I was at the Kerygma Conference a few weeks ago. I sat there with the audience as a lady with very short hair (as if two weeks after getting a skinhead) blasted through on-stage and delivered a poem in Filipino. She was inviting us into a theatrical extravaganza like a vendor selling her wares ;-) .
As I was listening our speaker of the Education stream, Dr. Vene Rallonza, I was deeply touched when she told of students who circled back to her to share how their lives had been touched by Dr. Vene.
Right there while I was listening to Dr. Vene, I remembered two of my teachers in Philippine Science High School. They were both named Ms. Aguila. That put a smile on my face, because Eagles have such a deep meaning to me. Let me tell you about my teachers.
Ms. Aguila and the tape
Ms. Aguila was our Filipino teacher in 2nd year high school, section Camia. She was on maternity leave for the first part of the school year, se we first met her well into the school year. She was the kind of teacher I liked. She was amiable, often humorously theatrically loud and friendly. She was good looking and … shapely, even though she had just given birth to her nth baby. She had an “entertainer” facet to her teaching. She had style. I liked her. In retrospect, I liked her because she was like me.
As a high school kid, I was loud and rowdy, hindi mapakali (uy rhyme!). I was all over the place, I was hyperactive. Often times, I was referred to as “KSP” or kulang sa pansin. This had been a label used on me since I was elementary. I felt bad when I was called KSP. On one side, I was just really expressing myself. On the other hand, I knew that there was *some* truth to it, that I enjoyed the attention, that I wanted people to notice me.
And noticed, I got. One fateful day, during a class with Ms. Aguila, I was misbehaving. I don’t recall the details. My best guess is that I was in class and kept talking to my seatmates during the class. In a burst of inspiration, Ms. Aguila interrupted the class, looked for masking tape and put tape on my mouth. She was doing it in a humorous way, feigning exasperation. I don’t remember if I was given a warning (maybe I was). There I was in my tiny corner of the class room, silenced, censored.
I’m sure that at first, I was making fun of it. Trying to look cool and okay with it. Ms. Aguila was doing it as part of a “performance” as well, making it something a bit funny. And then something shifted within me. From then on, each time I stepped into Ms. Aguila’s class, I silenced myself. It wasn’t a respectful silence. I silenced myself in rebellion. I went to Ms. Aguila’s class with a silent vindictiveness. I was mad for what was done to me. I don’t recall ever reciting in her class again.
My parents heard about what happened. I remember that my mom went to school to speak to Ms. Aguila. I felt that my mom was embarrassed at what had happened. I knew my mom was embarrassed for being there in school needing to talk about the lack of discipline of her son. I do recall sitting outside the faculty area, waiting for Ms. Aguila and mom as they discussed my case. I do remember that Ms. Aguila expressed how she was actually just doing things in jest when she shut my mouth with masking tape. I remember how Ms. Aguila was apologetic to my mom for doing what she did. I remember that Ms. Aguila expressed sadness and surprise when, the days after the incident and for many weeks, I kept silent in her midst.
I wasn’t being myself in front of Ms. Aguila. Nope, I wasn’t a silent one. On that fateful day, I recall how in one gesture of a teacher — a teacher I looked up to — I decided to silence myself and *not* be myself. On that day, I gave in to my inner censor — the inner voice that told me “don’t be too noisy”, “don’t express yourself”, “keep your thoughts to yourself” or “others won’t want to hear your opinion”. A part of me died in the hands of Ms. Aguila, my Filipino teacher.
Ms. Aguila and the lab
I hated Chemistry. I didn’t understand what was going on. I’d see these valence stuff, and atoms and molecules in assembly, and I didn’t know what was happening. I was getting failing grades in Chemistry in 4th year high school. I was struggling and didn’t know what to do in Chemistry class. I actually managed to pass the practicals without knowing what was happening — with the help of some classmates. But then, if I didn’t make the grade in Chem, I was at risk at not graduating.
My Chemistry teacher’s name was also “Ms. Aguila”. She must have been around 35 at that time. She was short and pudgy. She always wore high heels to compensate. She had a shrill voice, not so perfect grammar, and thinning hair which she always wore in a bun. This Chem Ms. Aguila was somebody who didn’t matter much to me. I didn’t care about her subject. And I didn’t like her much. I knew her, she knew me. And that was it.
The thing is, she knew I was struggling with her subject. One day after class, she asked to speak to me. In that cold chemistry laboratory, amidst the stench of chemicals and our echoing voices in the high-ceiling room of concrete, she spoke to me as a friend. She asked me if there was any reason in particular that I wasn’t performing in class. Asked me if I had any personal problems, with family or anything. To all her questions, I replied her “no” or “none”. She knew there was more to my one word replies.
And then it happened. Ms. Aguila Chem offered to tutor me. I think my mom had asked her to tutor me (for a fee) — I vaguely remember. What I DO remember is that Ms. Aguila Chem offered to tutor me after class without charge. While my classmates were around school, playing volleyball or chasing girls, I would be in Ms. Aguila’s room, reviewing the chem lessons. She’d go through the day’s lesson with me in her faculty room. She’d give me her one-on-one time explaining things and checking that I understood. At some point, she was teaching me advance lessons so that I would “get it” when she finally taught it to the rest of the class.
And guess what happened to my Chemistry grades?! Well, nothing spectacular. I passed. I survived. And it was nothing. Okay lang.
Two Eagles in my high school life
And there I was, in the Kerygma conference in 2012, inspired by this talk from Dr. Vene, and just being overwhelmed with all that I was remembering about two of my high school teachers circa 1990.
On one hand was Ms. Aguila Filipino who I thought was very much like me, but silenced the real me by shutting my mouth up with masking tape. Ms. Aguila Fil brought out my censor — the self-talk that would make me less expressive and more critical of myself.
On the other hand was Ms. Aguila Chem who knew I needed help and spent time helping me along. Ms. Aguila Chem believed in me. She believed that there was good in me.
And right there at the Kerygma conference, I realized how big an impact these two teachers had on me. One who silenced me and one who believed in me.
I write this because I want to give honor to BOTH teachers.
Dear Ms. Aguila my Filipino teacher,
I respect you. What you did is something I would have done as a teacher. I want you to know that I did become a high school – a volunteer teacher in Cuyo, Palawan. And I want you to know that I was as amiable, friendly, silly as you. And I had my share of mistakes. I forgive you. For not realizing the effect of your gesture. And I appreciate you, for the good person that you are, for apologizing to my mom (and indirectly to me). I honor you because I knew you were a friend to many of my classmates — the kind of friend that I aim to be to my students, past and present.
Dear Ms. Cynthia Aguila my Chem teacher,
I am overwhelmed at remembering how much time and energy you had given me unconditionally. I thank you for taking time to tutor me. And more than any of the chemistry lessons, I thank you for believing in me. At a time in my adolescence when I felt my life was going nowhere, you saw through my rowdy-cool facade and knew that I needed help, that I needed someone to believe in me. And for this, I send out all my love to you, wherever you are.
I write this article in honor of my teachers. Those who believed in me, and even those who broke me and made me stronger. Those who took time to give me what I needed as I was learning about life. I know that I have been blessed to have many good teachers, in many different forms and ways.
When was the last time you told someone how much you appreciate them? When was the last time you told a coach, mentor, teacher how much they contributed to the person that you are now? It’s never too late. Take time now.
What’s your teacher story? Do share in the comments area below. ;-)
Ms Aguila and Ms. Aguila, I pray that the good Lord may bless you even more, with a family to nurture, with more students in or outside the classroom. I pray for more students whose lives you would touch like you did mine. Bless you for making my world a better place.
With much Love,
p.s. In memoriam, Newtown Conneticut.