The cream section captured my awe as probably they got infected with the virus I carried – the virus to achieve and become the best that they could be. Later, I found myself no longer just their chemistry teacher. Especially when we would share light moments during break time and after dismissal time in the afternoon. I became a friend to most of them.
In one of the conventions that I had attended to chaperon our school’s student delegates, I never knew I would discover more about one of my students whom I sat beside with while we were in the gym watching the ceremonies of a religious gathering. In between watching and paying attention to the speaker of invited guest priests, bishops, and movie personalities, we took chances of whispering our conversations to each other. I learned she never saw her father again since that time that her parents decided to part ways. It only occurred to her then, now that she was a teenager, what it meant to lose a dad who should have been with her in her growing up years. She had this grandfather whom she fondly called Tatay who stood in her dad’s stead. Since then, we both became close to one another.
I could not recall anymore how it started. I just knew, in one of her letters to me, she addressed me DAD. Oh, how I cherished those moments. My being a teacher to her added a different touch. I would write her notes which I signed back as dad. On her high school graduation, she was so proud as she was one among the honor students telling her Tatay that I became one of those who touched her life most. Her mommy knew how close we were.
Unfortunately, on the next five years of my teaching career, I was appointed to become the discipline head of our department. I accepted it with great conviction that I could probably make a difference for the boys. But it triggered students to become aloof with me. Many distanced themselves. They saw me as someone stern and stoic. Someone they avoided. In those years, my heart bled as I never wanted to be abhorred by students. I wanted to be someone they could run to, I wanted to be a friend as I wished they could be, too, to me.
Meanwhile, for her next two years as a college student at the Ateneo, she still continued to write notes to me with the same affectionate dad in her greeting. In one of her letters, she asked me to keep it and show it back to her 10 years after. I did. We chanced upon each other again- and again inside a gym while my ex-girlfriend and I attended a musical competition. Fortunately I brought with me her two letters she wrote 11 years back. I showed them back to her and it rekindled our once beautiful past. Oh how we laughed and giggled. She hasn’t changed a bit even as she is now just waiting for her bar exams result to come out. [Now she is a full-fledged lawyer based in New York.]
But there is more to her two letters than what she knew. Eight years after she wrote them, I showed them to Rona, one of the students who became close to me in our moments of sharing together. At that time, our friendship was already going beyond hi’s and hello’s. I felt she was awed by the closeness of the letter writer to me by calling me her DAD. She remarked "Probably you were so loving a dad to her. Buti pa siya tinawag kang dad.”, she sighed. I held her hands and said straight in her eyes, “You, too, can call me dad…”
My life changed since. Rona represented the ordinary students who came in and out of my classroom. To me, she symbolized a number of those who have so many stories to tell about themselves. Her dad, too, together with her younger sister, left her, when she was yet in the elementary.
Rona transformed me from being the business-like teacher to my students to a more caring and understanding one. She brought back those good old days of my teaching career when I was a teacher my students could run to. From my former image when I was a discipline head, gradually students began to be close to me again. Many of them felt they were lucky because they became close to me as their head in academics. Truth is, I felt the other way around. I was blessed because of them.
Today, I see my every student the face of both Tricia and Rona. I wish I had the luxury of time to go deeper into each one of them. Their smiles probably hide something painful within and like any other mortals, each of them could be waiting for someone to just simply listen to them not with the ears but with the heart or probably just a DAD to them.