Whether good or bad, we all have those profound moments in life that will forever be etched in our souls. For me, those were the painful memories that I had buried deep inside my mind. This is one of them.
I was about 14 years old back then, a sophomore in high school. And this note was left to me by my History teacher almost 14 years ago by the end of the school year. I think the year was 2006 if I recall correctly. The translated note said:
“I’m very frustrated with your behavior this year! You are not the student that I thought I would always be proud of! I hope I did not make a mistake when I said that you will be successful someday!”
He was an educator. He was someone I admired because I love history, and I’m genuinely fond of learning something that does not involve numbers.
I had good grades that year. In fact, I was in the upper 5% of the entire sophomore class. My first thought after reading this was, “What did I do wrong? What did I do that offended him so much?”
I kept thinking about my behavior for the entire school year. I know I’m loud and noisy and generally opinionated with topics that I’m passionate about. Maybe he didn’t like my political views? I was always critical of the government. And I wasn’t afraid to show my opinions during our daily news reports in class. Was he offended somehow?
I asked myself, “What did I do wrong?”
I recalled the times when he told me that I was hanging out with the wrong crowd. He not-so-subtly conveyed that I should be like our class valedictorian and be friends with the other “top achievers” from the sophomore class.
You see I don’t like cliques. I make friends easily because I was a boisterous and fun-loving teen. But most of all, I don’t segregate my friends based on how high or low their exam scores were.
I asked myself again, “What did I do wrong?”
Then I recalled the watch incident. I was someone who never carried a watch. I’ve never worn a watch even when I was in elementary school. I didn’t see the need to have one since most schools usually have wall clocks inside the classroom or along the corridors. I didn’t even wear bracelets because it irritates me when I have something that’s hanging off my wrists the whole day.
One random day, the same teacher asked me what time it was. When I said that I don’t carry a watch with me, he gave an incredulous sneer and said, “You’re an honor student, and you don’t own a watch? M*** (the class valedictorian) always has a watch with her.”
This was the first time that someone smart-shamed me. I didn’t know what it was at the time. All I knew was that I felt inadequate like I was a fake. It made me feel like I don’t deserve to be part of the honor roll. Would my class standing be diminished if I don’t wear a watch? Is it an unspoken requirement for honor students to wear one?
Nonetheless, practicality won over me. I couldn’t for the life of me change my habit and wear a watch just to please him. It was irritating and I felt pressured whenever I take exams and I would instinctively look at the time on my watch.
Still, that note left a bitter taste in my mouth. And even though I went on stage for awards and recognition that year, I still felt like a fraud. I felt like my qualifications were lacking somehow, and I didn’t deserve to go onstage and get my medals.
Of course, I remembered brushing this incident off like a typical teenager would. I even told my friends about it and laughed it off as if it was nothing. I maintained a facade that I was alright. I pretended to be fine because I wanted to show my teacher that his note will not faze me. I tried to keep my cool and be my usual joyful self just to spite him.
But whenever things go wrong in school, I always remember that daunting note. It was like a premonition of how my life will look like in the future: “I hope I’m not wrong when I said that you will be successful someday!” That line was like a curse for me. It implies that I will fail. It implies that despite my hard work, I’ll still be a failure. And it turned out that he was right.
In my final year of high school, I was kicked out of the honor roll of the graduating class. My grade in math was too low for me to qualify. When I heard the news, I suddenly remembered that note. My initial thoughts were, “Oh, what he said came true.” I was defeated. I felt like it was the start of a downward spiral.
My mom was furious. We were a family of high achievers, and this news was one of the gravest sins that her children can commit. She even said that to our family, this is like announcing a teenage pregnancy. Her disappointment was so palpable that I couldn’t speak to her for weeks.
It felt like a nail in the coffin for me. I never felt so small. I constantly thought about that note and really believed that it was the end of the road for me. That was it. He already predicted my demise, and it came true. My four years of hard work in high school didn’t mean anything.
This is what he said would happen. And I only got myself to blame. I blamed myself for being stupid, for being bad at Algebra and for not studying enough. I didn’t know what to do with myself. But still, I maintained an outward appearance of nonchalance in school because I was too proud to admit that I was utterly broken.
This was our last year in high school, and we were all taking our college entrance exams. I can’t remember what exactly made me pick myself up and pull myself together from that slump. Maybe it was my mom’s nagging or just my stubborn pride, but I distinctly recalled that note and said, “Putangina! This is not some sort of manifest destiny. I won’t let this dictate my life!”
It fueled me to study hard for the UPCAT. I swore that I will get in at the top university in the country, and I did. I may not have any honor medals in high school, but I graduated cum laude in college. I even had my Master’s degree from the same university two years ago.
I saw this note about a year ago while I was cleaning the attic. I took a photo of it to send to my high school friends. I still keep in touch with the “wrong crowd” that this teacher kept pushing me away from. We remained good friends until now, 14 years later. We still see each other from time to time to catch up.
I sent this note on our group chat, along with a few other high school mementos that I kept in storage. It wasn’t until that time that I admitted how devastated I was with that note from our history teacher. It’s water under the bridge now, so to speak. Because obviously his premonition didn’t actually come true and I’m doing just fine.
But still, my heart ached for the confused teen that I was back then. I showed this note to other people that I trust, and they said something along the lines of, “These are the kinds of things that a teacher should never do.” And I totally agree.
I only realized it now, but that note left a permanent scar on my teenage mind. If it wasn’t for my sheer stubbornness to prove him wrong, I would have believed him until now. I would still be the same insecure teenager who felt like a fraud.
But I’m glad that I got to open up to my friends about this. And because of the Covid-19 lockdown, I finally got the chance to gather my thoughts and write about this painful memory without disregarding the feelings of my fragile teenage brain.
Because even as an adult, I told myself that I was just overly sensitive at that time, and it was not something I should cry about at night. Because I did cry about it constantly. Especially when his “premonition” came true during my final year in high school. His words hit me the most vulnerable part of my mind because what I hated more than becoming a failure, was to be a disappointment to myself and to my family.
To this day, I still don’t wear a watch. I do this out of solidarity for my younger self. I was once a 14-year-old girl who was defenseless against some unwarranted bullying from a high school teacher. I now understand (and admit) that what he did to me can be considered as bullying. He bullied me just because he didn’t know what to do with a student who does not fit his arbitrary standards of an honor student.
I have no ill-will toward my teacher now. His so-called premonition turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because you see, even at 14, I swore that I will not be like him. I told myself that I will not become the same bitter and angry person as he was when I grow up. And if I had an opportunity to become an educator, I will never ever do something like this. I will never intentionally ruin a child’s future with some callous words.