By Eusebio S. San Diego

Former teacher “Ima” Salac-Santos sits with author Eusebio S. San Diego who himself was a former teacher and as well as a former newspaperman while living in the Philippines.
Photo by Jerry Degorio

The onset of June evokes memories of occasions such as Philippine Independence Day (June 12) , Rizal Day (June 19) and weddings of family members, relatives and friends.

But to her, June remembrance brings back the days when parents, teachers, pupils or students were busy and excited for the opening of classes.

I refer to Ma’am Maxima Salac-Santos, fondly called “Ima,” her nickname which is the common term for mother in Pampanga, Tarlac and some parts of Bulacan and Rizal. She turned 99 last May 15.

She has always been  nostalgic remembering her life as a teacher in all levels of education, i.e. elementary, secondary and college.

But first, how did she become a teacher? Ima vividly recalled the time when she and her classmates were struggling hard in their quest for a college degree in education.

She enrolled in the then Philippine Normal School (PNS) after passing the entrance examinations given throughout the country to  high school graduates aspiring to become schoolteachers.

PNS is the alma mater of many distinguished educators and authors of books in the teaching profession. It is now known as Philippine Normal University after becoming as Philippine Normal College.

“Our professors were knowledgeable, competent and dedicated in teaching us the rudiments of transferring learning to young charges in the classroom, as well as  inculcating in us the corresponding duties and responsibilities of a teacher,” she said, adding that “most of them were Thomasites.”

Thomasites were American teachers who came to the Philippines in 1901 aboard the ship U.S. Army Transport Thomas, hence the term Thomasites. Many of them were assigned to teach in PNS when it was founded in 1901. U.S. President William McKinley sent them to our country to help establish a

Philippine public school system.

An alumnae of Class 1941, Ima recalled that during her time, PNS charged a token annual tuition fee of P5 (yes, five pesos per school year).

“But we had to pass a very competitive admission examination.”

She said that “most of our professors were very strict with regard to attendance, punctuality, deportment, and compliance with submission of assignments and homework.”

However, Ima was emphatic in saying that their  professors were kind and compassionate. “They understood our predicament, and were concerned, especially for those who came from the distant provinces,” she said. “They commiserate with our problems, and were always ready, willing and able to help us… We loved them for their concern, as well as their commitment to their profession. We also loved the way they instilled discipline and sense of values in us,” she emphasized.

Right after graduation, she applied for a teaching position in her hometown.

Her being a graduate of PNS, which has been long been regarded as the premiere training ground for future educators and teachers, proved to be an asset, thus she was easily given a teaching post.

Ima dedicated the most productive years of her life educating the youth and seeing their development. She taught for a total of  41 years in Candaba, Pampanga and later in Baliwag, Bulakan. She transferred to Baliwag,  famous for its buntal hats and native delicacies, when she got married to a man from this town.

In her early years of professional life, she taught in the elementary and later in the secondary and in two private colleges. When asked  if she really loves teaching, she answered promptly and without hesitation that although teaching offers low compensation — just a pittance of a decent salary — and other material rewards, “nothing could equal the feeling of fulfillment and happiness of teachers as they teach the children how to read, write and count and be developed as productive and law-abiding citizens.”

She said that teachers feel adequately rewarded to see their pupils and students  learn and develop Attitude, Skills and Knowledge (ASK) which many educators consider as the “holy trinity of education.”

Ima further said: “Of course, we are happy, fulfilled and grateful to see them become doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, architects, artists and writers.”

With her eyes twinkling, she added: “We will be doubly happy and thankful that many of them will take up education and become teachers themselves.”

Interestingly, one of her children followed Ima’s footsteps. This daughter of Ima does not only teach, but also own and manage a private school in the Philippines. And Ima has been very happy and grateful for that.

“If only I can turn back the hands of Time and be young again, I won’t hesitate to take up a course in education and become a teacher again,” she said.

Yes, despite her age of 99 years, she still loves and misses teaching. Ima typifies the saying: “Once a teacher, always a teacher.”