First Teachers

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Jan 2 2011

By Jose Wendell P. Capili

Jose Wendell P. CapiliMy mother was my first teacher. When I was three, she made me recite the ABCs then count from 1 to 100 before our guests. At age five, I loved rummaging through maps and illustrations of Wells’ Outline of History. Upon learning about this particular fascination, my mother persuaded my father to purchase The Reader’s Digest Great World Atlas. The book enthused me to fluently memorize names of countries, capital cities, highest mountains, and other geographical facts.

At UST Elementary School, I had a number of teachers who sustained my interest in learning more about the world outside Carola Street. Miss Mila Bautista was my very first teacher in prep and Grade 1. She made me a group leader, often asking me to monitor the cleanliness of our classroom and to keep my classmates’ mouths shut whenever she took a break. When I was stricken with flu, she personally brought me to the University Health Center and patiently waited for my mother to arrive before returning to my classmates who were all distracted with coloring book exercises.

When Ms. Bautista became Mrs. Villarama, I was very sad because I thought she would be resigning. When she returned after giving birth to her first child, my Grade 1 class deliriously threw a party for her. The class brought loaves of bread, slices of Kraft cheddar cheese, hotdogs, marshmallows, and bottles of Sarsi Cola and Sunta Orange to celebrate her coming back. I would not forget, Mrs. Ma--Bautista-Villlarama because she saved me from embarrassment many times whenever I couldn’t understand texts the class orally read in unison. She knew there was something wrong with my comprehension skills. But she refused to call me dumb. After each class, she would make me read texts again and again until I finally understood the gist of things. Almost thirty years later, I discovered that I had been afflicted with Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder since birth. Mrs. Villarama’s creative impulse in sorting out my deficiencies turned out to be what became familiar to us as special education.

In Grade 1, I also met two other interesting teachers: Mrs. Sylvia Fernandez, who taught me speech communication; and Miss Aida Jurilla, who taught me music. Mrs. Fernandez was fully aware of my lapses in speaking and writing. But whenever we had school presentations, she persistently plucked my name either as a lead performer or as part of a chorus. My first public performance was staged at the UST Education Auditorium before a thousand or so people. As her pilot Grade 1 students, we were trained to recite “A Little Boy’s Prayer,” a Vietnam War poem. Some 400 Grade 1 students auditioned for thirty speaking parts. Though I forgot my lines many times, I remained part of the ensemble Mrs. Fernandez had selected to perform onstage. I was among the first ten performers arising on top of a platform to directly face the audience. We were all dolled up in colorful jacket tops and trousers. But minutes before our number, Fernandez noticed that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, cracking up and shivering in fright. Mrs. Fernandez momentarily pulled me out of the backstage so I can drink a glass of water. Afterwards, she motivated me to close my eyes, pray, and offer my performance to the ones I deeply care for. And she also insisted that throughout the performance, I should imagine that only my family and friends are in the auditorium.

I still got frightened the very first time I emerged onstage. But Mrs. Fernandez hid behind the curtains to keep me cool, calm, and collected. I kept on whispering to myself “For Grandpa” and “For Mom and Dad” as I uttered the first lines: ‘Now, as I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mommy, Little Sue, Baby John, and most especially, my Daddy . . .’, After five minutes, we ended our performance with a bow. And the crowd cheered us on. Mrs. Fernandez embraced each one of us. Then she gave us balloons before we went home.

When I graduated from Grade 6, Mrs. Fernandez emceed the proceedings held at the UST Gymnasium. Although it was not on the script, Mrs. Fernandez added the words “consistent honor student” as she called my name. Looking back, I always remember Mrs. Fernan dez because she made me realize that one speaks inpublic to communicate an important thought and certainly not to glorify one’s self.

Miss Jurilla, on the other hand, was my music teacher from Grade 1 to Grade 6. She made quite an impression on me because she looked glamorous without really trying. She nearly resembled the aura of Hollywood stars Lana Turner and Elizabeth Taylor. She has presence. As she entered each class, she always looked regal with pieces of beads, pearls, and other trinkets adorning her neck. Miss Jurilla taught me how to sing, play the piano, and be aware of rhythm and its nuances. She also introduced Hollywood and Broadway tunes like “My Favorite Things” (from The Sound of Music) and “Sunrise, Sunset” (from Fiddler on the Roof, popular American songs like “On top of Old Smokey, all covered with snow, I lost my true lover, he courted too slow . . . “ and “The Way We Were” as well as Filipino tunes such as “Lulay,” “Pilipinas Kong Mahal,” and “Dahil sa ‘yo.” She also taught me how to sing the school anthem in English and Filipino.

Every time I try to write poetry, I often remember Ms. Jurilla telling my Grade 1 class that music is poetry and poetry is music. Ms. Jurilla has taught me to prioritize the lyric in my writings. I always recognize Ms. Jurilla’s influence in the development of my poetic ear.

My mother, Mrs. Villarama, Mrs. Fernandez, and Ms. Jurilla were my first teachers. Their collective patience, creative energy, and encouragement pushed me to speak, read, and write. V

*Jose Wendell P. Capili earned his degrees from the University of Santo Tomas (elementary, high school and college), University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman, University of Tokyo, University of Cambridge and the Australian National University. He received Carlos Palanca, CUltural Center of the Philippines, UST and UP prizes for literature, as well as various scholarships, grants and fellowships. He authored four books and more than three hundred articles. Currently, he is an Associate Professor and the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College of Arts and Letter, U.P. Diliman. He wrote for the Varsitarian Witness section from 1986 until 1987.