Mrs Heredian Po. That was the name written on the chalkboard on the first day of 3rd grade. I studied in a government-aided convent school, run and operated by nuns. It was one of the few schools that taught English as the primary language unlike other vernacular schools and had an exemplary curriculum. The downside however was that the nuns ran the school like a convent, which meant talking in hushed tones, no folded socks, no painted nails, no running in the hallways, no scraping your boots while walking. Ever seen a herd of children under the age of 10 walk in somber silence? Hah, you would if you came to my school. The teachers too took their jobs a little too seriously. Some of them were bitter and took it out on us, making derogatory remarks or snide comments, which when you’re 6-7 years old can cut you to the bone.
My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs Emilia Fernandez used to enjoy pitting the top rankers against each other. She picked favorites and belittled the ones she didn’t like. For some reason, me and a few others fell into the “didn’t like” category which meant we bore the brunt of her unacceptable behavior. For the most part, I was aloof enough to not care but even I was insulted when my work or study ethic was challenged and she, had her finger on that nerve all year long. By the end of that school year, I had developed a gnawing hatred towards all teachers at the school, so when I walked into the class for my first day of 3rd grade school, I’m pretty sure I had decided to wall myself off from any remarks from the new teacher.
Then Mrs Po walked in. She was 5’10” which from my 3 feet looked TALL. Her mass of curly hair was speckled with grey and piled up into a tight round bun atop her head. Her signature look! 🙂 The thing that caught me off guard was her face. She had the most kind, maternal, hey-kids-how-are-you-today kind of face and an equally warm smile. None of our other teachers smiled. I tried to pretend I disliked her but I felt myself warming up to her reluctantly. As a child you know instinctively when someone is maternal and Mrs Po was maternal epitomized. To date, 3rd grade has been my best educational year, including college.
That entire year, she healed the wounds my previous teacher had left on me and other kids in my class. She never once raised her voice, went the extra mile to make sure the kids that couldn’t keep up got a helping hand and taught with a fervor that had even the back-benchers paying attention. Interestingly instead of red ink to mark errors, she used green and called out mistakes using positive reinforcement. That was a refreshing change and under her tutelage, the year flew by fast. We were all sorry to learn she would not be our teacher in the 4th grade. Since I were still in elementary school, I kept running into her and she was always genuinely interested in how I was doing at school and more than willing to help with anything I needed.
After I graduated to the 5th grade (also known as secondary), our classes started later in the day and I no longer saw her. Her teachings and perspective however stayed with me. Even today I remember her fondly and often discuss her with my friends back home. A few years ago, my mom ran into her while shopping for groceries. She was older but doing well. She was very happy to hear I had done well for myself and had a successful career. I sincerely believe that a part of my success is credited to her and the values she inadvertently imbibed in each of the kids that passed under her. I don’t know if she is still with us, but my school Facebook account is abound with her references from students who remember her fondly 2 decades later. If she isn’t with us, I’m sure she is in a special place in heaven. Mrs Po, you will be remembered for a long long time!