Portrait of a Filipino Science Teacher

Published May 13, 2021, 6:00 PM

by Joel L. Cuello

She would elicit from her students the best versions of themselves as thinking and aspiring scientists and engineers

TEACHING BY EXAMPLE Class ‘79 Section A of Laguna College, with Miss Aurora Baldrias (second row center) and the author (top row third from right)

After completing her baccalaureate in Chemistry at UP Diliman, she could have gone on to earning promptly her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees either in the Philippines or abroad, and she could have easily garnered a tenure-track professorial position at a major university anywhere in the world.

But she knowingly went for and followed what many might consider a decidedly unconventional career path.

After graduating from college, she went back to her hometown to become a dedicated science teacher in her high school alma mater.

And her decision—for the ensuing five decades since 1970—proved to be a windfall to hundreds of students who would pursue successful careers in science and engineering through her unstinting tutelage and inspiration.

The high school mentioned is Laguna College in San Pablo City, Laguna—and the science teacher par excellence is Mis Aurora Baldrias.

Miss Baldrias, after a bout of illness under investigation for COVID-19, succumbed to cardiac arrest in early April. She was 73.

Three things made Miss Baldrias a true rarity as a highly effective science educator.

One, she had an unimpeachable in-depth mastery of her subject. As such, she was unencumbered by self-doubt or insecurity that typically plagues the masses of high school science teachers in the country as well as around the world. And with such sense of quiet but matter-of-fact confidence, she could marshal and focus her energy and really zero in on the learning process of her students and be attentive to providing the needed remedies to their missteps and pitfalls.

The Philippines’ need for cultivating thousands of Miss Baldriases has just become more acute and urgent.

Two, she neither condescended to her students nor dumbed down her material, but inspired them to meet the high standards of excellence that science requires both through encouragement and by way of her own personal example.

And, three, whether knowingly or not, Miss Baldrias was indeed a deft practitioner of the Socratic method of teaching in that she would ultimately and successfully elicit from her students the best versions of themselves as thinking and aspiring scientists and engineers.

Today when science and technology are the veritable fuel for value creation (or innovation), which in turn is the currency for the sustained growth and development of nations around our interlinked planet—the Philippines’ need for cultivating thousands of Miss Baldriases has just become more acute and urgent.

For the foreseeable future, the exemplary legacy of Miss Baldrias will resolutely live on and, one hopes, gets perpetuated ad infinitum.

The author is a professor of Biosystems Engineering at the University of Arizona and board member of the Philippine American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE).

 
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