Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A tribute to Sir Tirol

When students ask me for feedback on their written work (some of them still do up to now), particularly for application essays, I always exhort them to write in their own "voice". Students tend to write in a stilted, overly formal tone for academic papers, without a trace of their personality, concerned more with being right than being true. I'm particular about this because I had the same problem throughout my freshman year in college. The result? Middling grades in all my English classes, and a bunch of mediocre essays that make me cringe when I reread them (cringe, and go, "Did I actually write this crap?!?").

Funny enough, it took a History class to teach me how to write like myself. In my sophomore year, my block had the tremendous good fortune to be assigned to Mr. Jo-ed Tirol's Modern History class. The guy already had a reputation for being one of Ateneo's funniest, smartest and most competent teachers; we soon learned that the hype was all true. Sir Tirol's lectures were organized, clear and not just interesting, but entertaining (anyone who can make World War II entertaining definitely has skills). His wry sense of humor served to make each session fun no matter what the topic, and he kept us wide awake despite the class's deadly after-lunch schedule when most students would be drowsy and nodding off. In all my years of schooling, Sir Tirol's was the only class I looked forward to like I would a favorite TV program. He made learning almost effortless; I just sat there listening to him, laughing at his sarcastic zingers, scribbling down notes occasionally, and come exam time, without even much reviewing the night before, for some reason I'd remember practically everything we discussed in class. It was as if I had somehow temporarily acquired the power of his legendary sponge-like memory.

Despite his popularity and reputation as a "nice" guy, Sir Tirol wasn't a pushover; in fact, he always exuded a don't-screw-with-me-wiseguy air that commanded students' respect. He was fair and forthright, and when he meant business, he meant business. But he was also understanding and sympathetic to his students' plights, and would tweak some requirements or move a deadline or free up some consultation time when asked (or in Yang's case, "wheedled" would be more precise :p). Sir Tirol was the kind of teacher who still remembered what it had been like to be a student, and that made him easy to approach and talk to. Once, I misheard a word in a guide question for a reflection paper (instead of "What is the root of imperialism?" I took down "route"), and I only found out after I had submitted my paper. After I had explained it to him, he checked my paper as if the question had really said "route", and I still got an A.

But that was pretty much how I managed to get As on all my papers for Sir Tirol's class. It wasn't because I was this brilliant writer with revolutionary ideas. It wasn't because I slaved over my papers like a dog (I actually finished them pretty quickly, and usually in just 1 sitting). It wasn't even because the movies he chose for us to reflect on were so compellingly good (although they were). It was simply because I was comfortable with him reading my work, my thoughts, in my "voice". Knowing he would not frown upon my using the word "shit", that he would appreciate a well-placed barb directed at La Salle, that he would indulge my anal penchant for getting all the actors' and characters' names right (and in full), I was free to write like the opinionated, cynical wannabe-intellectual I was. I wrote from the gut ("truthiness", anyone? ;p), and I wrote without fear of censure, without being conscious of academic standards, without caring if I was being politically correct or I was going to get the right answers... because I knew he would get it. I knew he would get me. And when a teacher like that allows you to be yourself, you can't help but excel. The best teachers are the ones that help you become the best that you can be. In Sir Tirol's case, he helped me become a better writer, a better student, and a better thinker. And he also inspired me to later become-- or at least try to become-- the kind of teacher he was, the best teacher I've ever known.

Although I still call him "Sir Tirol", and we see each other only once a year (if we're lucky), I count him among my closest friends, and 1 of my most reliable confidantes. He's still the same sarcastic smartass who tries hard not to show others he's really a softie (closet sap, I call him), he's still teaching History at the Ateneo, where he's still a well-loved figure on campus. And on February 2, the Ateneo Schools Parents Council (ASPAC) is presenting him with the Outstanding Junior Teacher award, in recognition of all that he's achieved as a teacher, and all the qualities that make him an excellent one. I am so proud to have been this man's student, and I will be forever grateful for his influence and inspiration, for his friendship and faith in me, and for helping me find my "voice", and allowing me to be who I truly am.


At Sunday, January 21, 2007, Anonymous Christa said...

Thanks for the e-mail concerning Sir Tirol. Being in EU requires me to take Hi18 in my first sem, soph year, so I'm hoping I get Sir Tirol so I can see for myself how great he truly is. Haha.

At Sunday, January 21, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Keeping my fingers crossed for you. :)

At Thursday, November 12, 2009, Blogger Iris said...

It was simply because I was comfortable with him reading my work, my thoughts, in my "voice".
Hi, I'm a student of Sir Tirol just last sem and looking back on it now, I think I felt the same way with him reading my essays. :)
I like what you wrote by the way. Cheers!


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