Sunday, January 3, 2010

TEACHERS OF SUBSTANCE:LESSONS FROM ELIZABETH KOSTOVA'S THE HISTORIAN

From Blogger Pictures


I closed the book The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova over a year ago with a mixture of exhilaration (what a great book!) and disappointment (what an awful ending!). I won't review the book here, so please check out my FULL BOOK REVIEW BLOG of The Historian over at www.xanga.com/millette_espiritu. More than just another book about vampires--actually The Vampire of lore, Dracula/Vlad Tepes, the novel is a testament to the nobility of the teaching profession.

My favorite character is Professor Bartholomew Rossi, a brilliant historian and quite an intellectual academic superstar in his day. Paul (as narrator in this chapter, while his daughter is his rapt audience) is his dissertation advisee, and clearly, the young graduate student has nothing but admiration for the esteemed Rossi. He was part-English, part-Italian, but the Anglo part, at least in Paul's worshipping eyes, stood out:"His face was of crisp English mold, sharp-featured and intensely blue-eyed...to look into Rossi's face was to see a world as definite and orderly as the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace." It was Rossi's keen mind that made him the American Paul's Idol: "His mind is another thing altogether...his encyclopedic production had long since won him accolades..." But above all else, Rossi was "the kindest, warmest friend I'd ever had." I found the latter to be true in the succeeding chapters. Let me jump the gun here by saying that when Rossi mysteriously disappeared just minutes after his last visit, it was Paul who risked his life to find his mentor.

I can sympathize with Paul. I was the ultimate "sip-sip" in high school, perhaps without meaning to be one. As a student, I remember hanging onto the coattails of my teachers. To my mind, long before I drifted towards the academe myself, teachers were God's gift to humanity. To this day, I believe it to be true. After a quick rewind to my days as a fledgling learner, I've come up with my top 5 all-time favorite teachers:

1. Ms. Dulce Atienza (Grade 5 and 6 Math, Manresa School)-Ms. Atienza is a motherly, articulate teacher who made Math meaningful for me. It has since lost its meaning in high school, when the teachers resorted to terrorism to drill cosines and square roots into my system.I love Ms. Atienza for being kind but firm, and, as my section adviser in 5th grade, for being my second mother.

2. Mrs. Pearl Santos (Freshman English, Manresa School)-My Idol with a capital "I." I lived for her 12-page exams on diagraming sentences, and her stories about her days as a hard-hitting journalist. She was a perfectionist, all business at all times, and she played no favorites when my other teachers then had not-so-subtle "babies." I began to love the English language because of her.

3. Ms. Angie Ureta (Junior and Senior English & History, Manresa School)-She was 19 when she zoomed into our batch's humdrum existence in 1985, and we were enthralled by her youthful candor and world-wise sensibility. I thought back then that she picked on me out of unreasonable cruelty, but I began to realize that she was bulldozing me into finding my niche--writing. What I am now, a writer, I owe to her.

4. Prof. Emmanuel Torres (Shakespeare on Film, Ateneo de Manila Graduate School)-Firstly, I loved his class because we met every week in the Ateneo Art Gallery. Secondly, he was a non-threatening, soft-spoken, brilliant man who brought us to the Globe Theatre with just a few panoramic sentences, as well as his hard-to-find films. But I will never forget, most of all, his comments on my essays, most of which he would read aloud in class, to my utter embarrassment. For my paper on Mel Gibson's portrayal of Hamlet, he wrote: "With this paper, and others like it, you have demonstrated a potential for being a professional critic." OMG.

5.Prof. Danton Remoto (Survey of Philippine Literature, Ateneo de Manila Graduate School)-I will never again read NVM Gonzalez' The Bamboo Dancers without thinking of Prof. Remoto's acerbic comments on protagonist Ernie Rama's sexuality. Our class of 6 students was clearly in awe of this man's literary genius, and I for one, was motivated to churn out academic papers that would hopefully meet his standard, which I'm afraid I never did. But that's OK. Today, I see him fight for gay and lesbian rights on TV with much tact and poise, and I'm proud to tell one and all that Danton Remoto was my teacher.


To my delightful surprise, a former student, Maika Bernardo, wrote about me in Inquirer.net:
"Miss Millette encouraged me to write more and head the school paper staff. Her words of praise helped aspiring writers to come out of their shell. With her encouragement, I earned a leadership award on graduation day."


To view the full article, see:
http://services.inquirer.net/print/print.php?article_id=20091004-228351

I believe that teachers impart learning more effectively if they are MENTORS, not instructors. I've tried mentoring, and I can safely claim that I've done more for my students this way, rather than give them lectures thay can always download from some website. This is confirmed in The Historian, particularly in Paul and Rossi's warm, genuine friendship forged by a common love and respect for history, and for each other as human beings. And this is affirmed by the many teachers I've thanked along my life's journey, and the many students like Maika who have thanked me simply by being good, God-fearing, productive citizens of the world.

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