A bad student’s love letter to her teachers | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A bad student’s love letter to her teachers

Mrs. Chua was a saint.

She wasn’t just my Filipino teacher and the homeroom teacher of my first-grade class, she was also my lunch buddy.

Back then, I cried every single morning when my mother dropped me off at school. Often, I was miserable until lunch break, and even though she didn’t have to, Mrs. Chua took it upon herself to console me—the annoying, blubbering, snot-faced first-grader who wanted her mommy. While my classmates tucked into their food right at their desks, I’d take my Tupperware out of my messy bag and sit with Mrs. Chua.

School mom

In a way, she became my school mom. We ate lunch together so many times that years later, when I was already in my teens, she’d still tease me about my baon when we’d cross paths in school.

“Ms. Pastor!” she’d call out to me, her eyes twinkling. “You ate nothing but Spam, bacon and tocino!”

And I’d laugh every time. But now I wish I did more than that, I wish I told her how much her kindness meant to me.

Ms. Castro was my English teacher in my senior year of high school. And because she was also my homeroom teacher, she was the one who broke the happy news to our class: every single one of us was graduating that March.

But before I could rejoice with the rest of my classmates, Ms. Castro took my arm and walked me out of the classroom. It was there, in one of the corridors of my beloved high school, that we had the conversation that I could never forget.

Ms. Castro stared deep into my eyes as she spoke. “The entire faculty is disappointed in you. You did not live up to our expectations.”

This sounds harsh, but I deserved it. Every bit of it.

She continued. “Have you seen the results of your IQ test? You could have done so much, you have so much potential.”

What’s funny is I thought I was doing well in Ms. Castro’s subject. English was the only class I actually studied for. I dove headfirst into Dante’s Inferno, dissecting every line. I actually did homework the homework she assigned.

But she was right. I had been coasting along, just doing the bare minimum (in some subjects, not even the bare minimum). I was such a terrible student. The school registrar was so sick of reading excuse letters from my mother about my absences and tardiness that every time I’d go to her office to hand them over, she’d roll her eyes and go, “Ms. Pastor, you again.”

I didn’t participate in extracurriculars either. I could sing but no one in school knew that because I quit the chorale in fourth grade. I could write but I wasn’t writing for the school magazine.

Wake-up call

It was the wake-up call I needed. It was too late for high school though, classes were almost over. I’ll do better in college, I promised myself. I will start doing things, I will make up for lost time.

Months later, after getting home from my college freshman class, as I was reading this newspaper, I saw an announcement that they were looking for student correspondents. I fully believe that it was Ms. Castro’s words that led me to immediately fax an application. It was a decision that would go on to change my life. I didn’t know it yet but journalism had found me and it wouldn’t let me go. It would derail my plans of going to law school but it would give me purpose and light a fire under me. That was 25 years ago and that fire is still burning.

Sir Kiko

His name was Ramon Francisco but we called him Sir Kiko. He had a stroke in 1996 but that didn’t stop him from working both as a newspaper editor and a college professor.

A couple of years before I became his student, I had left school, completely disenchanted with my first chosen major—Political Science. I got a day job at a local start-up and continued fulfilling my duties at this paper. But then, Inquirer’s HR dropped the bombshell: even though my editor wanted to hire me and the editor-in-chief loved my work, they couldn’t give me a full-time job because I didn’t have a diploma. That meant I had to go back to school.

And so grudgingly, I returned, even though all I wanted to do was work. I switched my major to Journalism even if it meant an extra year of studying.

It was Sir Kiko’s class that welcomed me back to campus. He was cool, kind and funny but he didn’t suffer fools. One day, he got frustrated with students who misspelled words so he held an impromptu terrifying spelling bee, calling us to the board one by one and giving us a word we had to write correctly.

My word was “hallelujah.”


He expected us to keep up with current events, which is why my classmates ran around the university with newspapers tucked under their arms.

Sir Kiko knew I was juggling school and work. At that point, I was in school five days a week and at the PDI office three days a week (including Saturdays in school and Sundays at the office)—so for two years I had no days off. Sometimes my work schedule would clash with my school schedule. When I had to be away on coverage during his class, I’d usually leave a note. “Sir, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be in class today, I had to cover so-and-so press con.”

He always understood, maybe because he was also juggling teaching us and being his newspaper’s associate editor. Sometimes he’d even reply, “I was invited to that too. Next time, I’ll sit beside you.”

Even though I didn’t really confide in him, somehow he knew that by the tail-end of my college life, I was struggling. I just wanted school to be over.

He was the final panelist during my thesis defense, the last hurdle before I could finally leave the academic world. When I was done answering his questions, he signed my papers, and then slid them towards me. “Ayan, isampal mo na sa kanila yung diploma mo,” he said, smiling.

The relief I felt was priceless. I was finally done.

I never forgot Sir Kiko and how supportive he was. I was heartbroken when he died in 2020.

Sometimes I think about teaching, too—it could be this terrible student’s way of paying forward everything my favorite teachers did for me. But then I’m reminded that for me to be able to do that, I’d have to go back to school first and get a master’s degree, and I’d think, “Nah, forget it.”

In every student’s life, there are good teachers and bad teachers. Sometimes, one student’s good teacher is another student’s bad teacher. But then there are the truly great ones, the ones whose existence we should be grateful for—the teachers who inspire, who build up, who change lives for the better, who leave an indelible mark.

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