The first time she crossed the threshold of a classroom and stood in front of her students with the blackboard as her guardian, Cristina Isabel Saínz was only 15 years old. A demographic explosion in the country and the urgent need for teachers who could provide an answer to the training in Junior High School turned her life upside down and sent her dream of studying Architecture far away.
"How time flies, it seems like yesterday we were wearing our first uniform," she says now, with nostalgia pulsing in her memories as the founder of the Manuel Ascunce Domenech Pedagogical Detachment, as she was one of the more than 400 Cuban students who responded in 1972 to Fidel's request in response to the shortage of teachers.
In the mountains of Caney de las Mercedes, she is seen again during the preparatory stage that preceded her arrival at the San Andrés 2 Boarding School System, in Holguín, and then to the region of Veguita, in Manzanillo, where for four years she trained the students in the knowledge of Geography.
"We combined study with work, we were educators of the newly created schools in the countryside, at the same time we were training in the pedagogical branch to graduate as teachers of the General Secondary Education," she explains diaphanously while talking about how she incorporated into her life new concepts and routines such as lesson plans, attendance records, the teachers' guards and methodological preparation.
"We studied a lot!" exclaims this retired woman who, at the age of 60, did not have enough patience to stay at home and, five years later, continues her preaching at the University of Las Tunas.
Logically, the experience shook her and it was not always easy to "adjust" to the role of teacher, especially because the students were practically the same age, although respectful. "I remember that once I visited a class and I had a sack (dress), they used to wear very short dresses -she smiles mischievously-, the provincial methodologist visited me and when we finished the analysis she told me: 'Let's see, stand on your back, raise your arm... Look where that teacher's dress goes!'."
At this point in the conversation, Cristina bursts out laughing and then, ceremoniously affirms: "It was a great idea, like the ones Fidel had. His confidence in the young people was admirable, as was the degree of responsibility of the members of each of the five detachments."
CONTINUATORS AND HEIRS
"I lost my voice. I didn't know what to say and I was silent for about 10 minutes; apart from the students, at the back of the classroom there were my colleagues, inexperienced like me, and, as a visitor, the head of the Chair," this is how Rodolfo Torres Ramírez (Popi) remembers his inaugural day as a teacher.
"I had learned the content and I thought I was the one who knew the most about it: the situation of the lines in space; I wrote the topic and when I turned around, everything I was going to say had gone out of my mind".
After that unfortunate "blackout," Popi recovered, although he says that he "barely" concluded the meeting, one of many he would have as a member of the Manuel Ascunce Domenech Pedagogical Detachment, the beginning of a long career.
In his struggle, chalk in hand, the scene was never repeated and remained as a life lesson, perhaps teaching how much it is worth in a classroom the domain not only of knowledge but of the "situation" of the "lines", of the "space" in general.
For this pedagogue, a worker for years of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, delegate of the People's Power for a quarter of a century, and director, for nearly two decades, of the Major General Vicente García González Revolution Square, teaching entails daily challenges and one must know how to overcome, sow, instruct, educate, form... a long list of verbs.
"Any student can put you in a bad moment when he asks a question and you are not sure of the answer. You never know everything, so I quickly learned not to say anything just to get out of the way; questions are listened to, analyzed, and if you don't know the answer: Very good question. You are very interested. I propose that at the end of the class we stay and agree together. If anyone else wants to know more about the subject, they can participate." The formula, he says, is infallible; he learned it in practice, as well as so many other tricks of the trade that he reserves to share with those who choose this path of "living gospels."
Like Cristina, Popi wanted to be an architect, but the Revolution also called him to join the second Detachment in 1973.
"It saved education at that time; there were no teachers. We understood the need to teach and we made up for that lack until we graduated and were already in optimal conditions to face the profession. This brilliant idea created a precedent and showed me that teaching is a profession that makes you a better person."
"Many years have passed, I have assumed so many responsibilities and it was all because we were educated in the sense of duty before the Revolution. I am proud of that work and, today as yesterday, I would say the same thing: 'I accept'."
For the founders and continuators of such an essential epic; for Cristina and Popi, those were days of glory, a glory lived and remembered among orange groves, potato fields, tobacco plantations, and everything this country cultivated not only in the soil but even better, in the brains and hearts of thousands of students, also of these children teachers. Five decades later, their story has to be told, just as we must always remember the story of that other child who a few years earlier was not afraid to say: "I am the teacher!"