Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Long Flight of Stairs

I could swear that I was steaming and fuming. Angry, frustrated, irritated, burning deep within.

How could those bunch of idiots do that to my car?

Earlier the morning I walked into a class of 35 boys standing still and straight with their heads bowed low. Not even the usual 'Good Morning' from them, not even the usual chat we engage in before I kick start the class, not even the usual roll call to make sure that everyone's in the class before they take out their books.

What happened? I asked.

John, the smallest boy in my class that had the widest and warmest grin on earth, took a small step in front from his table. He looked up at me but immediately dodged my eyes.

'Sir.. sir.. I..' he stammered. Before he could go on, he burst into tears and a group of older boys surrounded him to comfort and console him.

What on earth was going on now?

'Sir, let me explain and bear the grunt of this whole thing,' Jack the monitor came up to me and said bravely. 'We did something terribly wrong against you sir, and we want to apologise.'

He told the whole story in length. It all started earlier the morning when the boys went for their PE class. Their sport for the week is basketball, and they were happily playing in the basketball court, for a moment forgetting the fact that the basketball court was just beside the teacher's parking lot. Then John got the ball and took a shot. A wild shot obviously, because in of all cars that were parked there the ball landed right on my car.

'A dent sir,' Jack said. 'Probably as large as a moon crater.' The boys giggled a little but was short lived as soon as they saw my increasingly blackening face.

'Sir.. that's not all..' Jack continued.

What now?

'Your windscreen sir.. your car's windscreen...'

'YOU BROKE MY CAR WINDSCREEN?!?!?!?' The glass would have shattered had I held my breath any longer that time.

I could swear that I was steaming and fuming. Angry, frustrated, irritated, burning deep within. I dashed out of the classroom not waiting for anything or anyone. Behind me, the boys tried to run behind me but stopped at the door of the classroom. 'We're sorry sir! We didn't mean it!!' They shouted, but that didn't matter anymore.

Sorry? Tell me more dudes. Tell me more about being sorry.

For me to reach the carpark from the classroom, I had to take a long flight of stairs. Thanks to some British architects who first designed the school building back in 1915, I had to walk 5 flights of stairs every morning just to reach their class. At times like this, I sure wished that it was a modern building with fewer flights of stairs, or perhaps a elevator.

All along going down that flight of stairs, my mind was no longer on the car or the windscreen. It was on the boys. How could they have done that to me, after all the things I've done for them? So much for being grateful for the teacher that taught them English and Maths when no teacher in the right mind would want to teach them. So much for being appreciative by wrecking a car that took me almost 6 years to clear off the installment fees.

The first day in school, I remembered my colleagues warning me about that class.

'They are a bunch of gangsters son,' an old and wise senior teacher said. 'Stay out and away of that class! They're nothing but a bunch of donkeys that are here only for the attendance.' I laughed and thought that they were just joking. If only I had listen to his advice from the very start..

They will pay for every single cent of the repair! I swear!!

I reached the ground floor in record time and dashed for the carpark. At the back of my mind, I was imagining the worst scenario. Shattered glass everywhere, a large dent that probably stretched the metal hood of my car to breaking point, alarm blaring...

And I stopped right in my footstep.

No alarm. No glass on the floor. No dents.

My car, apparantly, was untouched.

I thought it was a joke or a prank, and I took a closer step ahead to inspect my car, making sure that it was still in one piece. It sure was in perfect condition, exactly the same way I left it at 6.30am, only with a little difference.

Underneath the wiper is a little blue note.

Gently removing it from the windscreen, I opened it up. A neatly folded crisp piece of paper with the lyrics of my favourite song 'You raised me up' written meticulously on the left side, and on the right side was a memo.

Dear Sir,

For all the times that you were with us
For all the days that you spent with us
For all the hours that you taught us
For all the moments that you adviced us

For all that we could ever be
For all that we could ever achieve
For all that we could ever dream of

We owe it to you.

To the greatest teacher in this world, not because you were a Cambridge A1 graduate in English or because you were the national Best Teacher recipient, but because you were more than a teacher to us. More than teaching English, you taught us as students. More than being a teacher, you were a friend and a companion.

We love you sir.

Your boys.

p/s: Sir, does 1st April strike you? :D

Folding the note back, I suddenly remembered. How could I have forgotten! It was April's Fool!

The walk back up to my classroom took longer than ever. This time, I was so full of remorse, so full of anguish and anger. Angry at myself for misjudging them, angry at myself for thinking so lowly of them, angry at myself for not giving them a fair opportunity that they deserve, angry at myself for being so materialistic.

During that climb up the stairs, I recalled all the times I spent with them. It was hard to motivate them. They were mostly poor boys that came from broken families of single moms or runaway dads, having to work part-time for to help support their siblings. Coming to school was meaningless to them. No teacher had ever gave them the chance to learn, but I stood to the promise and believed that no student deserves to be left out.

And I left no student behind. From the very start they noticed that I was teaching them with everything that I had, and they gave me that chance to learn from me. The principal told me not to waste too much time on them and focus on other better classes, but instead I spent most of my time with them. Exercises after exercises, workbooks after workbooks. Most of them couldn't afford it, I told them to take loans that would never be claimed for from me. Weeks before the PMR test, they begged me to give them extra classes so that they won't fail their tests. With more than half of the class nearly going down to their knees in desperation, I was moved and touched by such determination. I gave them what they asked for, and their results shocked everyone in the school. They performed better than students in classes above them, and no one in my class failed. Eventually they were supposed to be shifted to better classes, but they protested.

'We want the sir to teach us! He and he alone!' They marched to the principal's office and demanded. 'After all he was the only one that would teach us when no other teachers would teach us, so why shouldn't he continue to teach us?' The principal had no choice but to finally succumb to their demands "on the conditions that you don't fail any tests in the near future".

Walking into my classroom with my eyes not focused on what was in front of me, my boys scared the daylight out of me.

'SURPRISE SIR!!' They shouted in unison. Jack was holding a chocolate cake with 5 candles on it. John was a changed boy from the sombre and sad self earlier on. Back to his normal self, he was beaming with pride as he held the cake with Jack.

'5 candles for the amazing 5 years that you taught us sir!' John exclaimed proudly. 'But we aren't that sure of how many teaspoons of sugar should go into this cake, so...'

'You boys baked me a cake?' I couldn't hold my tears from rolling this time. My boys baked me a cake? Not even my girlfriend ever baked me a cake and here are my boys going to such trouble for me..

'Thank you! Thank you boys!' touched with such sincere gesture and act of sincerity, I blowed out the candles and hugged my boys one by one.

That day we had very little lessons taught. Perhaps that was because for once, they taught me how to love and be loved. We spent the whole morning laughing and talking about the earlier days we enjoyed together. That April's Fool day, they were the teacher and I the student. That April's Fool day, they saw me both laugh and cry. That April's Fool day, they showed me what it meant to be remembered and appreciated. That April's Fool day, I learned that the essence of being a teacher is not the subject you teach but the students you educate.


sunnybees said...

i wonder do u wrote tis urself or...??? nway its very touching at d end of d story, i almost cried...hehe

Henry Yew said...

This is a good story! Really, Joash, your stories never cease to fascinate me!

By the way, I've moved my blog over here.

~mandy~ said...

Amazes me Jo, how you come up with such a variety of stories--different people, different settings, different points of view, different storylines. It's almost like you took a random bit of the persona of every person walking down a street. Your gift bro :D