Yesterday, I cried. I cried in front of my students. If you know me well enough, you would know how out of character this is for me. But I cried because yesterday, I told my students my fears.
Denh Mar is one of the older students in my class. His mother told me that he used to sniff rugby and run away with friends. The past few months, he has been quite violent and aggressive. He would punch and threaten his classmates for the smallest things. Sometimes he would refuse to enter the classroom and hang on to the grills of the gates or windows. I would have to pull his fingers with force and bring him inside the room. There are days he would refuse to leave his seat when it’s dismissal time and again, I would have to pull him with equal force and gentleness because I’m always afraid of hurting him. His classmates witness our (almost) daily struggles and tension – whether I’m calling out on his behavior or I’m physically pulling him away from beating up another boy. I have asked his classmates time and again to be patient with him even if it breaks my heart to see them in tears and listen to them say, “Wala naman po akong ginagawa sa kanya.”
But yesterday, I cracked. He punched a classmate several times and refused to be held back by the other boys. After I pulled him away, his classmate ran to the other side of the room and started crying and shaking. Denh Mar was breathing heavily and had so much anger in his eyes. While I held him down to his seat, his classmates told me what happened, “Ma’am, nabunggo lang po yung silya niya.”
For the first time, I isolated a student in my class. I told him to leave and to never come to our class anymore if he didn’t want to. He got his backpack and slumped on his armchair, head buried in his arms. I walked towards him, ready to send him out and let him go home. Then I heard him crying softly. He has never cried before.
Outside our classroom, he cried quietly and finally said, “Babalik na po ako sa klase.”
At the end of the day, we gathered in our storytelling area because I promised them that I would read to them before going home. Before we started the story, I decided to have a quiet talk with my students. That same day, two MA students interviewed me. They asked me, “Where or how do you see your students ten years from now?” My initial answer was that I wish my students would be in school or working.
As I faced my students, I honestly told them that I don’t know where they would be ten years from now. I admitted that some of them might not finish school at all. I told them that I’ve caught a glimpse of how hard their lives could be because I’ve seen where they live – and that’s when the tears came. Because at that moment, I realized that there’s only so much I can do. It pained me to admit it to them. I asked for their patience and understanding, because in all the times I’ve gotten mad in class or expressed frustration, it’s only because I didn’t know what to do anymore.
So I looked into their eyes and told them this: Ten years from now, I hope they remember that they would always have our class. That there were people who were kind to them. That no matter how bad things get, they would have our class and me to come home to. That when they feel lost and hopeless, they would always have one adult rooting for them to make it. Because even when the school year ends, we can move on knowing 3-masayahin happened.
“There is a way to be good again.” (The Kite Runner)