(In the beginning, we had already been warned by the head teacher that the students would only stay here for two months, only for winter break (December to February), so we mustn’t get too attached to them. Still, it was protocol to ask them the day of their departure back to Korea.)
The past weeks had taken me to a roller coaster of emotions. It all started with, “When are you going back to Korea?”
Favorite student simply looked at me and telepathically spitted, “Wat-to?”
His face brightened up, his lips stretched to a smile and his eyes widened, “A– why are you speaking in Korean?”
I returned his smile. “When are you going back to Korea?”
He guessed sometime after Valentines Day. “Maybe,” he muttered.
As weeks passed, I noticed that he started to tell more stories in class. With his broken English and iRiver electronic dictionary, I found out about his leg injury, his P15,000 allowance here in the Philippines, his love for Philippine mangoes, their family hardware store, his older brother who rarely came out of his room, and his fear of Slender Man. He was my closest student. And even though instructors were forbidden to talk about who our best or favorite students were, I knew that he was mine.
During break time, students usually go out and play with their friends, but I found favorite student sitting on a bench alone, unmoving. I went to his direction, “What’s wrong?”
He answered with a nonchalant Nothing.
“If I gave you a pen, will you be happy?”
He shifted in his seat, still dazed. “No.”
I hurriedly went to my bag and got the silver pen he asked for days ago. When I came back, he was still there, unmoving. I handed him the pen and he beamed, “Yaay! I’m not sad anymore!” And I smiled wider than him.
Like what our head teacher had said during training, the problem of the kids are very simple. They could make you feel like a superhero sometimes. But when you think you make their day, really, they end up making yours.
Memorable Day 2: Emotions Transcend Words
I got cough. I had been sporadically coughing in class for almost a month already. During the first days, I had to open the door so that I could do my business outside the room, and to avoid passing the infection to my students. One time, however, while favorite student was telling a story, I had a coughing fit. I had to run to the comfort room in the middle of his story. When I came back, I was red and teary eyed, “Sorry.”
“Teacher, you have cold?”
Peeking from my handkerchief, I weakly replied, “Yes, I’m sorry.”
It’s a simple gesture: a recognition of my condition. In the next days, he became nicer and more considerate of me. In fact, when we conducted a group class, he helped me with the other student. “Teacher, it’s hard for he in English. Can I Korean?”
As their teacher, we should be the one helping them; but there are times when they would help and we would more grateful for it than for the payslip the administration gives.
Memorable Day 3: Punishment Empathy
I found out late that he was given a punishment for an error he did not commit. Along with other sixth-graders, he had to memorize a short story in English. On the day I found out, it was already presentation day, but he was not half-way done with the story.
“Why do you have to do that?” I exasperatedly spat.
“I don’t know.” He was becoming more annoyed as well.
“It’s unfair,” I mumbled.
I tried my best to help him memorize, but in the end, he did not finish. When the dismissal bell faintly rang, he stopped memorizing and melancholically laid his head against the wall. “It’s time,” I said the obvious.
He said nothing.
I opened the door and he was still unmoving. I don’t know what happened but in a split-second, he stood up and said, “Break a leg.”
“Break a leg means good luck, right?” was what he tried to say?
“Yeah, yeah.” We exited the room. “Break a leg,” I told him, “but don’t be Iron Man again, ok?” I giggled, referring to the iron that was thrust to his broken leg back when he was younger.
As someone older, we should be more in control of our angst. When we lose it, we pass the negative aura to the students. However, for some reason, favorite student managed to hold my cool for me. I wish I had said thank you.
His Last Days at the Academy
Last week, I assumed that favorite student was going to spend Valentines in the country – that was five days leeway. Then I found out that he only had three days left at the Academy.
“When are you leaving?” I asked too fast that he simply stared at me again.
I exhaled, tried to gain my composure, and spoke more slowly, “When are you leaving?”
“I leave Wednesday.” He said as he fumbled with my iPad.
He paused and looked me in the eyes, “But I think we visit on Thursday.” He went back to playing, then mumbled, “Maybe.”
To ease my shock, a teacher knocked on our room and asked a heaven-sent question, “You wanna have pizza with the kids tomorrow?”
I smiled and asked favorite student, “You want pizza?”
“Yes!” He was enthusiastic. But, of course, at the back of my head, I knew that he wasn’t going to spend much because his allowance was running low, so I volunteered to pay for his share. “FInd me after lunch,” I told him, “We’ll have pizza tomorrow.”
“Yaay!” he beamed.
We did have pizza that Tuesday. We all had pizza. And it was fun because communal eating, personally, is something that bonds people. I used to eat a pint of ice cream with my university friends; I ate pizza with them as well. The last time we did that was a despedida for one of the gang members. And likewise, this particular food celebration, meant that it was despedida time again. They were leaving soon.
Oh how my stomach churned when we held our last class with another student! Instead of getting to know favorite student’s plan when he goes back to Korea, the class ended up with him and the other student playing with my iPad. That was our last “class” together and he didn’t really leave me with a proper good bye.
I told myself it was ok. He would visit tomorrow.
Tomorrow came; it was Thursday, their last day in the country. The classes at the Academy had started already, but no student visited. No good byes? The question kept looping in my head until break time. I was still miserable and whiny, so when I saw my co-teacher and friend, I complained a lot. “Wala man lang paalam?” And in the middle of that monologue of complaints, my friend just stopped talking and stared behind me. When I looked back, he was there.
“Hi,” he greeted. And it was also his final good bye because the bell rang and I had other students to teach. Through the window of my classroom, I saw him leave.