Aside from our parents or guardians, certain schoolteachers we had exerted great influence on us, in different ways. Today, decades later, we remember those who had an indelible impact in our lives, even those we feel did not treat us fairly or gave us a difficult time. For me, three of them stand out among the rest.
In first year high school, several new enrollees from other schools joined our class at the Ateneo. One of them in particular could hardly speak, much less write, good English. Seeing him struggle, our young, idealistic English Composition teacher told our classmate that he would tutor him one-on-one after classes until he could catch up with the rest. Our teacher persevered in this self-imposed task for the rest of the year until our classmate passed the subject.
But what followed was incredibly amazing. Starting sophomore year and throughout the rest of high school, our English-challenged classmate won first prize in virtually all of our school’s short story and essay-writing contests, besting even the seasoned writers in school. He continued reaping literary awards in college, capping his achievements by becoming the editor in chief of the college literary magazine in our senior year.
This complete transformation, made possible by the generosity and patience of an exceptionally dedicated teacher, inspired many of us to write more seriously. In my case, this awakened a lifelong love for writing, which has produced several poetry books and numerous essays published through the years.
A grade of 100
Combining his dedication with excellence in teaching, that high school teacher honed us so well in English Composition that in fourth year, our American Jesuit teacher in the same subject gave me a grade of 100 in my report card, which some have said had never happened before in our school.
But more than instilling proficiency in English in his students, it was our teacher’s exemplary generosity of spirit—enabling a language-challenged student to discover his greatest talent from what was previously his greatest weakness—which had the most impact on me.
Because of that teacher’s example, to this day, I never refuse to share my knowledge in my own profession, giving seminars and talks for free to small, startup advertising companies and college marketing classes, and coaching young people struggling in their careers.
Another unforgettable mentor was our Pilipino teacher, a very formal, fastidiously dressed gentleman whose demeanor seemed unflappable in any situation. His hallmark was his systematic, almost clockwork approach to teaching. He would start every class with a short quiz, which would be checked and graded immediately afterward by one’s seatmate. Our final grade in the report card simply reflected the average grade of all the daily quizzes.
This unvarying routine forced us to be prepared for the inevitable quiz by conscientiously studying each daily assignment. Simply put, those who put in the effort performed well, those who did not failed. In fact, the former were even exempted from the final periodic exam, as their reward.
This no-nonsense mentor gifted me with a simple but invaluable life lesson: Success in any undertaking is all about preparation. Prepare well for that make-or-break board exam, for that crucial job interview, for that all-important presentation to a prospective client. Being well-prepared spells the difference between merely scraping by and excelling.
At the other extreme, there are some teachers who treat their students unfairly, thus impacting their lives negatively and producing an unhealthy outlook. Paradoxically, some of their students, myself included, manage to extract positive learnings from their negative experience.
In college, we had a science teacher who, in his own words, believed that those of us who were not science majors were in his class merely to comply with the minimum science units required by our particular course, and therefore did not take his subject seriously. So, no matter how hard we studied, he gave most of us the barely passing grade (3) to squeeze through.
Probably unknown to him, some of us were on scholarships and were expected to perform at a certain academic level to maintain our standing. Although very frustrated, we kept quiet until the professor in charge of our honors class noticed that his prized students were not making the honor roll in spite of getting excellent grades in all their other subjects.
When the abnormal situation was finally corrected by the school (by overriding the uniformly low grades he gave), our teacher rebuked us in class, saying we used our “clout” with the school administration to have our grades altered. This, of course, was not true, since we ourselves were surprised by the school’s move. How can mere college freshmen make the school change their grades under any situation?
As we somehow expected, our science teacher was no longer with us the next school year. But the damage had been done.
The lesson I took from that experience was fortitude—to persevere in doing one’s best even in the most adverse circumstances, and to believe that no negative situation is permanent.
Students remember their teachers in different ways, for different reasons, and some more than others. Suffice it to say that the mentors of our youth that we remember most, whether they knew it or not, played a great part in what we eventually turned out to be as adults, impacting our lives way beyond the academic subjects they taught us. —CONTRIBUTED