The Ballad of the School Hallways
My name is Seth. I’m a music/arts/physical education/health (acronym MAPEH) teacher in my school, which was under the public system of education. For four years now, I’d been teaching students that passed to Grade 8. This was our second-year level in junior high school, and honestly, I could say that this time was one of the most crucial in the stages of development in children. (1)
Well, if I remembered correctly, this was the age where kids transition into teens. As such, I could say that this was the most hectic, angst-filled stage of their lives. It was not uncommon for us teachers to hear that some of our students end up getting pregnant because of wrong love decisions. And you know, personally, I felt like I ought to guide them towards the right path.
Hey, I might be a 27-year-old dude, but I did have experience when it came to those matters. You see, back in my 8th Grade (known before as ’2nd Year’ high school) days, I got myself a girlfriend. We were on for about 12 years, though it’s been quite a rocky relationship. How we reached those 12 years, I never knew exactly. But unfortunately, when the time came for me to propose marriage to her, she refused and I was left hanging.
And, as if to add salt into my wound, a year later after we broke up (unofficially, since she just went cold on me, and we drifted apart eventually), I learned that she married someone else.
It hurt me so bad it took me three years to recover and take the first step to moving on.
Anyway, because of that trauma, I resolved to myself that I won’t let such thing happen again on my students. Look, I don’t blame my ex-girlfriend on what happened; I knew I was also at fault. Maybe I just didn’t give her much time that she wanted from me? Or maybe, I wasn’t able to fully understand her needs…I don’t know, we broke up before I learned my mistakes.
Lately, I’m playing it safe by refraining from getting involved in any romantic relationships. I’m afraid to try again, without me correcting my past wrongdoings.
And then, just as I was going through hell, I discovered ‘it’.
It would remain a mystery on how I got this ability, but for some reason ever since that fateful event, I could travel back in time. No, not that power to turn back a few seconds of the clock to my favor; what I got was the ability to return for years, months or days, depending on my will. And of course, along with it, was the ability to influence and change events that had already happened.
Such a convenient power, no?
One may think of my ability as cool and powerful. Heck, when I was young, I often dreamed of returning to the past and change the course of history. You know, hero-like deeds such as stopping the world wars, or becoming famous by predicting ‘future’ events. Redirecting the flow of events was pretty easy; if you’re familiar with the ‘butterfly theory’, that’s how it worked. A simple act of picking up a glass of water that I shouldn’t touch in the past could greatly alter an event.
But, while I acknowledged that my power was great, I’d rather make a reservation. Yes, time-travel—and the ability to change the past to affect the present and the future, was useful. However, what most people didn’t know was the price I’d have to pay whenever I influence the events around me, by will, or even by accident.
A perfect example of that would be the first time I learned of my ability. Still recovering from my heartache, I repeatedly wished to myself that I should’ve never proposed to her.
And you know what? I just found myself back at that restaurant exactly at that moment when I was about to propose to her. Of course, I stopped short of asking her the important question, and we went home still a couple.
The next day, my girlfriend broke up with me. She didn’t tell me why, no matter how much I asked. I suspected it was a ‘third-party’. So I sought to return in the past again in an effort to ‘save’ myself from the embarrassment, and ended our relationship at the restaurant. The outcome of the third time I went back was different, though it was still painful—Anne Marie attempted to kill herself, and I earned the indignation of our friends.
I realized back then that no matter what I do to avoid a tragic fate, I always ended up getting hurt. There’s no hope in changing the future of our relationship without me sacrificing something, so I gave up on altering the past.
You may ask, because I’m afraid of giving back something, did I never use my power again? Well, the answer was, no…there was a time when I was resolved to use that ability, no matter what the consequences for me would be.
I could still remember it. It was those dark days when I learned that a close friend—and a former student of mine—killed himself after suffering from bouts of depression, and conflict with his family. Truth be told, there were the warning signs: that guy often posted sad quotes on his social media timeline, or he would threaten to commit the deed.
Of course, I was also reeling from what happened to me and my girlfriend. It’s only been a year since we separated ways, and word reached me that she got married to someone else. However, I offer no excuses; I should’ve done something to reach out to him before he took his life.
It was something I still carried up to now. I preferred not to be bothered by someone else’s problem…until it was too late. So, when I came back in time to save him, well…I reached out to my friend about his situation, consequences be damned. I thought, well, I was doing this to save a life, so I guess I would just think of the sacrifices I had to pay when I got there.
In the end, it was a long, arduous conversation, but I did stop him.
However, the consequence was severe. To save his life, now I had to rely on maintenance insulin. In exchange for my friend, I contracted diabetes.
Well, though it affected my health, I’d rather live with this condition instead of forever living in guilt because I did nothing.
I couldn’t understand how my ability fully worked; I’m afraid to experiment. But, what I did know was that, for every change happened, there would be an equal price to pay for me…usually, it’s on the negative, no matter how small or big the changes were. So yeah, long matters short, I could only use this ability of mine sparingly.
In any case, aside from that, I’m just a normal person. And a teacher, too. Though the days that the society looked up to us with respect and dignity were long gone, we still possess a certain amount of authority over some matters…
And because of that, now that I’m in a position of influence, I try my best to help my students on matters of romance, or their relationship to their families.
“Hey, Sir Seth, here’s your schedule for this year.”
My co-worker gave me a small piece of paper. On it were the classes I was to teach for the entire academic year, as well as the corresponding time of when I should come to their room.
You see, our school was so small that only four classes per year level was allowed. However, the population was way too big for the international standard. By looking at the enrolment list, I could count around 75 to 80 students per class in our Grade 8. Well, because of such conditions, it’s not a surprise that we teachers in this school were all stressed out even though it’s just the start of the new school year.
Oh my god, here we go again…
When the bell finally rang telling us the start of today’s class, we finally headed out of the faculty, and into our respective classrooms. The students, upon seeing us walking on the corridor, immediately ran inside their rooms. It’s like they saw a monster heading towards them, and they had to hide quickly.
Well, I’m not offended by it at all. It’s a common occurrence in our school, anyway.
I stopped by a classroom that said ‘8-Jade’ on its door. Since it was open, and it’s the start of June, I could feel the intense heat coming from the inside…no matter how many electric fans were on. The children were all drenched in sweat, though their ‘day’ was only about to begin. There were a few who were furiously fanning themselves in a vain effort to cool themselves off. And there were those whose white blouses and polos were clinging on their wet undershirts and bodies. (2)
Of course, don’t ask about the smell. It reeks.
The students were looking at me with apprehensive eyes. And why not, when it’s my custom to come inside my new class with a frown on my face, so that they’d take me seriously.
Someone then took the cue and spoke up, “Classmates, please stand!”
At that moment, I let myself inside their hot, humid room. They stood up in unison and greeted, “Good afternoon, Mister…” Their voices suddenly died down, for they didn’t know my name just yet.
“It’s Seth. Just call me Sir Seth,” I told them. “Good afternoon, class!”
“Good afternoon, Sir Seth!” they formally greeted me, followed with a bow.
“Alright, sit down!” I replied with a strong voice. Anyone who heard me would think that I’m angry and hell’s about to break loose.
The students silently complied.
“Okay, be honest!” I started. “Do you know why I sound like this? Does anyone here know why I sound angry like this?” My voice was gradually getting louder and intimidating. No one’s saying anything; they just looked at me with fear and tension in their eyes as I spoke.
“Come on, say something! You’re noisy just before I came to this room, and now you’re pretending to be silent?” I slammed my hands on the table. I could see some students almost jump from their seats because of nervousness. But no one wanted to become the ‘sacrifice’ for their angry teacher. Well, it’s also because they didn’t even know what they did wrong.
“No one here knows why I’m angry, ha?” I menacingly spoke. “Does no one here, in this room, knows why I’m mad right now? Answer me!” I pounded on the table once again.
“N-no one, S-Sir…” they slowly answered in unison.
“Well, it’s because, I’m not angry at all,” I replied, which was followed by a laughter from me. “Hah! Fooled ’ya!”
I think that was the first time they roared in laughter and relief during that entire afternoon.
Class Jade was one of the four classes in Grade 8 level, and was actually ranked the second from the highest. Their adviser was a fellow teacher of mine named Miss Carla; she’s actually a newly-hired teacher in our school, and this was her first time supervising a class of 78 students.
As their physical education teacher, my schedule was shifting. You see, in our country, the current education curriculum required the teacher four hours per week in a class. As our school days were from Monday to Friday, that would translate to the practical ‘one hour per day’, with a single workday treated as a break.
For my subject, that break fell on Fridays, and Monday was the break of the Filipino language class. Today was Monday, so I get to replace the Filipino subject with my own subject for the meantime.
Yeah, I know it’s a bit confusing, but well, I had to get used to it or I’ll lose my job.
Class Jade students listened intently as I explained to them the requirements, and how to pass my class. I usually do it with brevity, since they didn’t like dawdling too much on a single topic. After discussing and making sure they’d understood my points, I proceeded on the roll call of their names.
Not only does it give me an idea of who they are, it also effectively kills time.
“Sir!” a boy from the back of the room raised his hand.
It went on and on, ‘till I managed to cover all the males in the class. After making sure I called all the names of the boys present in that room, I moved on to the girls’ list.
“Cefiro, Stephanie Anya.”
I looked at the familiar girl who raised her hand. For some reason, she’s all-smiles when I approached her.
“So, you’re in this class, huh?” I asked.
“Yes, Sir!” Stephanie answered back. “In fact, I’m the only one who didn’t believe in your antics earlier. Carl told me you’re the kindest teacher here in Grade 8, so you won’t fool me!”
I continued to act as if I’m not amused, “But would you like to see how I get angry?”
“Ahehe…” she scratched her head, “…of course not, Sir! My cousin also said that they are afraid of you when you’re angry, so I’ll behave.”
I jested, “Don’t worry, it takes a huge amount of effort to annoy me…unless, you’re a brat.”
“You look like one!”
“Carl is brattier than me!”
“Hoh…speaking of him, does Carl still feel he’s handsome?”
“Unfortunately, Sir, he is. I thought you’re going to fail him last year?”
“Well, his handsomeness is too much for me to handle,” I explained in a serious tone. “Even so, I’m still the most handsome man in this school. If you want to pass my subject, you have to agree with what I just said. Do I make myself clear?”
“I’m looking forward to learn more from you, Sir!” Stephanie replied, deliberately ignoring my statement. “Especially on drawings.”
“I believe we’re talking here about my handsomeness,” I reiterated.
“Please take care of me and my classmates, Sir!” she continued.
“Haha! Alright, cheeky brat! I hear you loud and clear!” I nodded, seeing it was futile to convince Stephanie of me being ‘handsome’, and then proceeded with the roll call.
Author's Note: (1) MAPEH, or Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health, is a subject under the Philippine education curriculum. Among all the eight subjects to be taught per day, this is the most difficult, as the teacher had to teach four entirely different topics a day, with separate grades for each.
I say that because, imagine, 80-100 students per class, each one to be graded individually for every sub-subject. So that's a total of 160 (minimum) sub-final grades to be computed, and in only one section. A regular teacher in our public schools is responsible for at least 4-5 sections/classes.
It's also difficult for the students as well, for they have to change topics every single day. See, Philippine education system loves to 'hit all birds in one stone', so it's not a surprise everything is taught at the shortest possible time.
(2) Philippine classrooms, at least those under the public school system, can be a literal 'hell' to both the teacher and the students. This is due to the lack of classrooms brought about by a combination of political ineptitude, exploding population, and lack of space in the cities, where most of the families stay and work.
I, myself, have experienced handling 80-100 students per classroom, for three sections (the top section got 67 students), and it was not an easy feat to accomplish. However, because we have no choice other than to take what is in front of us, we managed to finish the school year with at least 80% students passing.