.”

* * *

Lyneve Padre de Guzman vividly remembers an incident years ago when she was a neophyte teacher at Kalawaan Elementary School in Pasig City. It was, she said, a most touching initiation for her, one that made her love the profession even more.

There was a group of boys in her class who often loitered in the school grounds during class hours. She even caught them crawling out of the classroom back door once. She was so upset that she firmly told them to leave the class and never return if they did not care to listen and to learn. But she knew that such “threats” and strong language would have little effect on them. So she did what she thought was the next best thing: She ignored them so that the rest of the class could proceed with no disruptions. She felt that she had failed in reaching out to the boys, that she had “lost” them.

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That was why Lyneve was surprised when, on Valentine’s Day, she found this same group outside the library waiting for her. The boys appeared to be hiding something behind them. As she neared, they brought out a bunch of roses and asked for forgiveness.

“I almost burst into laughter but I controlled myself,” Lyneve said. “I was amused because it felt like they were courting someone who had turned them down, and by the look on their faces they were really sorry. This sweet gesture touched my heart.” She had not lost them, after all.

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Riya Morales teaches at the Beacon International School and has a collection of delightful quotable quotes from her very young students, all showing the level of candor allowed in her classroom. One day in math class, when the discussion was about patterns, a student raised her hand, eager to say something. “Teacher, I know a pattern. Teacher Mitzi wears high heels, then slippers, then again high heels and then slippers again. It’s like a pattern.”

Another five-year-old gushed: “Ohhhh, I’m so excited to grow up na so I can see what my kids will look like!!!” And her students’ initial attempts at clear and fluent communication have these in their vocabulary: “firmament marker,” “the Lost is Found for missing items,” “the bestroom,” and “Oh no, I’m soaping wet.”

Here’s a surprising one: “Ms. Morales, where is your husband? What? You’re not married. I think you can find one on the Internet.”

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Anna Jimenez Ocson ended decades of teaching at International School Manila last year. Off to a new chapter of school life in Los Angeles in the United States, she had this heartwarming story. “I was teaching this five-year-old to hold her crayon correctly in a firm, loving voice… And then she says, ‘You know, you sound like my grandma!’”

These anecdotes go beyond the curriculum but will long be fondly remembered by both teachers and students. A tribute to these teachers who open hearts and minds, who concern themselves with what truly matters, and who touch lives forever.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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