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Ma’am Lipa: SPED Center’s silent teacher–camp
by Aileen Refuerzo

MODEL TEACHER -- Ms. Florence Lipa with her grade III pupils in SPED Center duing one of their performance outputs. -- Aileen Refuerzo

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” -- William Ward

Great teachers are a rarity. In fact, author John Steinbeck said that there are “as few (of them) as there are any other great artists.”

But there are those who make the cut like Florence Lipa, special education teacher at the Baguio City SPED Center, whose achievements as an educator are vast albeit unheralded. Vast in the sense that since she started teaching in 2003, she has ministered to hundreds of pupils on whom she left a positive imprint.

Parents of the pupils she taught attest to Lipa’s good influence on their children.

“I don’t know what magic she has but how she makes those pupils of hers obey her. Even the wayward ones learned responsibility and developed good study habits under her watch,” Nilda Roque whose two children belonged to Lipa’s Grade III advisory classes in separate years gushed.

She said Lipa is strict but kind and knows how to discipline and motivate her students. “Pupils love and respect her while absorbing what she teaches.”

Lipa said she does not have a specific teaching style. “My teaching style varies depending on the needs of my pupils because they also have varied learning styles.”

But she sees to it that her wards develop responsibility and persistence at their young age.

For instance project requirements under her class are done by the students without the help of parents to gain proper measure of the children’s capabilities and to encourage independence among her wards.

This she does to the extent of holding extra classes on Saturdays and even until Sundays should the students require more time.

Even for the daily classroom tasks, pupils are required to finish whatever they started even if it meant staying behind after class.

This entails lots of unpaid overtime work but Lipa does not mind.

“I encourage my students to challenge themselves to do better and to always do things right the first time to avoid waste of time, materials and effort. During project-making which we call performance output in the K to 12 curriculum, my pupils usually hear me saying, ‘Focus on what you are doing, sayang ang oras’,” she related.

Cleanliness and good nutrition as a way of life

Lipa’s influence is not confined to the academics. She is also a stickler for cleanliness and good nutrition, a consciousness she intends to pass on to her young and impressionable wards.

She keeps her classrooms immaculate – floor scrubbed to a shine, everything in its proper place – and requires her pupils’ help to do so. They maintain three properly labeled trash bins, one each for “nabubulok,” “di-nabubulok,” and white paper and plastic bottles.

“When you teach children how to keep things clean and how to properly dispose their wastes at a young age, it becomes a way of life to them and they will even influence others to do the same thing,” she said.

Perhaps it is this penchant for neatness that drives her to be particular about her students’ handwriting.

“During the first two weeks of classes, I really need to check on how my pupils do the correct strokes in cursive writing and keep on it until such time that they are able to write legibly which they will carry until their old age,” she offered.

As her custom, Lipa eats lunch with her students and that was when she noticed that many of them seldom eat vegetables prompting her to schedule a “fruit-and-vegetable day” where pupils are required to bring fruits for snacks and vegetable viand for lunch, which should be placed in food-safe containers.

She religiously checks each pupil’s lunchboxes and keeps tab of compliant ones who get bonus points as incentive while those drinking soda or eating junk food or using Styrofoam get fined with the proceeds going to the class fund for their own activities.

“I read about the bad effects of Styrofoam on our health and the environment so I want to discourage its use to protect our students and our environment,” she said.

She also instructs pupils who bring biscuits for snacks during the non-fruit day to unwrap them at home and put in a container as a way of minimizing trash in school. This was after she learned in a seminar that schools are one of the biggest sources of garbage.

Awards not a measurement of success

Parents said Lipa rarely attends out-of-school trainings, preferring to stay in class with her students.

It is said that the true measure of a teacher rests not on the awards he or she amassed but on the impact he or she made on the consciousness of the students.

Lipa undoubtedly left a mark on every student she handled but is bereft of any award to speak for it.

“Sad to say, I have no award to show you for this article,” she told this writer, “Not that I wanted one. I was never after any.”

Award or no award, Lipa is not rewardless. Hers does not come in bold letters and a frame but rather in the form of the hundreds of children whom she tended for just one school year but who have grown to assimilate her teachings with the help of their own families.

Nilda’s children Rheznille now in grade 10 and Rex now in grade 5 still eat their vegetables with gusto. They still study hard and finish every task asked of them. They are responsible, respectful, and obedient children who have the sense not to throw their litter anywhere. And oh, such nice handwritings, too.
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