Learning failure (Teachers’ Day)

According to Facebook, it is Teachers’ Day today. I have not come around to “celebrating” the day, mostly because I do not poke around Facebook on a daily basis. But now that I managed to catch the reminder on my timeline, and not miss it, I would like to take a moment to recognize one of my former Filipino professors: Jennifor Aguilar.

Filipino as a subject is not my forte, having grown up in an English-speaking household, and studied abroad during my formative years. But the Filipino class under Mr. Aguilar was something I looked forward to every week.

I remember him for his sense of (self-deprecating) humor (over how his parents were hoping for a baby girl named “Jennifer”, but a boy was born instead and the parents didn’t bother to think of another name; over his looks and how his wife would rather describe him as mabait ,”kind”, over him being pogi, “handsome”), and his thoughtful insights on culture and language. However, I remember him best for being the first teacher to ever give me a failing grade — none of those “average is considered failed” grades that local secondary education love to harp about, but a true blue equivalent of an F, or a zero.

On our second year, he assigned our class to do a group thesis. To be quite honest, I no longer recall what our allowed themes were, nor do I remember what our thesis was about. That thesis’ only hard copy is lost in the PUP Quezon City (formerly PUP Commonwealth) library, and the soft copy is lost in one of my many colorful diskettes.

I remember my friends and I laboring over it for a month or so, meeting at my grandma’s house or at Melissa’s, mentally crossing our fingers that our diskettes did not get a virus or get corrupted along the way. There was a time when I was asked to state our thesis statement, and I didn’t get it right. Mr. Aguilar remarked that I should stop speaking as if I was overly thinking of what I was going to say, and instead, I should just “let it go”, as it were.

(If you were looking for someone to partly blame for my lack of brain-to-mouth filter, now you have him 😉 .)

Fast-forward to thesis defense day, we presented our work the best we can. Mr. Aguilar took our group aside to tell us that the written thesis deserved a 3.0 (pass) at best, while our presentation merited a 5.0 (fail).

As an achiever, and with a mind conditioned that “average” is not enough, none of those grades were in any way acceptable! I did not see the 3.0, but the glaring 5.0: a failing grade. A failing grade on my track record. It blew my mind.

But what came after the grading was something I can never forget. Mr. Aguilar took the time to not just tell us what to edit or change: he explained, in less than 20 minutes, as to how the five chapters of an undergraduate thesis interconnect to make one cohesive and solid paper. We then knew how we were to review and re-present our paper. Needless to say, we got far better grades than 3.0 and 5.0 😀 . He then announced that the first defense grades were no longer going to be counted, and that the final grade of the final output will be considered for our end-of-semester grades. Who wouldn’t love him after that, eh?

You could ask, couldn’t Mr. Aguilar have done that 20-minute primer instead of waiting for us to fail?

No. I believe that it was necessary for us to show him what we know, so that he could adjust, correct, and teach. I have passed the advice on to several people already, and I found that the explanation made sense only when you have at least a complete draft.

When the time came for me to take my turn to teach to young adults (albeit a different discipline, and a different method), I have applied what Mr. Aguilar has taught, with the hopes that I am understanding the heart behind it: your students aren’t stupid. They don’t need spoon-feeding. Let them make their mistakes, meet them where they are with kindness and compassion, and guide them with patience and encouragement. That, I believe is the job of a teacher.

And for this teachers’ day, I happily say: thank you for teaching me how to fail, Mr. Aguilar.

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About Cielo

I am a paper-pusher by day, a log by night, an aspiring singer-dancer and a wannabe artist in-between. I am also a Professional Space Cadet.
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