Friday, June 16, 2006

Gokusen na!

For the past several days, I have watched snatches of “Gokusen,” a popular telenovela shown on GMA 7. Minutes before 6 PM, my nephews and nieces would come rushing home from playing patintero or tumbang-lata in the streets, shout to each other “Gokusen na!” and plop themselves before the television set to watch Miss Yamaguchi’s bittersweet experiences with her students.

“Gokusen” (I don’t know what the word means) is immensely popular because Filipinos have learned to love Miss Kumiko Yamaguchi’s sincere, caring ways for the welfare of her Section 3-D students from Shirokin High School. In going out of her way to help her students who never seem to run out of problems, “Yankumi” (the lead character's nickname) even gets to display her martial arts skills, beating off the bad guys threatening her students. As the story is developing however, it seems that Yankumi has her own deep, dark secret about to be exposed to her students, school and community.

The actress who plays the role of Miss Yamaguchi is very pretty, with soft features and shoulder-length hair. She is a bit thin, though. (Maybe that’s part of the role’s character.) But I also like the scenes showing the principal. He’s got a great hairdo that reminds me of the Philippines’ very own “Asiong Aksaya,” the role popularized by the late actor Chiquito. It’s sometimes disorienting however to see and hear blonde Japanese speaking in Tagalog.

In the Philippine educational setting, we spend more or less 14 years studying, from grade school to college. We all have known teachers who have inspired and encouraged us, and who have marked us positively for the rest of our lives. To a large extent, who we are and who we will be, are the result of our teachers’ influence on us. And this perhaps explains why “Gokusen” is so popular.

Some of the most memorable characters in Philippine literature (specifically in the short story in English category) are teachers. These are Miss Noel in “The Visitation of the Gods” by Gilda Cordero-Fernando; Mr. Reteche in “Zita” by Arturo B. Rotor; Miss Samonte in “Dear Miss Samonte” by Bienvenido Santos; the schoolteacher in “Blue Skull and Dark Palms” by NVM Gonzales; and to a lesser extent, Emma Gorrez in “The Sounds of Sunday” by Kerima Polotan.

If you haven’t read any of these stories in your classes, you can find these stories (except “Dear Miss Samonte”) in the anthology of Philippine literature by Croghan available at National Bookstore.

Some of the popular movies with teachers as the main characters are “Stand and Deliver” (starring Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips), and that movie (I can’t remember the title) starring Morgan Freeman as the tough-talking, bullhorn-wielding school principal. Of course, there is also “Dead Poets Society” starring Robin Williams. Remember what the character played by Williams said to the students as they faced a wall filled with pictures of generations of students now dead and gone? Carpe diem! Seize the day!

In the 1960’s, there was the movie “To Sir, With Love” starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, who sang the theme song of the movie. The movie was based on the experiences of a British teacher named E.R. Braithwaite. I remember reading this book in the late 1970’s in my alma mater, Philippine Christian University.

I studied in Mandaluyong Elementary School from 1963 up to 1969. I remember, during my Grade 4 days, every day, I would pick sampaguita or champaca flowers from our neighbor’s garden and give them to my teacher (Miss Umali or Miss Mendoza, I don't remember really). That was probably the reason why she gave me the lead role in a school play … Hey, quid pro quo! Kidding aside, practically nobody saw the greatest performance of my life. When the rain started pouring on the open air auditorium (it was only the stage that was covered by a roof), all the audience scampered for cover. I and the other actors were left to continue the play with no one watching us. Hey, the show must go on!

The teachers from MES that I remember are Miss Mabayad (Grade 1), Mrs. Medel (Grade 2), Miss Comsti (Grade 5), Mrs. Velasco (Grade 6), and of course, Miss Lopez, the librarian. I remember being filled with wonder, mystery and awe looking at all the things on exhibit in the library, especially the World War 2 relics.

As high school students right now, some of you might not appreciate the things your teachers are doing for you. But I’m sure that years from now, you will look back and remember with fondness the teachers who inspired and encouraged you.

I could probably go on and on talking about teachers and students, about high school being the best years of our lives, but hey, I’ve got to stop writing. It’s already 6 PM. Gokusen na!

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