Mrs. Manalastas, our Grade Four teacher had her maternity leave, and so we had Miss Grace as our new substitute teacher.
Miss Grace was from Malolos, Bulacan’s capital and we wondered why an urban teacher like her would try her luck teaching in rural school like ours, the Central Baliwag Elementary School.
Miss Grace always smelled good, sweet, amiable and cute. Every boy in class had a huge crush on her, especially Pepit. These boys would do anything to suck up to her or get noticed. I had crush on her, too, but not big enough that I would volunteered erasing the blackboard, cleaning the eraser or helping out in the class.
One day, Miss Grace instituted change in our class’ morning ritual.
Under Mrs. Manalastas we had this “The first number of our program” thing, to start the class – an impromptu program where anyone could be asked to sing, recite a poem or dance. I hated this ritual because towards the end, there will be inspection of clean fingernail and hankie, and if you don’t have both, Mrs Manalastas would slap your hand with a stick. Tabog and I always had a good slapping every morning. Tabog could never let go of his black thingy under his fingernail, and I never could bring a clean hankie, because, hankie was not a priority for a poor family – food was.
Miss Grace changed all these with her “Show and Tell”. She told us, every one would have a chance to bring to class, thing that we think is interesting. We have to show it in class, and tell what makes it interesting. This posed a problem among the barrio kids. First of all, we don’t have or own a thing. Second of all, even if we have a thing, it couldn’t be classified as interesting. We didn’t hear Miss Grace mentioned punishment for non compliance. At least, that was a saving grace for me and Tabog.
Gualberto Gomez, one of the rich town kids, volunteered to do the first “show and tell”. He brought to class his stamp collection. Every piece of his stamp, he impressed us of what he learned about it. I saw Pepit yawning while Gualberto had his show. “That’s an interesting collection you have, Gualberto”, Miss Grace, said, “Now, would you like to clean the eraser for me.”
During our recess, I and Pepit saw Gualberto cleaning the eraser. Pepit was so mad and jealous; he had his fists bulging in his short pocket. “How can we top up Gualberto’s show? He asked.
The next “show and tell” performer was another town kid. He brought to class his collection of miniature cars in match boxes. Followed up with another one with a collection of text cards, then another one with collection of marbles, tops etc… Some rich girls in town brought dolls, legos, battery operated toys, etc…
Then, came, the barrio kids’ turn. No volunteer, so, Miss Grace picked Tabog.
Tabog brought to class this rusted can of Darigold Evaporated Milk. He tilted the can toward the class so we can see his collection. “This is my collection”, he said, beaming with confidence, “cigarettes butt”. Tabog pick up on one butt out of the can. “This butt is a filter, remains of a cigarette called Kingscup. He put back the butt and gets another one. “This one is from Oldgold. Collecting cigarettes butt is a good hobby. I can proudly recommend it to anyone” Tabog said.
All the while Tabog’s performance, Miss Grace’s face grimaced with disgust. But the barrio kids reacted jubilantly. We stood up in ovation and gave Tabog a welcomed applause. Now, it seemed everyone among the barrio kid had the courage to participate in “show and tell”.
Next to perform was Sianong Paksiw. He brought in boxes of dried dung of different farm animals; cow, carabao, goat, horse, dog, cat. He even labeled them each.
Eulalia brought to class her friend, Suzie, a live hen. She sat her on Miss Grace’s desk in front. And while Eulalia was citing her friend’s attributes, Suzie, worried perhaps about her chicks left at the farm, cackled and pooed. This time, I saw Miss Grace’s amiable face turned sour.
Every barrio kid performances seemed to be an added strain on Miss Grace’s face. She was young, yet, I believe, she was having high blood pressure.
My turn has come. I brought to class crushed frogs and toads. I spent one whole Saturday in a highway, collecting those frogs that run over repeatedly by vehicles. Miss Grace, probably in peak of irritableness, cried with my performance.
Pepit’s turn came. He made good preparation for it, as he wanted really to impress Miss Grace. He even asked for my help. One day, before Pepit’s show, I accompanied him to Mang Oning’s animals’ barn and dug up some earthworms. We picked the earthworms whose sizes were that of a thumb and longer.
Pepit presented the earthworms to class as the Robinson’s family. He picked the biggest and longest, and introduced it to the class as Mr. Robinson. Then Pepit introduced the wife. Miss Grace seemed could not anymore get to Pepit introduce the Robinson’s children – she was already puking hard.
If it isn’t broke, don’t fix. Miss Grace had probably got the gist of this adage. Next Monday morning we had a new substitute teacher.