Dr. Queena Lee-Chua’s Metrobank Outstanding Teacher acceptance speech

Proud to be Teachers
By: Queena N. Lee-Chua, Ph.D.
Ateneo de Manila University

(Response during the 2003 Metrobank Outstanding Teachers Awards, Sept. 5, 2003)

Former President Corazon Aquino, Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr.,
Secretary Edilberto de Jesus, Chairman Rolando Dizon,Chairman Bayani
Fernando, Mayor Jose Atienza, Jr., Mayor Feliciano Belmonte, Mayor
Maria Lourdes Fernando, other members of the boards of judges, Dr.
Ronald Post, Chairman George Ty, Dr. Placido Mapa, Jr., Mr. Antonio
Abacan, Jr., ladies and gentlemen: Good evening.

I never dreamed of becoming a teacher.

In elementary school, I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps and
grow up to be a doctor. But in high school, shocked with the
dissection of my first frog in biology, I vowed to make money, and
where else would the path lead but to business—preferably, as the boss
of my own enterprise.

I have always loved math and English, the sciences and the humanities,
equally, and at the college crossroads, I had an excruciating time
debating upon which to expend my energies. A counselor remarked that
not possessing a literature degree would not stop me from immersing
myself in great works, but that the abstractions of advanced math
would probably require mentorship. Of course at the back of my mind
there was always the thought that math would open doors to
multinational corporations, banks, and ultimately—my own business. To
ensure that I did not lose my enthusiasm for the arts, I chose Ateneo,
and happily immersed myself in philosophy, theology, and the classics,
amidst abstract algebra, number theory, and finite geometry. I decided
to join a transnational firm after graduation, work there for a couple
of years, and set up my own company.

But fate—God!—intervened. In senior year, during my theology oral
exam, Fr. Asandas Balchand, S. J. bluntly inquired as to my plans.
Then he urged, “I think you should teach for a bit. Give back to the
school.” My next class happened to be graph theory, and after an oral
presentation, Dr. Marijo Ruiz, herself a Metrobank Outstanding Teacher
awardee, smilingly said, “Your discussion was clear and thorough. You
should think about teaching.”

Two invitations to teach in a day! Yes, God often works in mysterious
ways, but sometimes it does not take a genius to figure out His call.
Fine—I would teach in Ateneo for a year—and after that, start earning!

During the final judging phase of the Metrobank Search last July, I
was struck by Education Secretary de Jesus’ question: “Why do you
think teachers today are not as respected?” At that time I argued that
never in my career did I meet with disrespect. On the contrary, I
claimed, every time I gave a seminar or spoke on air, my ideas seemed
to be taken seriously, and parents, businesspeople, and students alike
would seek my advice. However, after much reflection, I realized that
there was truth to the query. When I first decided to teach, some
people wondered why I was wasting my efforts on such an inglorious

BUT…students’ eyes would light up after a difficult—albeit
rewarding—calculus session. They would ask for exercises beyond
homework requirements, and exclaim that math was after all, quite
enjoyable. At the end of the semester computer science majors
serenaded me with melodies of thanks, accompanied by guitars and
flutes. Moreover, kids poured out their heartaches—about parents on
the verge of separation, sweethearts caught in betrayal, lives
seemingly without purpose. More often than not I could only remain
silent, for what these not-quite-children-not-quite-adults needed most
was empathy, and concern, and time.

So how could I leave after a year? After two years? After five years?
That was 1987, and I am still here. All 12 of us are still here.
Because in teaching we have received so much. We have been rewarded
more than we have given away. In a world where finance and power rule,
our lives have oft been plagued with frustration and doubt; but in
this same world sorely lacking in ideals and compassion, our lives
have also been illumined by faith, hope and love.

Where else but in teaching would we continually be astounded by the
creativity of our charges? When Mrs. Salvacion Calabucal noticed her
visually-impaired students shaking bottles aimlessly, she placed beans
inside empty containers, asked the kids to follow her 1 – 2 – shake-up
– shake-down instructions, and formed a band. Soon they were
performing musical renditions in Hard Rock Café, Shangrila, and Makati
City Hall. When narra trees shed their leaves, Mrs. Lilia Ramos’ class
would catch the falling leaves and all of them would make a wish. The
kids would place the leaves under their pillows at night so their wish
would come true. Other grade levels joined in, and now their school in
Iloilo has an official “Make-a-Wish Day.”

Where else but in teaching would we learn to be creative ourselves?
Not content to specialize solely in Filipino, Mrs. Marilou Yogyog
designs indigenized instructional materials in folk dance, and trains
athletes in table tennis, track and field, and softball, who have won
honors for her school. Venturing beyond the classroom, Dr. Samuel
Soliven, once dubbed the “Batang Kaingero” because of his humble
origins, took his class to the airwaves, hosting a School-on-the-Air
at DWRN Bayombong, where he taught science and technology in the
vernacular. Though the subject Rizal is often deemed trite and boring,
Dr. Sonia Daquila analyzed philosophical, psychological, and social
contexts, and changed students’ and educators’ perceptions in Bacolod.

Where else but in teaching could we make a difference in young
people’s lives? When Mrs. Ma. Luisa Gibraltar’s pupil feared going
home to a father who beat him, she welcomed him into her own home, and
had a heart-to-heart talk with the parents, lovingly advising them to
care for their son and to treat him with respect. Though her specialty
was research, Dr. Evelyn Sorolla founded the “Balik-Paaralan Para sa
Out of School Adults Program,” and inspired less privileged adults to
return to the academe, finish high school, uplift their dignity and
become productive members of the community. As for Dr. Jaime An Lim,
who declared, “I did not choose teaching; teaching chose me,” he was
destined to be a teacher. First and Second grades in his old school
used to share the same classroom, the same teacher, the same class
period. While the teacher was handling the first graders, he would
teach his classmates how to read. He says, “An open book on my lap, a
finger moving from word to word, I patiently guided them through a
reading passage.” Dr. An-Lim was seven years old then.

Most of all, where else but in teaching, could we have received so
much unconditional affection, respect and love in return? When Mrs.
Lourma Poculan’s former Grade 3 student got married, she was the emcee
during the reception. The bride’s mother confided that all these years
her daughter had been admiring the way her teacher spoke. Another
little boy wanted to marry her when he grew up. When Mrs. Dahlia
Fabillar witnesses her former students, among them a mayor of their
town, a professor at a university, and a vice-president of a big firm,
she cannot help but feel pride, for they are proof of the success of
her mission.

Perhaps Mr. Renato Carvajal, with whom I am proud to share the same
campus, sums it up best. He was a barefoot schoolboy from La Union,
the son of a janitor. He was a pandesal vendor at 6, a shoe shine boy
at 8, a sacristan at 10, and a teacher at 19. He says, “There is no
wasted time in teaching. I always go home tired but not burned out,
spent but not weighted down, emptied but still looking forward to
giving more the next day. All my school days give me a good night’s
sleep, and I would not exchange teaching for any other job in the
world. Every school day, well spent, is already a reward in itself.”

Past Metrobank Awardees would humbly state that they accept this honor
on behalf of the unsung public and private school heroes of our land.
And they would be right. They would also acknowledge that they were
the lucky ones—we were the lucky ones—the ones with supportive
administrations, encouraging colleagues, motivated students. In the
words of my friend Dr. Ricky Abad, Awardee two years ago, “We are
blessed that we come from schools and homes that keep the torches of
our teaching flame aglow in our increasingly naughty, naughty world.”
And again they would be right.

These heroes exist. I know, for I have met one of them. Let us call
her Zeny.

Zeny was a high school math teacher down south, and a scholar of the
Department of Education. She never dreamed of setting foot in the
Ateneo, and when confronted by state-of-the-art computers and
laboratories, at first she feared even touching them, so awed was she
by such display.

For Zeny came from a place impoverished. In our psychology of teaching
class, we discussed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what teachers
could do to address them. But unlike the textbook, we could not take
the most basic needs for granted, for Zeny’s students often came to
school hungry and tired, having worked alongside their parents most of
the night without nary a snack. How could they even concentrate on
algebra? In class when we harnessed the power of multimedia, Zeny
would dutifully participate, but the most advanced equipment her
school had was one single microscope—kept behind hallowed glass panes
in the principal’s office, to be taken down only for the benefit of
visitors. Blackouts were frequent, and Zeny believed that even if
computer donations would come (as they were promised), these would be
useless unless electric flow was unimpeded. Worst of all, often there
would only be less than 5 math books in a class of 80 students. How
could children learn without books?

So Zeny did what she had to do. Out of her salary, she would pay for
the xeroxing of exercises for the whole class. Out of what remained
she would buy pan de sal and margarine for her starving students. In a
country where everything was publicized, where every construction
project had emblazoned on it the names of officials and every building
the names of donors, Zeny did her good work anonymously. Not even her
own students knew that their snacks and practice sets came out of her

I asked her how she could afford to do so. “I am single,” she smiled,
“and my parents are no longer here. My siblings are married. I don’t
need a lot. How can I teach if my students are hungry and have no

I wanted to write about Zeny in my column, but after some thought, she
told me not to do so. Having such poor facilities would embarrass her
school, and she didn’t want to cause any trouble. She was also certain
that hers were not the only heroic deeds, and that many teachers
across the nation were creatively coping in their own ways. I am sure
she is right. And—if her school could command such loyalty from its
teachers, then maybe it was also doing something right.

I promised Zeny not to reveal her real name or the name of her school,
and I have kept that promise. But tonight, of all nights, with
outstanding teachers as the theme, how could we not honor her? This
award is for you, Zeny, and all other teachers like you.

Our heartfelt thanks to the Metrobank Foundation, and to Metropolitan
Bank and Trust Company itself, especially Chairman George Ty, who by
making possible this recognition, has inspired and continues to
inspire teachers to do their best. To the judges, in the preliminary,
semi-final and final rounds, who painstakingly pored over documents
and patiently listened to what we had to say, thank you for making the
process memorable—and I daresay—quite fun. Our gratitude to our
schools, mentors, and colleagues—in my case, Immaculate Conception
Academy in elementary and high school, and now the institution in
which I have spent half my life—the Ateneo de Manila, especially the
mathematics and psychology community, serendipitously enough
represented here tonight by our school’s top officers—Fr. Ben Nebres,
S. J. and Dr. Miren Intal, who are not only my bosses, but advisers
and friends as well—Fr. Ben whose problem solving abilities I learned
from and put to good use during the semifinal teaching demo, and Dr.
Miren whose whole-hearted encouragement supported me throughout this
entire process. I would also like to thank Fr. Dan McNamara, Dr. Jose
Marasigan, Dr. Honey Carandang, and the late Dr. Doreen Fernandez –
all great teachers, great colleagues, great friends.

To our students, thank you and may you continue in your journey with
us in critical thinking, perseverance, and service to others. We
promise to be there for you, and to guide you the best we can. Our
never-ending thanks go to our families and friends—my father William,
my husband Smith, my brother Garrick, my sister Portia, my son
Scott—whose sacrifices have made it possible for us to stay in a
profession we love. And to Almighty God, to You, as always, be the

In return, all of us promise that we will continue to nurture every
student we are privileged to have been given, to guide them to
discover and uncover their potential, to shape them as citizens our
nation will be proud of. We recognize that to us, much has been given,
and from us, much more is expected. Is it fruitless to be “just a
teacher”? Not according to the one whom I hold dearest in the world—my
five-year-old boy, who would introduce me to friends as, “My mommy is
a teacher! I am so proud of Mommy!” We are all proud—so proud and
honored—to be teachers.

Earlier I confessed that I had never dreamed of becoming a teacher.
But that might not be totally true. My mother Dr. Anita Ngo graduated
at the top of her class in UP medical school, and to the consternation
of her batchmates, after volunteer work in PGH, she decided not to
pursue a career and instead devote her efforts to her family. What a
waste of talent, they said. Sounds familiar? But what everyone did not
realize was that she was my first—and my best—teacher, and
subconsciously, her example, her brilliance, her dedication throughout
the formative decades of my life must have molded me in ways I was not
aware of. Without my mother, I would not be in front of you now. Mom,
I miss you a lot, but tonight, I know you are here. I dedicate my
award to you.

Thank you. Good evening.