Sunday, November 18, 2007

Teacher from Hell

Teacher from Hell.

That's what my mates and I used to call our fifth grade English teacher, Hector. When the principal introduced us to the new teachers that year, Hector's reputation preceded him; he was described as a 'walking encyclopedia', a 'drill sergeant', and many other epithets of fear. True enough, when he first came to our classroom, he ordered us to occupy only one fourth of our seats, and have our backs straight as possible; he immediately gave us a ton of homework, and his first words to us were 'I'm not here to be your friend.'

Now, from what I remember, Hector came from a well-off family of lawyers and justices in beautiful Iloilo City, which rivaled Manila in prominence at the end of the Spanish colonial period. Hector studied with the Jesuits in grade school and high school, joined the Opus Dei, went to Harvard, and came back to the Philippines after several years of study. He was the first teacher I'd ever seen who drove a Mercedes Benz to work, and he talked with a perfect Hahvahd accent, with the slightest tinge of a Hispanic flavor to it.

Most of what we knew about Hector came from hearsay. Back then, to us, he was the most awesome teacher we had, while at the same time being the very epitome of Hell. Just a few days into the school year, he already required a notebook to be submitted at the end of the year, containing at least two new words we learned per day, including weekends. The penalty for so much as failure to note one entry was unknown, but we didn't stick around to find out what it was.

He was also the first teacher to deviate from the approved curriculum; he made up his own, and required us to read C.S. Lewis' 'Chronicles of Narnia' instead; for the first quarter, it was 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe', 'Prince Caspian' for the next, and 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader' for the last two. Failure to bring one's book meant being excluded from the lectures for a whole week. Indeed, Hector was so strict in this regard, that some parents even complained against him.

Hector had a lot of quirks. He hated clicky pens, calling them unmanly. One time, a friend of mine who would later on become valedictorian, used a clicky pen for a major test. Hector lost no time in approaching him, and snapped the clicky pen like a twig between his fingers. He also did not mince words; in the Philippines, the Spanish puneta as well as puta are considered exceptionally taboo; he broke this taboo by explaining to us their proper meaning. When he would encourage us, he told us anecdotes from World War II, telling stories of Joseph Goebbels 'the sinister head of the Propagandaministerium'; I don't know why.

He was also our religion teacher as well - and if he was strict in English class, he was doubly strict in religion. He spoke casually of the sufferings our Lord suffered on the Cross, citing ancient Roman sources on the severity of this ignominious execution. One time, during a lecture about the Virgin Mary, an Adventist seat mate of mine cracked, 'Advocate? What do you mean, like the Devil's Advocate?' (The discussion was about Mary being our intercessor before God). Hector fumed, his face turning red; he let out a large scream and swept our jugs, which were resting atop a low shelf to one side of the room, hurling them at Chuck, my Adventist seatmate (who was incidentally our biggest bully). 'Anathem sit! Get the #&*%!@ out of my classroom!' That was the first time I saw Chuck cower in fear. I think he even cried, if I remember correctly.

He was very strict when it came to essays in both subjects; spelling 'ecumenical' wrong, for example, landed one a point's deduction. When someone asked him, 'Sir, can I come inside the room?', he would glower fiercely and say, 'You may not', and slam the door shut. He refused to let the student in until he learned proper grammar. Luckily, I was never one of those students.

There was also a legend, that he picked a fight once with another English teacher in the faculty room, apparently appalled at his grammar or something, who would incidentally go on to teach us in the sixth grade. When we were noisy (and it was rare), he would either make us line outside the room or, more frequently, have us run laps in the quadrangle, or carry our chairs above our heads for forty minutes while he delivered his lectures. The thing that struck fear most of all into us, though, was when he picked up a piece of chalk, and calmly rubbed his forefinger and thumb, and completely pulverized it. Without even breaking a sweat. Without even straining a muscle.

He would have been our Spanish teacher as well, but time did not permit, so we had to settle for another one, who he would probably have called 'a clown' to his face. But that probably would not have been a good idea, since he would have asked us to write essays at least five pages in length (for a Grade 5 student, that's Hell) entirely in Spanish. Besides, I wouldn't want to get a tongue lashing from him like that other student did, whom he called a maricon and a pajero in front of the whole class (the other section).

Looking back, that year under Hector was one of the most memorable things in my mind. Eight years have hardly dulled his memory, and today we still speak of him in a reverent air, afraid that he might pounce at us from a hidden, shadowy corner. Hector was simply awesome; I doubt I'll ever meet another teacher like him again. I would not write the way I do today without his criticisms, and I probably would not know what 'diphenychloroarzine' or 'succinylsulfathiazone' is had he not required those two new words everyday; I must have bled our three volume dictionary set looking for the rarest, most difficult words I could find, but still he knew most of what I put in that notebook.

Please pray for Hector. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year, and it is apparently not progressing. He has a beautiful daughter, a lovely wife, and so much to lose-- and still to give-- at this early stage in his life.

In the words of his favorite greeting to us: 'Morituri te salutant!'

We need Catholic teachers like Hector. Big time.

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