A few days ago, one of my favorite teachers from grade school celebrated a birthday. She had taught hundreds of young girls during her years teaching in St. Paul College of Pasig where I spent my elementary years. Batch ’79 was the last batch forced to seek another branch for high school because they started building a high school year by year after.
Mrs. Milagros Mercado was my sixth grade teacher. I have been fortunate to have had some of the best mentors during all my years in school, as far back as elementary to the time I walked the august halls of the Ateneo School of Law. They all contributed in some way to who I am now. Whatever my brain has digested and tucked away through my 47 years on this earth was sparked or molded by others’ thoughts and knowledge. To all of them, I am eternally grateful.
It is difficult to answer the question “What makes a teacher great?” because each teacher is different. Some dazzle us with their sheer brilliance, and some have that uncanny ability to pry out the best in us that we never thought was there in the first place. Some drive us to the lowest of lows and torture our souls only to have us find ourselves looking back at that experience as one of the better lessons we ever had. In my mind, I have a list of the various teachers and professors who touched my life in one way or another. They may not remember me, but their imprint on my life will forever be there.
Mrs. Mercado has a special place on that list — but more so in my heart. The best way to write about her and what she had done for me is to say it to her straight by way of this blogpost, so if you will — please indulge me.
“Dear Mrs. Mercado —
I had posted a greeting on your Facebook page last year (if not the year before that) and greeted you a happy birthday, knowing you probably will no longer remember me. After all, it has been over thirty years since the year we spent together with you as my homeroom teacher, or “teacher-in-charge” as we termed it back then. I was one of forty-something students in your sixth grade class.
I was eleven going on twelve at the time, with a lot of insecurities and confused thoughts, seeking a means to unburden my heart. My parents were both busy with the family business, and I needed a sounding board to help me through. I don’t recall how it started, but I started writing you. I don’t remember what I wrote, only that it was about my own hurt and pain, and I wrote you long letters on a regular basis. My letters were scribbled on stationery, sometimes on sheets of intermediate pad paper — and I poured out everything I couldn’t verbalize into those words that found themselves on paper. You gave me a chance to express myself without fear of recrimination — and I did it without having to worry about looking you in the eye and being judged for how I felt or what I said.
You were there although I felt that strongest as you stood in front of the class teaching us. It meant so much to hand you those letters and to simply know you were reading them. In many ways, you taught me to face my fears and insecurities by acknowledging them in those letters. Because of you, I can write about the way I feel with honesty. And for that, I am a better person.
You taught me more than science — you taught me about reaching out to others. You showed me the power of words in an abstract and yet very real sense. You made me feel somebody really cared — and that was reassuring enough until things got better. And they did. And I became a stronger person.
Thank you, Mrs. Mercado. You have taught me well.
With deepest gratitude — Dinna”