This past four weeks I had neither been very participative in class nor living up to the "funny guy" tag bestowed me. Three of my classmates noticed and told me about it. I wouldn't have realized my reticence had they not made their observation known.
Looking back, I did have some things to share: the first time a patient died on me, dealing with grieving significant others, ambubagging while transferring a critical patient, etc. But I kept mum. So, I wondered. For sure I was stressed but what was my stressor? I thought the rigours of academic and clinical activities but these have been constant since we started school and work February.
On second thought, I was having difficulty with one technical subject. The teacher's pace was too fast for me I could not catch up as well as the rest. Thursday was the crucial day when all that we have learned were put to a post-test. All my other classmates finished on time. I had to stay behind for an hour and a half more to finish the exam. I felt like the dumbest person in the world. It was a blow to my self-esteem. I felt sorry for myself I was almost in tears answering 10 more questions left in the midst of a cold room left empty except for the teacher and me.
When I got home I sat down and cried in frustration. As tears welled up my eyes, recollection of an elementary English teacher welled up from memory.
We were in the last leg of our finals. She summoned me to her room. Momentarily bespectacled and appropriately dressed, teacher was a respectable yet intimidating presence standing before her mentally impressionable and emotionally fragile young student sitting obediently at the corner of the empty room.
She did not beat about the bush. "You know, a student is not at fault. But a student should be honest and not tell a lie." Her opening line had me bewildered.
"How did you know the plural of spectrum is spectra and radium radia?" she asked, looking askance at me.
Dumbfounded, I replied with a reluctant voice, "Madam...I...just...did."
In the wink of an eye and without batting a lash she said, "You're so impossible. Many in the first section did not get it. How come you did?"
I sat frozen, lost at her suspicion, mouth half-open with nothing coming out but empty air. Before I can think of an answer she roll-called from the homogenous section of categorically brightest students and persisted to express her puzzlement at how they could have missed it and I did not.
"Where did you get the answers? These students did not even get it. How much more you, you're from the second section?"
To her dissatisfaction I reiterated that I simply just knew the answers because, honestly, I simply just did. Also, being at her mercy did not afford me to form a rebuttal according to her level. There were other items in the exam she cited and deemed insurmountable for my capacity, at least how she perceived it. And the interrogation went on in a dizzying circle. We were exchanging essentially the same lines over and over. Never a recalcitrant student, I just sat there and continued being redundant.
Mind you, teacher's demeanor was nothing like soapish kontrabidas who blatantly and outlandishly make life a living hell for their objects of oppression. On the contrary, teacher was composed, carried an air of conviction and only periodically showed her frustration by tightening her lips, heaving a sigh and sharpening her gaze - which made her all the more menacing.
"Did anyone in the faculty help you? You can tell me, I won't say you named names," she goaded. "And it's not your fault that you're not smart."
I knew no other way to answer but truthfully. Sadly, it wasn't the truth she was looking for. With annoyance and exasperation strewn across her face, she issued her last retort, "Alright. But I don't believe you did not get some form of help. How did you get the correct answers when even the brightest students did not." And she dismissed me.
In a daze, I walked out of the room, past the hallway and empty classrooms. "What was she so upset about?" I lingered. I passed her test in flying (spectral) colors. Shouldn't she have been pleased? Even if I was not from the first section, shouldn't she have been proud of her "not so bright" student and herself?
From then on, I became wary being deemed smart or intelligent; I remember teacher who, in her own special way, told me I was better off not being so. From then on, I palpitate whenever I feel the urge to recite, more often not having the guts to raise my hand and share what I know; I remember teacher who did not appreciate me being knowledgeable. From then on, my mind clams up whenever confronted with a challenging subject matter; I remember teacher who dictated my capacity to learn. It has been more than twenty years ago and I still remember her words vividly.
A little while after the interrogation, it came to me how I got the answers - I watch too much TV and read too much comic books. Spectra was the name of a cartoon series villain; his weapon of destruction a spectrum of radioactive material. Radium I recalled from an illustrated sci-fi serial. I could only surmise radia was correct because it simply just felt right.
Like most people, I have moved past that sad incident in my past and made my own achievements. Throughout High School, without conscious effort and not exactly to my liking, I belonged to the homogenous section (Good thing the school administration has dumped this student classification in our senior year and thereafter). I went to a reputable school in college and pursued further studies in the Philippines' premiere university.
Teacher's words had long sunk into oblivion. But sometimes, just sometimes, they resurface. Perhaps to encourage me to do better, to move me to improve my own lot, and to remind me that I am as good as I believe I am. And for these lessons from teacher, I am grateful.