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The Math Wizards Baltik and Saltik


I generally loved my junior year but for the fact that we had two numbers subjects. The first was inevitably Algebra again, which we had since sophomore year and which I was certain I would not like any better. The teacher was Mister Rolando Baltazar, incidentally also our Homeroom Adviser. The nickname “Baltik” for which he would universally become known was given by some smartass at about this time, although I cannot say with any certainty that the smartass was from my class.

His reputation for being a “magician” was established at about this time as well. This reputation was not flattering at all, but how it came to be owed partly to his personality and partly due to students’ being students. Everyone who has ever been in his class knows that he was soft-spoken and rather tended to devote his attention to the students in the front rows. Although he was soft-spoken, he was nonetheless not the sort of teacher under whom students went wild. Instead, because his voice was not very loud and he seldom paid attention to those at the back, there was a tendency for students there to use the period under him to work on assignments in other subjects that were due for submission later in the day.

He was a good teacher, make no mistake about it! This much my Mathematics-oriented classmates used to vouch. The problem always was that to those who only half-listened to his lectures while working on assignments in other subjects, when he underlined the answers derived from the solutions he had carefully taught moments earlier, it always seemed like the work of Harry Potter himself.

The other numbers subject was Geometry, taught by Mister Rene Salazar. He was really no stranger to us because he had taught us since Grade 6. It’s funny when I come to think about it now, that if Mister Baltazar was given a nickname behind his back, so was Mister Salazar. The latter was referred to by some as “Saltik” so that the two Math teachers were something of a tandem called Baltik and Saltik. The former’s nickname stuck all the way through to his retirement years later; but by the time I returned to the school to teach in the eighties, the nickname Saltik had been completely forgotten.

In contrast to Mister Baltazar, Mister Salazar always had this booming voice that reached not just to the rear of the classroom but likely to the adjoining rooms as well. But naturally, nobody dared do assignments in other subjects during his class.

Being me, I found Geometry only marginally less mystifying that Algebra. It was a good thing that Mister Salazar knew our class well and knew who to push and who not to. I very much fell into the second category. He had this habit of calling students to the front and asking them to solve problems on the blackboard. When he got annoyed if somebody was having particular difficulty solving what seemed to him a routine problem, his voice could get really terrifying.

I was seldom, if at all, called to the front; and on the few occasions when I was, he never lost his cool with me. Even if, but of course, I could not solve even the simplest problems. He probably knew there was no point shouting at me because I wasn’t going to solve anything, anyway. He had also taught my older brother Ronaldo, so I rather suspected that he knew my brother had taken all the Math genius and left none for the rest of us siblings.


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