A Different Kind of Teacher: Making History Come Alive with His Story
As a teen, history was a difficult subject to me that I detested having to take any semblance of it when I went back to school at 50. My past history subjects were laden with mindless memorizations of people, places, and dates which I kept in my short term memory just to pass. Despite my aversion for history, there was no way I could avoid EDUC 100 or Philippine Educational System to complete my 18 units for a Certificate in Professional Education (CPE).
I just turned 50 when I met Sir Buhay Alonzo in November 2007. My friends and I took the subject without any knowledge of who the teacher would be since the subject roster listed the professor’s name as “TBA” (or To Be Announced). On the first day of classes, a light framed elderly man entered our classroom and asked “Who’s your teacher?” – to which a classmate said “TBA po”. “ Oh, this is my class”, the man replied as he proceeded to the teacher’s table and introduced himself. “Ako ay si Teacher Buhay Alonzo, TBA.” As customary, he asked us to introduce ourselves, talked about his course requirements, and started recounting his student days at UP lengthily, till the whole class session was used up.
I psyched my self to learn to love history from that very first day to reduce my anxieties during the semester. Upon reaching home, I told my husband about Sir Buhay and providentially, my husband knew him. He has been my husband’s teacher at the UP Prep High in the early seventies. When I mentioned about this to him next class meeting, he said I was lucky to have married my husband since all Prepians are good just like their teacher. He emphasized though, “I was a fresh graduate when I taught them. Don’t think I’m already very old. Kayang-kaya ko pang isayaw lahat ng mga dilag sa klaseng ito ng walang kahingal-hingal.”
Attendance in his class was recorded in a pad paper. He remembered who were late or absent the previous day since he called on them to say that someone missed them in class. I was stunned but glad at the way Sir Buhay conducted his classes sans a course outline, free flowing discussions, surprise intermissions; the daily newspaper as a starter, and his endless love and life stories to spice the class. Some found his teaching style odd. But many faithfully attended and even looked forward to classes with him; since being absent meant forfeiting a chance to learn an unknown side of Philippine history, to win the grand lotto or to just feel different. I belonged to the latter group. I looked forward to my EDUC 100 class as the days passed by.
Sir Buhay’s unconventional way of teaching, class management style, innate disposition and casual ways of relating with his students – became, for me, not just acceptable but worth emulating in many ways.
Looking back, I’ve retained little of the historical facts I learned on the Philippine educational system, the rationale and content of different curriculum, and education-related laws passed. But, Sir Buhay’s EDUC 100 class left me with a lot of memories which has at times served as springboard for ideas now that I am a teacher. And how did Sir Buhay teach?
1. By being natural, just himself, authentic.
He did not talk much about others’ lives, except for our heroes. He used his personal experiences during different time periods and related these to education issues of the times. He talked about his frustrations as a teacher at UP and the challenges he had to face as a teacher-head of the family. He spoke about walking to school and just having “moonay” for snacks while school kids nowadays like his grandkids have him for a grand dad-driver. He said he adapted to his foreign-fathered grandchildren’s English language needs and had to relax his “Filipino only” mentality, like the old generation sacrificing for the new one. He vividly narrated his mountain hikes in Quezon and encouraged us to go nature tripping and see the beauty of our countryside. His love story with Ross, his wife and only love, was a lesson in itself about how to find the right one.
Injecting his Buhay stories to relatively boring history lessons created a lively learning environment conducive to learning history (especially to me).
2. By creatively bringing me closer to present realities and enabling me to appreciate the Filipino’s glorious past
If not for Sir Buhay, I wouldn’t have dared watched naked men in the UP Oblation Run and would have missed one of UP’s hottest events nor would I have been as active with the UP Centennial activities nor would I have enjoyed the colors of Christmas at the UP Lantern Parade. He required us to join these UP events or else, we’d be left out in discussions and suffer a “consequence” to be tendered in class.
Each class day, he’d have a student read a news clip about big issues (which he expected us to be aware of) on education, the economy, and the environment. I have never been as abreast with local and global news as during my semester with him. He was so updated with going ons and wanted us to be likewise – such that when the Super Lotto’s pot reached almost P 60 million, he asked me to collect P 5 per student in class (and make a collective lotto bet) so that everyone could experience the common Filipino’s thrill of waiting for lotto results. I wished we would have won (but we lost) because that meant having extra personal money and a big class fund for charities.
One day, he brought several old books and gave them out to the first students with hands raised in the air. Wanting to share a useful tip to him, I offered to buy him books at ebay online. He begged off saying, “Have you been to Recto super bookstore? Hija, go there. For the same budget, you can already bring home not a book but a pile of books.”
Just like highly effective teachers, Sir Buhay wears different hats. He became our tour guide to the art museums in the Intramuros areas. Though the class had to walk under the heat of the sun from one building to another, it was educationally fun. I’ve been to all these art galleries several times in the past with ASEAN friends and balikbayan relatives but I have never paid close attention to the paintings and artifacts displayed. Perhaps, it was Sir Buhay’s programming of our minds – that the Filipino has been world-class centuries ago – that allowed me to see Filipino visual art masterpieces in a different light.
Doing all these things for a class in EDUC 100 seemed far off and inappropriate to some students. For me, these were not. These seemingly irrelevant activities enabled me to appreciate and understand the past and savor the present in its entirety.
3. By making me see another perspective of Philippine history.
Sir Buhay had rich factual knowledge and insights on Philippine history, education, economics, and politics. He caught the class’ interest by sharing vignettes of our national heroes and their lady loves – with much gusto and sensationalism characteristic of popular TV star gossip shows. (On the sidelights, he played matchmaker to two of our classmates who seemed to be coming in late or were absent almost at the same times.) He used out of the ordinary stories of the revolutionaries, of Jacinto and Bonifacio — to give us a feel of life during the revolutionary times, as if he himself experienced these times.
Since it was at the peak of the UP Centennial celebration when he taught us, he pushed the class to get involved with the festivities of the university. He made me take a closer look at the UP oblation, beyond just being an icon of UP and a favorite picture taking spot. Perhaps, if it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t have even known that the statue concretized Rizal’s “Last Farewell”, that it had a base depicting the islands of the archipelago, and that even its 3.5 meter height had meaning (350 years of Spanish rule).
4. By challenging me to think quick and deep, react spontaneously and be ready for action.
Sir Buhay did not spoon feed us. He challenged us by asking a lot of questions, some as easy as “Have you met the handsomest boy in class?” Some as thought provoking as “If you had a choice to go abroad and work as a teacher, will you?”
To add excitement to questioning and answering, he gives us 1-2-3 counts to respond. If we don’t, he is ready with a “punishment.”
I felt obliged to come always “prepared” as a good model to my younger classmates. In his class, being ready did not only mean doing prior reading, researching topics and presenting a report. He required us to be ready with a song to sing, a poem to recite, or a joke to crack when a lull happens in class. While I memorized the lines of the videoke favorite “My Love Will See You Through” (to make sure that I can announce class participation after the first stanza), I am glad he didn’t ask me to sing or there’d be torrents of rain.
5. By making me realize I can do something to make others lives better and making me responsible for other Filipinos.
I believe Sir Buhay has already self-actualized as a person when he became our teacher. He was always thinking of others: family first, student-teacher welfare, the plight of the sugarcane and other farm workers, the risks of the OFW women, the abused child selling turon and pony tails at the UP Sunken gardens, the graduating UP student who has not finished a thesis because of financials, the retired teachers’ pension and many more. I heard that for sometime, his salary was even eaten up by delinquent UP student loans which he co-made.
His stories of what some friends entitled: “Ang Mga Walang Kamatayang Istorya ni Buhay” were packed with dreams of helping others and making others happy: building a public library in his hometown out of the “bookay-bookay” books he bought, giving clothes to the poor children in distressed areas in Commonwealth/Batasan, and bringing us to his retirement farm.
He had his ways of making students feel special by noticing one’s new haircut or outfit; by entertaining a student’s husband while his wife was still in another class; remembering my favorite color (and pledging he’d give me his new red umbrella soon); by sharing produce harvested from his “imaginary” fruit farm (though bought at the UP Shopping Center) and more.
I can go on and on to re-tell my encounters with Sir Buhay who used himself — being a teacher — beyond the books, beyond the classrooms to teach his students not only history but how to write a better Philippine history. After my EDUC 100 class, I feel I have emerged not only with relevant historical knowledge but a mind which understands the past, eyes trained to appreciate the beauty around me, a heart sensitive to others’ feelings, the pride of being Filipino,
the daring to be a little “different kind of teacher” …
and finish well, like my teacher, Sir Buhay.
Written by mom/ma’m A, a UP graduate of Business Economics, a masters in Business Administration, a Certificate in Professional Education who began a new path in education when she reached her golden year in 2007. She currently coaches, tutors, and teaches at MindGym Philippines which she envisions to be a venture of lasting significance.