I WILL never forget my kinder teacher, Ms. Espina. She had a soft voice, calm hands. She was the kindest woman. In my five-year-old mind, she was the best thing about school.
For a while, I thought that our class was named after her: “kinder” for the woman my classmates and I were all drawn to, like ants homing in on molasses.
When I was promoted to prep, I was heartbroken to learn Ms. Espina stayed in my old classroom and I had to enter a new one. This was ruled by a teacher shorter and smaller than Ms. Espina.
Boy, was she fierce.
When a pupil bawled and ran after her mother on the first day, and my other classmates hiccupped and started to cry and also moved towards the door, our new teacher herded all the runaways back to the room. She locked the door. And leaned against it. And looked back at us.
My heart almost stopped beating as I wondered if I would ever see again my mother and father and Ms. Espina across the hall. When our class was dismissed shortly after recess, I walked past my old classroom. Ms. Espina was at her desk but I didn’t go in.
At six, I felt old, wise and doomed. Not only can I never be with this gentle soul again, I could not imagine the other teachers lying in wait out there until I finally would be old enough to never enter a classroom again. E-ver.
Well, I recently turned 47 and I’m still wondering about those teachers. Last June, I entered graduate school.
Two of my former students became my classmates. Instead of passing notes in class, we update each other through email, Facebook, e-groups, text. When our professors posted our class standing, the use of student I.D. numbers to mask identity didn’t apply to me. I have the only I.D. number that begins with “1983-…” while the rest of the class have “2000-…”.
I’m even older than my professors. One teacher and I are the only ones in our class that saw President Ferdinand Marcos alive. Later, I learned that my professor was still in high school while I was a senior undergraduate during the dying days of the dictatorship. While he was still into Archie, I was reading “Das Kapital” in comic book format. Cool.
Yet, sitting inside a classroom as a student, not as a teacher, I realize how I’m not drastically different from the six-year-old who realized that the only secret to getting unstuck from that seat and walking out to take deep gulps of blissful freedom is to please the one who can lock and unlock those doors.
That’s essentially how I got to be such a teacher-pleaser. I like school. I like assignments. I like commuting early to be in campus eight hours before my class starts. I like libraries where no one is selling coffee, blowing smoke my way or hoarding the newspapers. I don’t much like exams but I like tussling with a problem, pinning it down and walking away, feeling like the Terminator. Yeah.
Most of all, I like being a student and trusting my teacher to take me to a place I’ve never been before. No one will ever take the place of Ms. Espina in my heart, but it was actually fierce, tiny Ms. Prep who, true to her name, stood me at the edge of the precipice, challenging me with her eyes to jump.
Backwards to safety or forward to vastness and possibility.
On World Teachers’ Day, I write this letter to reassure Ms. Espina she will always be my first love but my gratitude goes to her and Ms. Prep and all my teachers who make magic.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)
*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 7, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column