Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Personal Superheroes

I finally saw 'Waiting for Superman' this past weekend.  For those who are not familiar with this film, it's a documentary that discusses the education crisis (particularly the failures of public education) in the United States.  

It's quite a disturbing film, especially for a parent like myself who is now beginning to consider our options for educating our child.  It made me think of the countless children, not only here in the United States, but all over the world, who are motivated to get an education and who have ambitions in life, but are stifled by the adult the failures of the institutions that are supposed to look after their welfare, their futures.  The film could not have been clearer in its message that something needs to be done and that we know what steps to take.  Sadly, politics, vested interests and the unwillingness to change a system that is obsolete and ineffective are getting in our way.

I can't help but be grateful for the quality education that I was privileged enough to have access to all throughout my life.  I am aware that not everyone in the world is as lucky as I am and I am cognizant of this every waking moment of my life.  I am also grateful for having amazing mentors who had the dedication to teach, genuinely teach, and see the value in their chosen profession.

I am reminded of some key persons in my whole education experience...people who, in my view, truly made a significant difference in my life.  These are mentors who shared what they knew, shared their hearts and beings, and showed their passion for shaping their students' minds.

Mrs. 3rd grade Science teacher.  She sparked my interest in science, especially in studying the solar system. All my life, I've been deeply passionate about the Universe, Astronomy, Astro- and Quantum Physics, and although these are very difficult areas to comprehend (especially the last two disciplines), my passion for them are enough for me to try to understand as much as I could.  I cannot, for instance, watch any science shows featuring Stephen Hawking, or some of the other theoretical physicists discussing the Universe without getting so turned on, close to the brink of getting cerebrally orgasmic (for lack of a way of describing the awe and excitement I feel).  I think I owe much of this attitude to Mrs. Dimen who made it all so interesting for me at such an early age.

Mrs. Romero...4th year high school Creative Writing teacher.  We had this project or activity called 'The Journal' where we each had a notebook for our personal reflections on topics chosen by our teacher.  I absolutely enjoyed it.  I know some of my classmates loathed it, but I suppose at that stage and age, there was already a budding writer inside me.  I did not always write excellent pieces and I admit that there were times I felt I was trying too hard.  But I always looked forward to Mrs. Romero's comments after she read our entries.  Her comments were always thoughtful and mostly encouraging.  She would comment both on the technical aspect of our writing, as well as give insights into our personalities as reflected by our journal entries.  At that time, it was very important for me to do well, to please her and to prove myself.  Like I said, I know I did not always succeed but it was from this person, this teacher that I first learned that I had some talent in writing...that it was one of the things I can do well.  In one of her assessments, she wrote: "Very good!  Quite reflective!  How about honing your writing skills, Joy? There's a promise in you...Good luck!"

Maybe she wrote a similar comment to the others as well.  But I wish I can tell her now how much that comment meant and means to me!  I still have that class notebook with me until now and I refuse to throw it out.  It will always remind me how important writing has always been to me and how someone took the time to not only teach me the basic skills but also made sure I knew the strengths I can build upon.

Ms. homeroom teacher during my high school senior year.  She was also our Home Economics teacher and I will always remember two things about her.  She further reinforced my love for food and cooking and I wouldn't be who I am now without that!  The other thing is that more than just being a homeroom teacher, she became a real friend and guardian to all of us.  She was like an older sister to us and yet maintained her authority.  She was a dedicated shepherd who clearly took her job seriously and gave it a 110% when it came to looking after her students' well-being.  Towards the end of the school year, I had become quite close to her and would have to admit that she (together with another faculty member, Ms. Quintos) was a strong influence in my choice of a university to attend for college.  I will always be grateful for all the guidance she gave me.  She could have done much less because she was certainly not obliged to do more.  Yet she was one who chose to consistently give more and that always inspired me when I myself became a teacher in the university.

Ms. Quintos...fourth-year high school English teacher.  Yes I owe it to her that I was able to read and appreciate classics such as Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno', and Hermann Hesse's 'Siddhartha'.  But more than her impressive teaching competence and apparent intelligence, what I also remember learning most from her is her dedication to social justice.  If I were to choose just one remarkable learning from this person, one valuable influence that struck me the most and stuck with me for life, it would have to be her teaching us that we are no better than anyone else in the world, but merely different.  On our yearbook, she wrote, "As you are your own person, do not allow people to trample on your dignity and in return never degrade the personhood of another.  Everyone deserves to be truly recognized, accepted and respected in this life."  

Social consciousness, service to others and fighting for social justice are things Ms. Quintos embodied and truly tried to pass on to us, her students.  I will forever be grateful for that.

Dr. Manuel Social Psychology professor during my undergraduate and graduate years at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.  Doc Boni, as everyone fondly calls this man, is someone very down-to-earth and caring.  He was very good in teaching and highlighting the practical aspects of the concepts he discussed in class.  I would have to also say that it struck me that he was someone who took pride in being able to teach his students about life, living with others, and surviving in the world.  

I will never forget one thing he shared in class one day.  It has always stuck with me and it was something I tried passing on to my own students as well (with proper acknowledgement, of course!).  We were most likely discussing the concept of Impression Management at that time and as a practical translation, he uttered these words:  "It's very important to be cute...But after five minutes, you have to be competent."  It made so much sense and sounded so witty that I've always wished I had come up with that one myself!  

Dr. Joy Natividad...undergraduate thesis adviser, too many credentials to even enumerate, great mentor and colleague and friend.  I've had the pleasure and privilege of being this woman's student as well as being part of a research team she headed years ago.  One thing to note is that when you are with this woman, YOU...WILL...LEARN.  She trained me in data processing and statistical analysis and one of my regrets is that leaving the academe shortened my opportunity to learn more from her through the years.  I can still remember the rush I would feel every time we would look at some research data together and try to explain the social behavior or reality behind the numbers/ statistics.  There's nothing quite like it when you know you're about to make an important contribution in your field of study and you have a great mind right there beside you to validate what you've discovered.  And you won't help but respect this woman even more because despite her brilliance and countless accolades, she remains humble and willing to share her knowledge to those willing to learn.  

Believe it or not, she also trained my writing.  I've always had the inclination to be verbose and she never tolerated that. Academic writing, especially scientific papers, had to be precise, clear and gracefully direct to the point.  She taught me that.  She taught me the art of editing my thoughts.  She made sure I learnt that less is more.  

Dr. Clarisse Rubio...last but certainly not the least; true friend and another great mind, mentor and colleague.  She became my professor in graduate school and I remember enrolling in multiple classes under her but in each and every class I took with her, I learned the most important thing of all.  I learned how to think.  That I believe is one, if not, the most important thing one can ever teach another.  I learned what she called 'cognitive mapping', being forced to organize the mental clutter and having the ability to present your ideas concisely and clearly.  This process sounds easier than it actually is, believe me.  It was not something I instantly, easily and painlessly learnt.  It took a lot of practice but it was all worth it...worth the countless objective criticism and humbling evaluations.  The ability to organize ideas, theories, concepts and analyze them so that you can possibly improve on them or articulate them in an even clearer way, or perhaps come up with another original idea or category, is something you can own.  It's not merely an idea that someone else can copy or steal from you, but a skill you can carry with you and translate regardless of the field you are in.  That is priceless!

I had so many other great teachers in my life and to all of them, I say THANK YOU.  It's very tempting to say that most of those who truly made a dent were from the University but that would not be very accurate or fair to say.  I believe that my high school and college experiences worked hand-in-hand in building both my intellect and my character.  One without the other will not equip you enough for the world.  Like I've already said, I will always feel gratitude for the quality of education and educators I was exposed to.  But I will continue to hope and help work for a world where QUALITY education is not merely a privilege but a right for all.  Our children deserve so much more than what our current world is offering them.  

What about you?  Do you feel you are one of the lucky ones?  Who are some of your most remarkable teachers and how have they changed your lives?


  1. Hi Joy! I love this! This made me sentimental on a rainy afternoon as now.

    As for me, my personal superheroes from school are Ms. Beltran, our Gr3 (or 4) Reading and Language teacher. I clearly remember that it was during that year that I had recognized my love for reading and the written word.

    Ms. Romero for her Creative Writing class. I loved her creative writing assignments.

    Ms. Cadsawan, our 3rd year Economics teacher. She taught with such passion and with such clarity that made her subject easy to absorb, interesting, and engaging.

    Love your blog! Keep 'em coming! :D ♥

    Cherry-Vi (aka Carmelisa)

  2. Cherry, Thanks for your comment! And yes, I forgot about Ms.Cadsawan! I think she was pretty awesome too and was great at explaining the social science concepts to us! Yep, she's on my list too! Thanks for the reminder :-))


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