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by Victoria Alcalá

For workers and technicians all the acknowledgements and awards. They have achieved extraordinary productive levels or superlative scientific results, for administrative workers who have demonstrated great efficiency (it is thanks to them that we are surviving from drowning in a sea of bureaucracy) or for our outstanding artists. And when we see them on TV or in the newspaper, there may be others who are moved along with their families: their primary school teachers who will recall how they predicted the future of that boy who with clenched teeth was determined to find the value of “a” in the complicated equation “a + 2 = 4”, or that little girl whose imagination flew way beyond her abilities of using her few learned words to describe everything she wanted.

Perhaps there are many teachers who will remember their students all their lives but I am sure that none of them do so with more affection than primary school teachers (I mainly think of the women teachers because they form the majority at this stage of education). They helped us parents to let go of the hand of our son who was scared of starting school and they became substitute mothers. They instinctively would touch every child’s forehead checking for fever, made sure they ate their snacks, urged them to look after keeping their school uniforms clean, took them home when one day their parents didn’t get there on time after school…and all this while they were providing them with the first important tools to understand the world.

If you think about all you learn in the seven years of primary school, if you remember how that little child who knew some letters and numbers before starting school, almost like a parlor trick, would be able to read, write and do math by second grade and by the end of sixth grade would be able to talk about the digestive system, how volcanoes were formed, the wars of independence and even geometry, you can’t help but admire how these teachers, in spite of all the distractions, pranks, clumsiness and resistance common to this age, were able to take them to the finish line. And they did it dealing with a low salary, doing the job at school and our “job” as housewives, grading notebooks and exams until the wee hours of the morning, making up their own teaching aids, and even preparing snacks for their more needy students.

Of course I realize that all teachers are not the same; that a few transfer some of their responsibilities to the parents or rely on that new legalized profession, the “repasadores” who review what the teacher has taught in school, thereby indicating that all is not well with our educational system; that some do not provide the best of examples or have been insufficiently trained, but the good teachers shine so brightly, do so much good, that they manage to erase the memory of all those other ones.

My son, who is far from being a sentimental guy, still phones up his teacher Mirella, an exceptional woman who, along with being well versed in all parts of the syllabus, also taught her students the value of comradeship, solidarity and decency so that they would not only be good students but good persons. Among her many teachings, we recall how on one Teachers’ Day she received many gifts, some quite costly, but the one she was most happy with was a jar of coconut sweet that one of her students was almostafraid of getting out of his backpack. Mirella has kept up with the endeavors f her “children” for almost fifteen years, even when she lived for many years in Canada. Many still ask her for advice or share an achievement with her, and whenever her former students get together, they always talk fondly about their teacher.

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