The Ballad of the School Hallways
The time came when the student government had come to us to collect the names of our little teachers. By that moment, I’m still undecided on who I would appoint. So, I told them to come back some time later in the day; I reckoned that maybe I’ll have a name by then.
Uhh…on some other thought, I guess I’d just teach the students myself on ‘Little Teachers’ day.
“Hey! What’s up?” For some reason, Stephanie had been way too clingy on me lately. Not that I’m pissed or anything; I’m actually used to it.
“Sir, have you decided on your little teacher?”
“Nope. I’m still thinking about it.”
“I see…” Stephanie nodded and then said, “Carl’s just been appointed by Mam Sally as her little teacher.”
“Oh, Science again, huh? He’s great at Science, I guess?”
“Yes Sir, indeed. He is good.”
Then, utter silence. I could feel from Stephanie that she wanted to tell me something, yet for some strange reason, she was holding herself back. Embarrassed, or awkward, I didn’t have an idea. What I could guess, however, was that she wanted me to pick her as the ‘Little Teacher’ for my subject.
Heh, if I don’t have an idea about her rivalry with Carl, I’ll dismiss this gesture as idiotic. Well, I still do…but I think pitting your children against each other is even more stupid.
“So…?” Stephanie kept on staring at me like she’s peering into my dark soul. If looks could melt, I bet I’m a pool of disgusting goo by now.
“What do you want from me?” Err…this is getting awkward.
“Sir, would you want me to be your little teacher?” My cute student finally got the courage to tell what she wanted. However, looking back, I doubt someone like Stephanie could handle the other students…especially those brats in the lower sections. Yes, she’s hard-working, and reliable, but…I’ve seen her do her class reports. And based on how she conducted herself during those moments, I could say that she’s not fit to be a ‘stern’ teacher that could command respect and make the troublemakers listen to her.
I should tell her straight that I can’t assign her.
“I…I’ll think about it.” Fuck! For some reason, I couldn’t tell Stephanie what I really wanted to say. It’s difficult to say ‘no’ to her!
“When is ‘it’, Sir?”
“Maybe when you stop staring and pressuring me with those looks, then I might consider.”
At that moment, Stephanie may have noticed that she was stepping out of her limits as a student, and calmed down. I don’t know; but her rivalry with her cousin was getting out of hand. I couldn’t assign her just because she wanted to follow the steps of Carl; Stephanie should do what she wanted to do, not because someone’s opinion forced her to it!
Not only that; it’s my lessons that will suffer in that kind of mindset! My subject is not a ‘battlefield’ for rival relatives to fight upon. (1)
“Cefiro,” I told her, trying to sound as serious as possible. “I appreciate your offer. However, I really wanted to think about this. Teaching is difficult, you know? I understand your sentiment; your desire to do what Carl has done. But, your rivalry with your cousin shouldn’t come between the lesson and the students! And here I am thinking if I should teach my subject myself, come ‘Little Teachers’ Day’.”
“Y-Yes, Sir…” there was a hint of sadness in Stephanie’s face, yet she hid it with a weak smile. “I understand. I’m sorry if I offended you.”
Seeing her reaction hurt me a bit. Nevertheless, I guess I made my point clear. To console Stephanie, I said to her, “I’ll tell you my decision later, okay?”
She only nodded, and went back to her classroom.
It was already dark when I finally reached a decision, to the delight of the student government officers who were waiting for my ‘little teacher’. Really, it was something I didn’t expect to have that much of an issue…at least, to Miss Cefiro. An hour before the class dismissal, the president of the student government went around the classrooms to announce the teachers’ picks for their ‘little teacher’.
“For Mister Seth Gilles, Kyle Adonisio will teach in his class!”
Of course, Kyle’s classmates from 8-Jade were happy for him, as evidenced by their cheers and claps. Even Stephanie, who wanted that role so much, was all-smiles; she even teased him and slapped his back as congratulations.
As for me, I chose Kyle because I knew he could take on those troublesome brats in the lower sections. Some of those guys were even his friends, so I’m confident they’re bound to show some respect to him, come the day when the ‘little teachers’ would teach. On the other hand, Stephanie’s parents were strict, so it’s not a surprise that she’s sheltered from those types of people.
Haa…I’m really sorry, Miss Cefiro. I’m a teacher, and I should do what is right, not what is requested of me…even if it’s from a friend like you.
Come on…I’m an adult. I should be prepared to take some difficult decisions like this.
When the bell rang dismissing the class, I purposefully went past 8-Jade’s classroom. Truth be told, for some reason, I felt guilty concerning my pick. Seeing Stephanie like that—acting as if nothing happened—somewhat worried me. So, while trying to act innocent, I came to check on her.
I nearly jumped when I felt someone surprise me from behind, “Wha—”. As it turned out, it was Stephanie. She was all-smiles, though there was an air of ‘doom’ around her.
“I’m thrilled you chose Kyle over me,” she told me.
“Haha…if you are, then why are you pissed at me?”
“Me?” Stephanie chuckled as she slapped my shoulder, “Why would I be pissed? Look Sir, I’m all smiles!”
“T-True, haha…but for some reason, your slaps are getting stronger.”
“It’s only your imagination, Sir Seth!”
“O-Ow!” Well, she eventually stopped hitting my shoulder. It’s not a big issue to me, and I could feel Stephanie’s frustration as well. After a while, she just leaned on the wall, sighing. I asked, “Are you alright?”
There was a moment of complete silence. The noises of students hurrying to finish their cleaning duties, as well as the ones running after their classmates drowned whatever sound there were between us. Then, I saw my student nod, and she added, “I wanted to be a little teacher badly, Sir…”
“I know, and I’m sorry for not picking you.”
“No,” she shook her head, “please don’t apologize, Sir. It’s not your fault. I guess I’m too focused on running after my cousin, I missed the true purpose of what being a ‘teacher’ is all about.”
“It’s fine…” I reassured her. “I can understand your situation; it’s just that, I can’t compromise this time, Steph. Teaching is a serious business; it’s something you don’t decide overnight. You guys know me, as long as it’s for your good—and your classmates as well—I’m okay with going along.”
“True…that’s why we think you’re one of the best teachers we have…”
“Thanks for that. But yes, going back to you, don’t compare yourself to your cousin,” I gave her a head pat. “You got a different route ahead of you, see? So, take that as Stephanie Cefiro, not as Carl Mijares.”
“…” My student said nothing after that, save for a quick goodbye and good evening before she went home with her friends. I’m confident that with that conversation, Stephanie understood what I was trying to tell her.
After all, this ‘Little Teacher’ thing is something that should be enjoyed, instead of becoming a battlefield for a senseless rivalry…
The next day was just like any other school day. Stephanie Anya Cefiro, though she would come to my class a bit late at times, would never be absent. And true enough, she appeared at the door of Class Jade’s room five minutes late from when I came in and started my lesson.
“Good afternoon, Sir!” she greeted, complete with a bow. “I’m sorry I’m came in late.”
I never answered her. I just gestured for Stephanie to take her seat, and continued in my lecture. See, I know that in some schools in other countries, such behavior was unacceptable. However, here, our superiors would give conflicting orders. One would say, ‘Don’t tolerate their tardiness!’, then the next day, there was another memorandum telling us ‘Don’t let your students loiter outside the classroom during class hours’.
Okay, it should be easy to follow; the teacher would let the student inside the classroom to comply with the second order, and mete out punishment on the same student so that their tardiness would be corrected.
But then, there’s that another ‘guideline’ for us that warned, ‘Avoid giving punishment to the students. Give them positive discipline!’.
What the fuck? These old, incompetent crones running our education system didn’t have an idea of how to ‘positively discipline’ a class of 75-80 students, so they’d just hand down confusing memos and pass the blame on us teachers if there’s a glaring problem that was exposed to the media.
So, as for me? Though I wanted to deal with my students’ habit of tardiness, I’d just let it pass. I don’t want to stress myself in dealing with that problem of theirs; my hands were already full of keeping the class discipline of 80 students.
I think I got carried away in my thoughts once again.
When I finished writing on the whiteboard, I gave the instructions to my students, “For today, as I told you yesterday, we’ll be doing what we call ‘Coffee Art’. Basically, it’s a fun activity where we use coffee as a material in painting scenes, or sometimes, portraits of people.”
Heh, although I disliked the subject that was forced upon me to teach, Art was an exception. I’m just silent about it, but I love these sessions because I get to ‘legally’ show off my talents to my awestruck students. They thought I was one of the best illustrators/painters/graphic artists in the world, though in reality, my ‘fame’ was confined to the four corners of our small school.
Come on, it’s not that bad to wallow in the adoration of others from time to time. Builds a lot of self-confidence, see?
A-Anyway, I didn’t have to tell my students to get the materials I asked them to bring; when they heard me explain what we will do, they brought their paintbrushes and coffee packets from their bags. Some of them even called the attention of their classmates to ask for a piece of bond paper, even as I was telling them my instructions.
“Okay, I think everyone is ready with their materials?” I got my own brush, and coffee, as well. “Let me show you how it’s done!”
Coffee art was pretty easy to do, especially if you’re painting a scenery. It only gets difficult when you’re doing a ‘real’ portrait of a person, similar to those charcoal ones. The sample artwork I did in front of everyone in Class Jade took me no less than two minutes to finish; it’s just a river scene against a background of forests and hills, like the ones you’d see from the ancient Chinese silk paintings.
Of course, everyone was mesmerized by what I just did, not knowing that I repeatedly practiced at home to paint that fast. Got to impress my customers, see? After I put in the finishing touches, I hanged the artwork at the whiteboard for all of them to use as a ‘guide’.
“Think you can do better than that?” I challenged them. “Best art gets a treat from me!”
So, without delay, my students got to work on their coffee art. It was a noisy activity, but I kept them on tolerable levels as I went around the classroom and the corridors where some of them positioned themselves for a more comfortable ‘work space’. Class Jade members were informally grouped according to their circle of friends, so it was easy for me to check on them.
“Eh?” I approached Kyle, Ferdie and Denver, “Where’s Stephanie?”
“I think she went down the first floor, Sir,” it was Ferdie who gave the complete answer. “She told us that she’s comfortable in working alone, so we let her be.”
“I see…” Well, though it was a school activity, our Grade 8 students could only stay in the corridors of the 2nd level, should the subject teacher decided they need more ‘work space’. The only time they could come down was during their recess, or when they would go to the comfort room.
I guess Stephanie forgot that school rule, eh?
I followed the direction Ferdie gave me, and indeed, I found my student at the foot of the stairs, doing her coffee art. As her back was turned on me, she didn’t see me approach, and I decided to play a little prank on her.
However, as I come near Stephanie, I realized that she was not painting anything. She was fixing a bandage on her right arm, near the wrist. I didn’t like what I was seeing, so I straightened myself and called her attention, “Hey.”
“!!!” my student nearly jumped in surprise, and she quickly hid her arm.
But, I made it clear to her that I already saw it. “It’s useless to hide it from me, Stephanie. I’ve dealt with a lot of student issues before, so I can tell you cut yourself.”
“What’s the problem?”
“You’re not,” I sat in one of the steps of the stairs, near her. “Is this about the little teacher thing?”
Stephanie, though she averted her eyes away from mine, shook her head.
“Really? I won’t get angry if you tell me your honest feelings.”
Silence. Stephanie knew she couldn’t escape my questions, so after a few minutes, she heaved a sigh, and confided, “My mom and I got into a fight yesterday, Sir. She kept on comparing me to Carl, and in her anger, she threw a plate at me, which I narrowly avoided. However, the broken pieces flew and one of those wounded me on the arm.”
“Oh…is it okay now?”
“It is, Sir, but it’s still painful for me to move my hand…” she admitted. “I don’t care about your promise to treat the winner; I just wanted to give you the best painting in Class Jade as thanks to your lessons about drawing. However…I guess, I have to make do of my situation.”
At that moment, I could not say anything, not even a word to comfort Stephanie. Maybe that’s the reason she was so forceful on me to appoint her as my ‘little teacher’. Although I dismissed at her goal and dedication as somewhat ‘shallow’, I never considered that her happiness depended on it…
Haa…I’m a failure as a teacher.
Author's Note: (1) One of the negative aspects of traditional Filipino culture is that, relatives often encourage unhealthy competition and rivalry among their children. From singing, dancing, and even courses in college, our parents, uncles and aunts would always prod their children to do something those kids don't really like, all for the sake of bragging rights in every reunions (which happens mostly during the Christmas season). Those who think otherwise is branded as a 'black sheep' and is treated as an oddity at best, and a 'weirdo' at worst.
I encountered a lot of such cases during my stint as a teacher, and, believe it or not, some of my students actually contemplated suicide because of this. They think they are worthless and failures.