I’ve just recently found out that it’s World Teacher’s Day today and it just made me instantly look back on my life when I was a student, where my life revolved primarily around academics and teachers. From what I remember, I’ve read something like this back in high school that the mediocre teacher simple tells, the good teacher explains, the great teacher challenges and the unforgettable teacher inspires (or something like that). For sure, I’ve encountered all of these types of teachers and I’m thankful for each one of them, even the ones I hated so much.
Despite the horrors of classroom sessions with your least favorite educators and the mediocre ones, there was that teacher, the unforgettable teacher. I believe everyone meets an unforgettable character in a teacher, at some point in our student lives. At the time that you are interfacing with your most unforgettable teacher, you haven’t the slightest inkling that someday they’d have an impact on you because of the trials and tribulations connected with learning in the classroom. God knows I’ve had my shares of trials and tribulations inside the classroom setting as a student. It was probably a sort of blessing in disguise that I did poorly on my second year in my math subjects and I was required to do some summer remedial classes to save my average. Through this unfortunate circumstance, I met Sir M.
For as long as I can remember, I never liked math and as much as I tried to like it, I have trouble understanding it. Algebra was a particularly hard for me. I know the formulas and such but when the numbers get turned around or when the equations get more complex, I went blank and my grades suffered much to the dismay of my parents. Back then, it seemed like I accepted that inevitable way of the Universe that mathematics and I could never agree and I preferred to slack off in my Math subjects and filled my Math notebooks with drawings instead of equations.
My Algebra teacher then was good one, I have to admit but I didn’t feel a genuine interest from her that she wanted to help me focus on my problems and solve them. It was tough especially when you’re in a room surrounded by girls of vivacious personalities and naturally sharp minds when it comes to numbers. When she looks at me, it felt like the words “what is she doing?” is burrowing at the back of my skull and she’s just waiting for me to get a barely passing grade. So much for encouragement and my confidence.
Remedial summer classes carry a sense of dread for everyone who’s forced to take it and also a kind of stigma that says ‘academic loser’ for the crowd in my school. Our class was less than 20 students and I was the only incoming third year student in my class, surrounded by incoming second years. I absolutely loathed it and I planned to escape to the library every break time and after class to try not to cry. The first day of the remedial classes I remember that distinct feeling of trying to distance myself from my classmates as much as possible to save me from the humiliation and to create a wall from the then-unknown teacher, who was probably going to give up on me too.
I’ve never had male Math teachers before and Sir M was the first one. My initial reaction to him was I was wary of him since he looked so uptight and the type of Math teacher who would mentally ‘tsk’ at stupid mistakes. It was the first time I’ve seen him up close because I’ve only encountered his name occasionally from the other sections that he was a great teacher, really smart and probably the brainiest teacher in the Math Department. Great, I sighed. But as the day went by, I discovered he wasn’t as bad as I thought he was and he had a strange but effective sense of humor that made everyone feel at ease. He wasn’t imposing but his presence commanded a sense of respect and I was in absolute awe when he drew on the board a ‘perfect’ circle. I decided to give him a chance.
Sir M, as it turns out, was probably one of the few teachers who were genuinely nice to me. In high school I’ve noticed most teachers are a little put off by my awkward and quirky self and only tend to half-listen to what I had to say. But Sir M was patient with me especially when I had questions and I had a hard time explaining what I didn’t understand. He was the type that went around the class to look at how we were doing. Then, he was the only Math teacher who asked me to show how I arrived at my answer which turned out to be wrong. After listening, he would show me on my paper where I got it wrong and how to solve it correctly while making eye contact, real eye contact and not the one that simply looks at the back of your head. Sir M took his time to explain clearly to the class, throwing in words of encouragement and a funny remark or two. He gave us exercises based on our progress and pretty soon, I found myself in synch with the progress of the Algebra class which is the first time it ever happened to me.
It was the first time I got perfect scores in exercises and homework and above average scores for my quizzes that I didn’t even notice that summer went by so quickly. It was a miracle for me that I was able to pick up at a pace faster than how I would usually understand lessons and it felt incredibly good. Sir M was pleased with my progress, knowing my situation on why was I attending the summer remedial class and he was generous with both critique of my progress and words of praises for me. In the end, he gave me a sincere smile and an 85% grade for my remedial class and told me he believed in me and he thought I was not trying as much and that I gave up too easily. Half effort does not produce half-results, it produces no results. Sir M believes that there was no such thing as ‘worst Math student’ and we all have it in us to pick up a skill in our own pace, even if that skill is solving Algebra equations.
Summer classes were finally over but summer was at its peak and the cicadas were as loud as ever. I was waiting near the flagpole for my mom to pick me up while reading an Edgar Allan Poe book I borrowed from the library. Sir M, on his way to the gates, approached me and asked how was I and why I haven’t went home yet since I’m the only student in the high school campus left. We chatted for a bit and he inquired about the book I was reading. I would never forget how we instantly connected to Edgar Allan Poe and he was pleased with the idea that I liked to read and expressed his sympathy that I didn’t have much books at home. I couldn’t believe that he offered to let me borrow some of his books, if I would like to and I agreed, if it was really alright with him. Sir M said it was quite alright and he’ll see me once the school year starts.
At the end of it, it wasn’t like magic that my interest in Math became so intense. Rather, I still ended up struggling in my Trigonometry and Geometry classes in third year. Turns out, I learn and understood Math subjects in a smaller class where subject management was easier and there was more interaction with students and teachers who had more chances of personally evaluating us. In our bigger class of nearly 30+ students, I had no choice but to go with the flow. I did better on some days and some days were was bad but I was still determined.
Seeing Sir M was actually one of my respites from the stress I have in the classrooms. He gave me something much bigger than a decent Math grade; he’s the once who encouraged my love of reading that would last a lifetime. I was already an avid reader as a child and as I grew up, I developed a love for school libraries and borrowing whatever I felt like reading since we didn’t have a huge collection of books in my house. Sir M provided me an opportunity to explore my interests in reading when we started off with our mutual favorite author: Stephen King and a few classics such as Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It was a bit strange that I didn’t go to him for Math tutorials since he was primarily a Math teacher but to satisfy my reading habits. I would see him during breaks or whenever I had the time to go to the Male Faculty room and he would have the book I wanted ready for me. Before he handed me the book, he would tell me a bit of history about it, what was it about, when did he bought it and how he felt about that book.
When it came to a point that I had no idea anymore what titles should I ask from him, Sir M handed me a small, well-worn faux leather notebook. He said it was sort of a catalogue for him, where he listed every book he bought and keeps in his room and allowed me to take the notebook so I could give it some thought. For sure, his collection didn’t contain most of the books my peers were into at the time but he had a solid foundation for classic and contemporary literature which I enjoyed immensely. Mark Twain, H.G Wells, Shelley, Wilde, Poe, Dumas—it was incredibly impressive and I loved the freedom he allowed me to exercise by choosing the titles I would like to borrow. Sir M was the type of reader who believed that readers travel through both worlds, that of high art and popular culture. He seemed to understand that everyone should read good classics and Pulitzer Prize winners but should also read cult classics like the works of Stephen King. He allowed me to explore my reading options and encouraged me to look up the authors that I was reading and their other works. In return, I let him borrow a book from me but he didn’t have time to finish it since he was too busy.
We had a kind of friendship I never shared with an older adult and I was glad that I was able to find a grown up whom I could share my interests with. He really had a genuine love and knowledge about literature and he was eager to share it with a student and I valued how we connected and it was definitely something I didn’t have with my English or Literature professors at that time. Sir M was kind and encouraging to me as ever and didn’t turn me away with my requests, even if at the back of my mind I considered myself a nuisance given how demanding teaching both Trigonometry and Geometry was and it made him too busy. Our conversations were about books mainly but we also liked to talk about the little things in our daily lives. He never became one of my subject teachers regretfully but he became the moderator of our Arts Club and encouraged me to explore my talents and had moments where we bonded over other small things. And I have to admit that I developed a secret crush on him eventually and I do believe I loved him sincerely at some point.
Sir M served as an explicit reading model for me and he specifically associated reading with enjoyment, pleasure and learning and that was what helped and encouraged me to become a voluntary lifelong reader. I can take any book in my hand and devour it word after word and understand what it is trying to tell its readers. He inspired me to start a book collection of my own (to rival his, he said) and it’s still a dream I’m working on. I saw him days after graduation (he wasn’t present during the ceremony itself), he was a bit shocked and disappointed when he learned that I would be taking up Nursing as my course and not a course related to Arts or Literature, because he believe I would do great in those fields.
Graduation letter he wrote for me. I’m still terrible with Math but I’m not as slow as I used to be. Don’t worry, I’m still reading those wonderful books and I’m still learning to love more of them, thanks to you! Thank you for the solid foundation you’ve provided!