Maestra y Maestro
From Mrs. Leonor R. Dy-Liacco, I heard this heartwarming, if not amusing, story. Many years back, parents were always proud of daughters (I suppose also of sons) becoming teachers that they would always find a reason to announce to the world, or maybe just around the neighborhood, that they had a teacher in their homes. Thus, in the morning when the daughter who was a teacher was about to leave for school, the mother would go down first from their home, step out onto the street, and wait for the jeepney to pass by. Upon seeing the vehicle, the mother who would usually be on the other side of the street would shout in her loud voice: Señor Tsuper, para man tabi ta masakay an sakong aking Maestra. The jeepney would stop and, because this happened in the small town of Minalabac during those years when everybody knew everybody, would wait. The proud mother would then walk back to her home to fetch the daughter who would come down slowly, take her time to cross the street and go up to what could have been the only means of transportation plying that town by the river.
All this time, the other passengers inside the vehicle were all looking at the Maestra, admiring her composure and even the way she dressed and walked.
Those were the years when the teacher was one of the most important persons in the village or the town. Respect and admiration were accorded the teacher; in return the society also expected much of them.
The importance, however, given the teachers was a double-edged instrument, for the teacher was gradually seen as one who could do many tasks, achieve many results. The teacher began to be given more tasks that went beyond teaching. Or maybe the governments both local and national together with the pedagogue experts saw education as encompassing a wide range of instruction. That the teacher was not meant to teach reading, writing and the basic subjects in elementary and high school but also to teach about life! Thus institutions began to demand that teachers work on those extracurricular activities that brought them outside the classrooms into the area of social welfare and service, to governance and civic duties.
When parks and plazas were to be cleaned, the teachers were contacted to facilitate the activity. They were engaged not only to bring pupils and students; they were seen as disciplinarians who could conscript young laborers. When election time came, it was their turn to be conscripted into service to man the polling precincts. Witness who were maligned and mocked when the election procedures went wrong. Be the observer when teachers had to stay the whole day running the process. Then be the great witness when teachers were killed because they happened to be the ones closest to the ballot, because it was their body embracing the containers of votes that would determine the future for a barangay, a town, a city or the entire country.
When typhoons came and the classrooms were battered and the instructional materials were all destroyed, did the Department of Education organize a team of engineers to inspect the damage? The classroom teachers, as always, were expected to rush to the scene immediately, assess the extent of destruction and provide the solution. Recorded are horrifying and sad cases of teachers staying late in classrooms to preserve what could be protected even when a storm was already raging around them.
Then, we had young female teachers who braved the distance and isolation of schools in the village who got molested, raped or killed.
We, if only to credit our capacity to feel, we wept and offered them grand eulogies. Then we awarded them with a certificate of bravery. Or, those who survived the attack, were offered promotion.
Then the world sets aside a day or even a month for Teachers.
Online, there is a rush of golden memories about our first teachers. Virtual flowers bloom and fill our Facebook account. We exchange with other teachers self-congratulatory remarks. We scour books for quotations about the nobility of teaching and education as the wellspring of development. We profusely thank former students who remember us because teachers, especially those in elementary, are humble and are surprised if they are ever acknowledged.
But, we should know better. We know that words are cheap. Really cheap.
I spoke of the injustices to teachers in the past tense hoping, perhaps in vain, that these things do not happen anymore.