imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

The teacher and his ‘cattywampus’

It takes a wide reader to know things others don’t know.

It takes a great teacher to teach children to value what they know and know the values they ought to value as they continue living.

There are many stories of great teachers who influenced the lives of their students throughout their lifetime. I had two great English teachers, both my teachers when I was in high school: Juliet Serna Castillo, now based in the US and the other was the late Nancy Bumatay, former Principal IV of Sinait National High School in Sinait, Ilocos Sur. The first was a kind, patient and compassionate grammar teacher whose explanation was as clear as a bright, cloudless day and the other, a challenging grammar teacher who encouraged me to write and write and write.

There are other definitions of a great teacher, fellas.

Here’s a personal narrative of a student of his teacher which I read from a popular digest.

“Mr. Whitson taught sixth-grade science. On the first day of class, he gave us a lecture about a creature called the cattywampus, an ill-adapted nocturnal animal that was wiped out during the Ice Age. He passed around a skull as he talked. We all took notes and later had a quiz.

When he returned my paper, I was shocked. There was a big red X through each of my answers. I had failed. There had to be some mistake! I had written down exactly what Mr. Whitson said. Then I realized that everyone in the class had failed. What had happened?

  Very simple, Mr. Whitson explained. He had made up all the stuff about the cattywampus. There had never been any such animal. The information in our notes was, therefore, incorrect. Did we expect credit for incorrect answers?

Needless to say, we were outraged. What kind of test was this? And what kind of teacher?

We should have figured it out, Mr. Whitson said. After all, at the every moment he was passing around the cattywampus skull (in truth, a cat’s), hadn’t he been telling us that no trace of the animal remained? He had described its amazing night vision, the color of its fur and any number of other facts he couldn’t have known. He had given the animal a ridiculous name, and we still hadn’t been suspicious. The zeroes on our papers would be recorded in his grade book, he said. And they were.

Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would learn something from this experience. Teachers and textbooks are not infallible. In fact, no one is. He told us not to let our minds go to sleep, and to speak up if we ever thought he or the textbook was wrong.

Every class was an adventure with Mr. Whitson. I can still remember some science periods almost from beginning to end. One day he told us that his Volkswagen was a living organism. It took us two full days to put together a refutation he would accept. He didn’t let us off the hook until we had proved not only that we knew what an organism was but also that we had the fortitude to stand up for the truth.

We carried our brand-new skepticism into all our classes. This caused problems for the other teachers, who weren’t used to being challenged. Our history teacher would be lecturing about something, and then there would be clearings of the throat and someone would say “cattywampus.”

If I’m ever asked to propose a solution to the problems in our schools, it will be Mr. Whitson. I haven’t made any great scientific discoveries, but Mr. Whitson’s class gave me and my classmates something just as important: the courage to look people in the eye and tell them they are wrong. He also showed us that you can have fun doing it.”

Then, there’s this story of a professor who used similes and metaphors to teach his school children

One day, this professor stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’

The professor then produced a liter of water from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things: your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions. And if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else- the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first, there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  

Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn. Take care of the golf balls first- the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand and water.”

There are many great teachers around, fellas. Walk with them and learn from them. Imbibe these learnings in your life and let them radiate so others may learn from you, too. Pass on the torch and let your light shine. We live only once and it is imperative that we build now our statues for others to emulate.

May you be the teacher, too, that the world needs.