Teachers and heroes

published 26 Oct 2009, Manila Standard Today

One of the faces I was really pleased to see during my high school reunion last month was that of Mrs. Priscilla TaƱedo Catanauan, my adviser and English teacher during my freshman year. I had not seen nor heard from Ma'am Precy since the day I graduated from high school sixteen years ago. She had transferred from the school I attended to Kalayaan National High School, in the more remote part of Kalookan City.

But it was a reunion and everybody was busy catching up with everybody else, so outside of the hasty hellos and what-have-you -been-up-tos, there was no opportunity for longer talk. Too bad, really, because even as I noticed that my former teacher had visibly gained some years, what struck me more was that while watching our program, Ma'am Precy had the same quiet presence that allowed you to be just who you were. She was accepting, encouraging; never judging, never harsh. A subsequent online exchange proved to be an instructive exercise.

Isabela-born Catanauan is a graduate of St. Paul University in Tuguegarao (major in general science,minor in English) and has been teaching for the past 23 years. She spent two years at La Salette of Roxas and a good eleven years at the RVM-run Our Lady of Grace Academy before deciding to transfer to Kalayaan. She transferred for personal reasons; her children were then in their formative years and she felt she needed to spend more time with them. The public system required teachers to spend only six hours at school, which freed up more time for Catanauan. While she handled English classes in OLGA, she taught science subjects in the public high school. After a few years, she became science department head.

The transfer gave Catanauan the opportunity to observe similarities and differences between the private and the public systems. “In terms of service and commitment, there is no remarkable difference in teaching in a private and a public school,” she says. “In the private school where students are functionally literate, a teacher needs to give beyond what they already know, a teacher must be at least ten books ahead of them, a lot of preparation and teaching strategies are to be employed. In the public school where most of the students are deprived and less privileged, both economically and socially, a teacher faces the great task of bringing out the best in them and the most of what they know.”

As overseer of science instruction in the school, Catanauan is presently challenged by the introduction of the concept of climate change to her students. Especially now, after the devastation wrought by recent storms Ondoy and Pepeng, the young are more receptive to the idea that it is climate change that is responsible for extreme weather conditions. Faulty practices, like improper disposal of waste and a general apathy towards the environment, make the problem worse. She hopes these would make students more aware of their role and at the same time prepare them for calamities that may strike in the future.

Now that's real learning, which Catanauan believes cannot be measured solely by raw scores obtained in examinations. She evaluates her students by the improvements they make over time – and in all aspects, not just the grade.

Outside of the classroom, Catanauan has even more daunting challenges. A typical day starts at 4:30 in the morning when she has to prepare the needs of her husband George, a jeepney operator/ driver/ mechanic, as well as that of her children. At ten o'clock she reports to school and carries out her duties until 7 in the evening. Like any working mother, Catanauan constantly tries to give more of herself to her loved ones but always feels guilty that she is not doing enough. Fortunately her children have seen through this juggling act and learned to appreciate their mother's calling. In fact, she has set such a good example that two of her children are themselves professional teachers and two are studying to become teachers (another two are still in grade school). Some passions, after all, do run in the family.

Catanauan says she has never considered any other profession and cannot imagine herself being in another field. Success, she says, is achieving one's goals righteously. She is happy that she is able to live her dream of interacting with the youth and inspiring them.

Still, she aspires to do more. “I want to be an instrument in improving lives,” Much needs to be done to achieve quality education – not just for those who can afford it, but for all. She is a witness to the deterioration of the education system in the country. “Every Filipino deserves an equal opportunity for quality education.” Sadly, genuine commitment and quality service rendered by teachers like her are not enough to make this happen.

“Many students cannot cope with the minimum learning competencies set for their level. Lack of classrooms and teachers resulting to big class size, inadequate facilities, limited instructional time and poor teacher preparation are factors that result to the deterioration of education. To solve this problem,there is a need to align teachers to teach their major subject. There should be continuous training and retraining of teachers. Adequate facilities and classrooms should be provided.”

Well, accessibility of education is a common advocacy among candidates for next year's elections. Let's see who among these wannabes, local and national alike, are sincere and serious in making a difference.


October 5 was set aside by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Teachers' Day. Here in the country, the day was supposed to mark the culmination of month-long activities in the Teachers Month Campaign by organizations led by the Metrobank Foundation. The devastation brought by Ondoy and Pepeng, however, has caused the campaign to be extended until October 31. Difficult times have a way of bringing out the heroes in people, the foundation says, and teachers easily come to mind when we talk about heroes.

In the meantime, Catanauan's view of heroism has got nothing to do with being great or famous. “It is doing things no matter how simple they are to improve other people's lives. It is the act of forgetting oneself for the welfare of others.” Amen – how can we say we are a nation so in want of heroes?

Precy says she is driven by her commitment to her work and her love for her family. Her life is not comfortable nor luxurious, yet she considers herself successful. Her living trophies are former students who have eventually succeeded in their chosen careers – and her children who are turning out just fine.

Ma'am Precy says she looks forward to going back to her hometown after retirement, enjoying the comfort of family she has so assiduously built and nurtured side by side with her vocation. She is excited to care for more grandchildren (she has one already). She will look back to whether she has become an instrument indeed.

But even now we see she has taught her children and mothered her students well. That day may yet be far away, but her students – past and present, myself included – already know the answer.


Readers' reactions:

Dear Ms. Adelle,

I would like to thank you for featuring our dearest Ma'am Precy in your opinion page dated Oct.25, 2009. The teachers here at Kalayaan National High School were very happy upon reading your article about her - being a teacher and a committed mother. I have knwon Ma'am Prezy way back 1995 but I got the chance to know her well when we became co-teachers in KNHS 1998. I become an avid fan of her because of her qualities. Later, we bacome friends. True enough, Ma'am Prescy is very accepting, never harsh, she's so sincere. More than that, she is very humble, intelligent .and kind. But there is one quality that Ma'am Precy that I really adore and that is she can make you laugh out of her jokes.

More power to you Ms.Adelle and to Manila Standard Newspaper. God bless!

Very truly yours,

Mrs. Wilhelmina D. Tarnate


Dear Adelle,

I enjoy reading your column which I found most interesting, but the
big turn-off for me is when so-called climate change (formerly “global
warming”) is incorporated into a rather interesting piece.

In today's column, you mentioned “…Catanauan is presently challenged
by the introduction of the concept of climate change to her students.
Especially now, after the devastation wrought by recent storms Ondoy
and Pepeng, the young are more receptive to the idea that it is
climate change that is responsible for extreme weather conditions.”

The teacher's intention might be benign, but it is appalling to think
that impressionable skulls of young children full of mush are being
brain-washed with an insane notion without any foundation at all.

The climate change connection to Ondoy and Pepeng has no basis
whatsoever. I consider the regurgitation by Philippine media of Al
Gore’s global-warming-money-venture- scheme as junk science without
any factual basis but only enriches Al Gore's bank account.

Best regards,

Gil Torres