Those Great Teachers of Yesteryears


I am once more, carefully and giddily, turning leaf after yellowed and brittle leaf of pre-war journals. It is the famed Philippine Journal of Education this time. Dean Francisco Benitez and his wife, Paz Marques Benitez are two individuals linked to this publication, which guided the early years of public educations.

The journal, true to its name, has the usual papers and lesson plans. But it is the content of the interstitial that fascinates me, that allows me to have a peek albeit it a rough sketch of what were those years when education, in the American sense was young. And those men and women who were forbidding in their age and wisdom when we finally met them in the 70s and 80s.

The historian of education might be caught in the pedagogy of the period but what I find altogether charming are those small notes, those observations in the "margins of margins," as Derrida put it.

The worlds of the teachers of yore unfold through what I would call the non-formal side of the reporting.

If today, we announce the promotions of teacher to exalted positions, in this journal, the changes in one's status were the focus of the report. The results were news items that had the feel of exposed intimacies, a private universe made public because, perhaps, the teacher was such an important being in those years. An object of deep curiosity.

Maternity leaves were announced. So was ill health. Given the small number of qualified teachers in those days, it was alarming to see in succession resignations or leaves made due to problems with the health. In September of 1928, a report by Martin Badong from Camarines Sur underscored how " the attendance of school pupils in some localities of this Division is being affected by the prevalence of trancazo. Many of the pupils affected to stay out of school for several days." The word "trancazo" was often used to describe anything similar to flu.

But some reports were odd, almost mysterious. A certain Roman Pagapong was reported to have taken a leave of absence because of bolo wounds. Then the report of the visit of Miss Mary Polley, an education official of the American colonial government was described as such: "One of the latest accomplishments in this Division was the taking of Miss Mary Polley, General Office Inspector) on inspection in the Superintendent's automobile and wrecking it (underscoring mine)." The report continued: "Unfortunately a young girl's thigh was broken when the car bounced off the road."

The details of the news were engaging. One item reported that the "office of the Principal Teacher of Bato was robbed on the evening of July 14 (1927)....Efforts are being made to find the robbers." The amount stolen was P120.80 pesos. Now, don't scoff at the news. That amount was certainly significant in those times when a Garden house in Canaman could be constructed for 300 pesos and a First class round-trip ticket, without cabin, via S.S. Consuelo, to Japan with stopover in Shanghai could cost you 250 pesos.

Marriages were big deal. Teacher-grooms and teacher-brides were identified. In March of 1929, however, the reporter must have been carried away with this news: "Mr. Laurencio Reyes, Supervisor of the Provincial Normal Training Department (which I assume to be the one in Daraga), surprised his friends in Naga when, returning back from Christmas vacation spent in his home province Pangasinan, he brought with him his charming bride who is also a native of the same province."

The year 1928 seemed to be a happy and auspicious years for teachers of Camarines Norte. The report from a certain Eduardo Lagman was all about dances and beauty pageants. The fact that he reported it all simply meant that the holding of such events was no taboo. The events, described as accomplishments of the parent-teacher associations, enumerated the following: Dance Benefit in Gubat barrio school of Daet on December 15; Masquarade [sic] dance in Alawihao barrio school of Daet on December 24; Queen Contest in San Vicente on December 27; Beauty contest in Mercedes barrio school of Daet; Rizal Day queen contest in Mambulao on December 30, and; Popular Queen contest in Capalonga on December 30.

The "queen contest " for the Rizal Day generated association funds of 400 pesos. This brings us back to that theft in Bato, certainly a terrible heinous crime in those days. Ah, those golden years.


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