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The Rabagos and My Career

I cannot begin to imagine what my career would ultimately have turned out to be but for the Rabagos – Pablito and Elsie – and a confluence of events. But I get ahead of the story.

Pablito Rabago was my fourth year high school World History teacher and one of the certifiable legends of the school during its formative years. He was also my Homeroom Adviser when I was in my senior year at what we then called ‘La Salle ng Lipa.’

I will not be plastic and claim that Mr. Rabago had anything to do with my choice of a Social Science major in college. Truth be told, all I wanted was to play football; and my East Asian Studies major seemed a fair enough choice to get me through college while playing varsity football at the same time.

While I never could have claimed that I was a hardcore historian when I was in college, at least I was comfortable in my major subjects. And that, I have to give Mr. Rabago credit for because he was such an excellent mentor.

I worked with her for just a couple more years before she moved to the fledgling college department, which in a manner of speaking was her baby. Before she did, she appointed me Chairperson of the Social Science Department on just my second year in the school after Padilla left.
The lovely Elsie Arguelles, on the other hand, was my English teacher when I was in my sophomore year in high school. The fact that I continue to be comfortable with spoken and written English is down to the fact that I was lucky to have had a steady line of excellent English teachers from elementary all the way to high school.

Elsie Arguelles was one of those.

Whether it was Pablito’s charm that Elsie could not resist or the other way around, that we never discovered. All I know is that one day, we just learned that Elsie Arguelles had become Elsie Rabago.

Forward to 1982 when I was already a year out of college and my Mom thought that it was about time that I started to look for a job. She didn’t want me to go back to Manila and I never liked living in that city to begin with.

So I went back to the alma mater to submit an application letter. This was around April. I was told that, unfortunately, there was no opening; but that they would receive my application nonetheless just in case somebody left.

So I went back to being my Mom’s poultry boy and forgot all about my application.

Until one day in June. In fact, classes were already about to start.

Mrs. Rabago was by then already the Academic Assistant, which was something of an Assistant Principal to Br. Gene Tianco. She sent someone to my place to let me know that there was a sudden opening and that I was to report for work.

I later learned that Mr. Rabago, who for the longest time was the Department Head of Social Science, had accepted a teaching post at Colegio San Juan de Letran in Calamba. I was to be his replacement.

His departure was both a boon and a bane for me. On the one hand, I would not have gotten a job had he not left. On the other hand, I never got to experience the pleasure of working with him as my Department Chairperson.

Instead, the late Paddy Padilla was my first boss at the Social Science Department. I was given three junior Asian History classes to teach. Because I was also comfortable with World History, I was also given three senior classes as well.

It was Elsie Rabago, however, who really taught me the ropes. I was never the sort to assume that I knew everything. Hence, I went to see her at the Academic Assistant’s Office ever so often to ask about how things were supposed to be done.

Because I knew her from way back, I was comfortable going to see her. She was always very supportive.

In fact, I will never forget one incident that firmly cemented her image inside my head as one of the few educators that I sincerely admire.

First, a little background. During my teaching years, I was never afraid to fail students, even seniors. I do not apologise for this. I think those who pass students and send them to a higher level that they are not prepared for are being not only unprofessional but also uncompassionate.

Now, every teacher knows that failing students can bring complications, especially when parents are not prepared to accept that their children deserve the failing grades.

All teachers eventually learn how to deal with difficult parents. But in my rookie year, Elsie Rabago did not allow me to speak to the parents of students that I failed on my own. She asked them into her office where I sat to give my explanations.

With one particularly emotional parent, I did not even have to speak. In her calm and graceful way, Elsie Rabago made the parent grudgingly accept that grades could not be changed because that would compromise our standards. And it was those standards, she patiently went on, that made her enrol her child in the school in the first place.

Other bosses, in the same situation, would have left me to fend for myself. But she knew that I was young and inexperienced and did not allow me to be eaten up.

I worked with her for just a couple more years before she moved to the fledgling college department, which in a manner of speaking was her baby. Before she did, she appointed me Chairperson of the Social Science Department on just my second year in the school after Padilla left.

This meant that I would be in administration for 28 of my 29 years in the school. And I couldn’t have been blessed with a better role model in my formative years in administration than Elsie Rabago.

Funny now when I come to think about it how the two Rabagos had so much to do with what would ultimately be a 29-year career in a school that I myself helped to nurture. One left to make way for me; the other prepared me for a career in school administration.

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