“It’s so cold here and there are lots of mosquitoes. It’s very dark and I don’t know where I am.”
It was 11 in the evening. I was in a restaurant studying for my MA class when I heard someone hysterically crying, asking for help. I searched for the owner of the voice but I couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. The restaurant was well-lit. Yes, it was cold because of the air-conditioning. But there were no mosquitoes there, and my presence definitely was proof that she was not alone.
I looked at the next table occupied by college students. They had piled their books in front of them. And then I saw one of the girls with a phone to her ears, covering it with her hands.
“I don’t know what to do,” she continued. “There are three men coming. Please come and help me.”
She stuck her tongue out to her friends who were intently listening and were about to burst into laughter. But she signaled them to zip their lips.
When the conversation was over, the group of girls started to file out of the restaurant giggling and laughing. I thought it would be impossible for me to continue studying there, and decided to look for another place. But before going out, I looked again at the face of the girl who I thought would have a nice career dubbing movies or voice-acting. But I pitied the person at the other end of the line. I could only imagine how anxious he or she was.
I met the girl again two months later, and would see her regularly for the next five months under less than happy circumstances. I had decided to apply for a teaching job at the university where I was taking my masters and I was assigned to teach literature. And there she was in one of the subjects I was handling, usually texting for the whole duration of the class.
When I threw questions at her, she would just smile coyly and say, “Pass.” Or sometimes, she would listen to her seatmates and repeat the wrong answers they gave her. During quizzes or exams, I would catch her looking at her classmates’ papers or talking to them in whispers, but she would still end up not writing sensible answers to the essay questions I gave. I thought it would be a waste of time to reprimand her because she was doomed to flunk the subject anyway.
But a drama activity I required from their class provide her an opportunity to redeem herself. I was not surprised because she had proven to be a very good at portraying the girl in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 118. I thought her performance put her on the borderline between passing and failing, but she threw her chance away with her final exam.
Because it was a departmental exam, teachers couldn’t serve as proctors in their own classes. I was in the middle of my watch in my other class when I saw her outside the door wearing a very sad face and signaling that she wanted to talk to me. She was on the verge of tears.
She told me their proctor sent her out after confiscating her paper. But she swore that she was not cheating. I told her to wait until the exam was over and then I would discuss the problem with their proctor.
The proctor told me she was sure she had seen the student cheating. The proctor said she even warned her twice but she just ignored it.
“I never looked at my classmate’s paper, Sir. Honest!” the girl insisted. I told her I would think it over and if I decided to believe her, I would let her retake the exam.
I was torn between her avowals of honesty and the proctor’s allegation of cheating. I remembered the incident in the restaurant, the many instances when she cheated in my class, her flair for dramatic and weighed them against the integrity of my colleague, her certainty about what she saw, and her standing as a teacher herself. Then I decided to give the student an “F” as her final grade.
But I told her why and recalled the times when I caught her cheating in class. I could not bring myself to mention the drama she had staged when I first noticed her.
She accepted my decision and left with a sincere thank you. But that I couldn’t sleep. I felt so very sorry for her.
Was it right to base my decision on the things she had done before? What if she was really telling the truth this time? If she were in my shoes wouldn’t she have decided the same way? I blamed myself for not calling her attention the first time I saw her cheat in class and not chiding her for what she did in the restaurant.
What things worse for me was that I always emphasized in class the value of forgiveness.
Now, every time we see each other in the hallway, she would smile and greet me as if nothing unpleasant had happened between us. Sometime I wish she would not do that because she makes me feel guilty and returning her smiles and hellos is proving too awkward for me. But thanks to her, I have become a lot more strict in class.
I hope that every student who gets to read this article would understand that teachers can only according to their best judgment and that most of the time their decisions will be based on what they have seen in the past.
To teachers, I say trust your heart. Understand that tears sometimes mean nothing, just like phone calls, even when the person swears that he or she is telling the truth.
Roger Fantonial Garcia, 24, teaches literature and humanities.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.