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Sunday, February 25, 2024

World Teacher’s Day 2021: Iron and silk: An ode to educators

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"A teacher can make an extraordinary impact on young minds by helping them maximize their potential."

Being a teacher is no simple matter.

For most people in other professions, a day ends when the sun goes down. For teachers, their job can’t be shut down at the end of the day. There are test papers to look into, grades to evaluate, lesson plans to make, and other routine school stuff to do.

Retired teachers dancing at their reunion party. 

She goes to bed palpably weary, her shoulders heavy—a telltale sign of fatigue.

Fundamentally, the role of a teacher in the classroom is to impart to the students the concept of understanding and apprizing themselves on the most basic stuff of life: knowledge, moral integrity, civil propriety, and family values. 

The pay is relatively subordinate to that of other professionals. To supplement their income, some teachers “moonlight” when school is out for the summer break.

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Also called an educator, a teacher can make an extraordinary impact on young minds by helping them maximize their potential towards upward social and economic mobility or an eventual release from grinding poverty.

Such an important role—disciplinarian, parent substitute, confidant of students, and a remarkable agent of societal change—is akin to an inherent maternal obsession that keeps a teacher fiercely concerned in shaping their students. Despite the same routine every day, the teacher plods on. Most times she gets rewarded with positive feedback from parents and fond memories of former students who felt that she made a difference in their lives, something intangible but rooted inside, like self-worth, peer acceptance, and personal pride.

Teachers help hone students like Yna dela Cruz (third from left) and her classmates. 

If there was one teacher who indelibly impressed me, it would be my Algebra teacher during high school. Her look was old-fashioned, kind of antique: way below-the-knee skirt, no lipstick, thick-rimmed eyeglasses, a chignon perched atop her head, very erect, shoulders tilted back, very temperate with her smiles.  

She looked like a woman of galvanized iron despite the small build, and always seemed battle-ready with dabs of black war paint under her eyes. Definitely one you can call a pop culture laggard. 

She could make a strong statement without uttering a word – a simple wave of her hand and an index finger pointed at the classroom door was enough to send a student packing up his school bag and spending the rest of Algebra class in the library. 

I was always having trouble with that subject and she would point her finger at me and then toward the door. I was the grain of sand that irritated inside her flat shoes.

Despite the comparatively low salaries, teaching is still one of the world’s largest professions. In some ways, there are perks to somewhat compensate for the low pay: vacation and leaves of absence, pensions, life and health insurance. Plus, of course, the nobility of the profession.

Teacher Maia (third from left) with her co-teachers at Bangkal High during their lunch break.

For some years, there have been serious ideas afloat as to the way learning in school should be fundamentally altered to keep pace with the modern precepts of education. Students have always felt undue pressure to do good in school. The one-size-fits-all quality of classroom education teaching is exhaustingly repetitive and predictably in a rut which could create generations of gadget-obsessed high school graduates with a depthless sense of love for the country but more and more skillful and adaptive to modern times and technology.

A teacher’s stick no longer motivates the students to excel in the classroom since everyone equally shares the random things they need to memorize and regurgitate on a test the following day. 

The concept of homework adds to the students’ burden and has to be redefined. Individual intelligence, as it happens these days, is based on standardized tests. Top-notch students find no challenge; those in the lower rung merely move on to the next lesson before they have gained a thorough comprehension of what was taught the previous day.

Clearly, teachers, no matter what, are heroes of today, always around, working devotedly on their exceptional skills.

Maia Mindo was born to be a teacher. For 15 years, through fair or foul weather, she would see her students and use her considerable communication skills to get through them. Former students who have successfully moved up the career ladder remembered her with flowers and her favorite doughnuts on occasions.  

Teacher Maia Mindo with a student. 

One particularly warm night last year she succumbed to a fatal cardiac arrest and passed away at age 48, leaving some unfinished school and family affairs. She was cremated in her high school teacher uniform, something she would have thoroughly approved of.

Photos by Diana B. Noche

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