Mean teachers are not mean after all.

by Evans Yonson

(WARNING: Self-gratification is never the intention of this entry. If you find this piece too much for your taste, pardon me. But then this is my blog, I am entitled to say my piece. We all need some self-gratification once in awhile. Don’t we? Promise!)

Barcelona – When I was in high school, I had a very strict Mathematics teacher. She was my teacher from sophomore year (algebra), junior year (geometry) to senior year (trigonometry). She was so mean that I must have inherited my attitude in class from her. She would give surprise quizzes and there was simply no stopping her from doing anything. She could always get away with murder. Most of my classmates, they may not agree with me now, had a hard time dealing with sine, cosines, the algorithms, and even the Pythagoras’ theorem. In any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs (the two sides that meet at a right angle). I know, I know.

Who is your favorite teacher? The one who gave you high grades because you studied? Or the ones who gave you a good grade because you studied harder?

All teachers are mean in their own ways. But every single one is fun to be with. Trust me, I've been a student once. And girl, how I found everyone mean up to this very day. (Xavier University DevCom Faculty, SY 2007-08)

My maternal grandfather claimed that he was teaching when he was younger. My two maternal aunts were teachers -one in the primary and the other in the university. One of my cousins used to teach in the university but decided to become a lawyer instead because of the pay. My sister is a special education teacher. I am a teacher.

After high school, my first semester in the university was an easy one. I had speech class which was never a problem to me, having been trained the Jesuit education. My religious studies class was such a bore, I mean I had these classes since time immemorial. I hated frogs and microscopes and the smell of my classmates and formalin. Algebra was the easiest one. Trigonometry chicken. Straight As.

When I was teaching in one of those schools in Intramuros, Manila, I maintained a very low-key presence in the school. Since I was doing part-time work,I only went there for my classes on certain weeknights. Other students who were not in my class would hear stories about me. I made the impression that I was mean. Once I overheard a group of students telling each other to watch out for Mr. Yonson because I was the meanest and baddest ass in the faculty. I kept my composure and confronted those students during out first class. So, the image stuck till the last day.

I couldn't kill a cat. But I could cause a lightning to strike. It's true.

I was talking to one of my former students a few days ago. I mentioned to her that I was writing something about myself as a teacher in my blog. The first impression was, she said, I was mean and merciless on my first class. I must admit I am really mean as a person. I always remind my students that if my meanness has already trampled into their being, then must stop me. I am frank and honest. I say what I mean and mean what I say. People see my honesty as a sign of meanness. Then my student reminded me that we’ve been friends for more than 10 years now and we never stopped sending each other meaningful emails. Not forwarded chain emails, mind you.

I sometimes shout when provoked in class. It only happened twice. Once in Manila. The other in Cagayan de Oro. I have been honest with my feelings so I expect that students be honest with others. And I hate it when students promise and they wouldn’t fulfill it. So, they make alibis and lies. The feeling of reciprocal honesty is lost along the way. This makes me mean. Really mean. I could eat an elephant during those moments.

One of my university professors got mad at me because my classmates were passing notes to each other. I was seated in the middle of the room and the notes passed through me. This caught the attention of my professor. She was fuming mad in class. I had to talk to her after class and explained to her everything. She accepted my reasons and we eventually became the best friends. That moment made me realize that I was going to be a teacher like her. Mean inside the class and a human being outside.

Some people see these smiles as for show. These smiles truly reflect the happiness "mean" university professors get when their students are enjoying and learning a lot. No matter the circumstances. Regardless of the pay. (Xavier University DevCom Faculty, SY 2008-09)

Looking back now, my high school Mathematics teacher was really mean. But I learned discipline from her. If I don’t get the numbers right from the start then it’s going to be a disaster right till the end. My university professor was also mean because she just came back from her post-graduate studies then. But I learned how to be a human being first then be a teacher with a heart.

I have always wanted to graduate with honors from the university. But I didn’t. I know I studied harder every single class. It took another mean professor to make me realize that education need not be a scourging at the pillar experience anymore. Grades may matter at the moment. It should not be taken as a true measure of our own existential meaning. It is the discipline that led you to getting a good grade will make one a better person later on in life.