Miss Terror

When I entered the first year of college, I found out that one of my professors is the fearsome teacher of 1A. With several years of teaching in the campus, Miss Vergara has been secretly nicknamed,  “Miss Terror”. Others view her as the tall, petite, yet quite slouching lady who wears old glasses for her prying eyes that mismatches her perfectly flowing brown hair. She also has a daily change of silky dull-colored scarves around her neck which supposedly hides her inner feistiness. Nonetheless, people have respected her for her strong and unfading personality and unique teaching methods throughout the years.

Illustration by Lloyd Ivan Morales

Miss Vergara explains her lessons in her own terms and words, especially during recitations, as if she’s the book herself. In addition, unlike other teachers who bring a complete Powerpoint presentation with a clicker, she only need either a chalk or a board marker, and her half-empty cup of coffee. One can really tell when it was Miss Vergara’s time — with everyone on edge. 

But I, for one, hated her for almost the whole semester. It started when some people were trying to convince me that we belong to the same crowd–both with no parents, no real friends, and very distant to everyone else. I also wear that same messy bun that usually cues my hatred for people and my opposing views on some school standards. But despite having a similar physique, I refuse to be perceived as someone like a torturer whose desk is a pile of red-inked papers.  

Knowing her for a while, Miss Vergara is also the type who will never chase a student who cuts her classes or when one comes in late. One will also never dare to repeat questions about what they’ve missed in class, or when they fail to comply with her deadlines, leaving us to choose between failing or having sleepless nights.

Illustration by Lloyd Ivan Morales

Until one lunch time, I went to my favorite spot on campus–the wooden bench in the field I thought was my very own place whenever I felt the need to be alone. I saw her there, on my spot. To my surprise, she had company – stream of tears racing down her cheeks. Debating with myself if I should approach her or not, I stayed for a couple of minutes. When she started calming down, I chose to let my curiosity go, because like I said – she hates entertaining questions. What more when she’s highly emotional?

The next day, she appeared in our class fully composed, as if the person I saw just yesterday was someone else. I again wanted to ask her how she was, but I doubt that she cares even for her own self. The whole classroom was anxious as she announced the results of her 150-item quiz which was only preparation for our upcoming finals. When she mentioned my name, I felt the whole world crumbling upon me. Being the only one who got a failing grade, she started humiliating me in front of my classmates. “I don’t care how long you stand there, you will not be allowed to sit as long as you answer my questions right!” Miss Vergara said with fury. 

For the next few days, she continued to get under my skin every single minute. She even chose me as a group leader – a thing I also never did right. “All your group mates were able to submit their individual tasks on time, how come their own leader can not do her part right?” she bluntly asked.   

Feeling a wee bit ashamed, I strived harder than what was required. Instead of feeling mentally abused by letting her accusations loom over me, I started to become more active in her classes by listening to discussions attentively, and by really putting my best foot forward in every activity–just to prove to her that scores and mistakes will never define my mental capacity. Unlike before, I now try to submit requirements earlier than set deadlines, obtain higher grades in quizzes, and ace each of her recitations. As my classmates recognized my efforts, they also started asking me for some advice. Whenever I’m the one having trouble with some of the school work, they were suddenly willing to help me. They even asked me to be a part of their group study sessions. Through this, I’ve learned to refrain from being a big snob and to widen my circle, at least in school. I consoled myself with the thought that I was now really far different from Miss Vergara, who prefers celebrating birthdays with a dog than thinking beings and spends leisure by murdering honest papers.

The day finally came that my whole batch were anxiously waiting for the final’s results. She suddenly approached me and my new friends with a congratulations in a low tone. “See you all on the next honor’s assembly,” she said. Her hands extended unto mine, still with a blank expression on her face, and walked with no terror at all. Honestly, it was quite satisfying to think how once I was just her failing student, but now included in the honor roll.

A week after, during an event at school, we found out that Miss Vergara won the faculty’s “Overachiever Award” which is only awarded to teachers who taught meaningful curriculum and produced better performing students for the whole semester. But what intrigued me was when I  found out from her acceptance speech that it was finally her last year of teaching. It was a fair relief for me at first. However, as I was passing by a group of teachers, I overheard their conversation that that day was also the “babang-luksa” of Miss Vergara’s deceased daughter. Unbelievable as it was, it slowly came to me that Miss Vergara was once a mother, and I suddenly wanted to know how. 

Illustration by Lloyd Ivan Morales

 Meanwhile, a notice came to me that despite my improved grades, I am still a subject for suspension due to my overflowing list of previous violations. Hence, I gathered the courage to approach a mother, I suppose, about the consequences I was facing. Trembling as I explained myself with the anticipation of her upcoming rage, to my surprise, the spine-chilling professor just calmly gave an advice and left a note for me to reflect upon: “Unlike many others who either give a man a fish or teach a man to fish, my goal is to inspire my students in such a way that you discover your own way of fishing.” 

At that moment, I did not recognize her. It was not Miss Vergara whom everyone knew, she had a mellow voice. And so a question just popped right out of me, “Miss, are you alright?” From the pile of marked papers, her eyes slowly met mine, and she responded with, “Yes. I am fine. You may leave now. ” I never knew I had the courage to probe especially with her, but her teary eyes prompted my curiosity and so I asked once more, not quite expecting an answer.

 “I had a daughter, and today marks her first death anniversary. I see her in you,” was the reply. Before I left, I offered her my apology and condolences, “I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. We’ll always be here for you. You have us, your children.” As soon as I left the room, I heard her sobbing.

Perhaps, this explains why she turns soft in a private conversation compared to when she is in front of a whole crowd – a teacher viewed as terror must always be showing a strong front to her second children all the time, despite losing her very own.

It made me ponder on what it really is that I hated about her. Is it the overloaded requirements? Is it her attitude towards her students? Is it the humiliation I get just for doing some things wrong? Or perhaps because I still don’t agree with the similarities that people were trying to convince me that we shared. 

But at that point, I found myself calmly grasping the unpopular idea that she was just like me. Except from our saintly mirrored image, we were both social misfits walking a lone walk over the years.

And instead of hating her for it, I’ve come to appreciate how different teachers really have different strategies in teaching or even disciplining their students. Despite their own personal troubles, they never fail to let us learn on our own; at the same time, appropriately guide us along the path that we decide to choose; with the best training for the real world.

I was able to surpass my first year of college with high honors. Since it was also her last day on campus, I made sure that Miss Vergara would get to know how much she was treasured. I hosted a surprise despedida party just for her with the help of my classmates. And for the first time ever, her eyes showed how genuinely happy she was. “Despite you all being a source of my headaches for a year, I really appreciate this gesture. Thank you, I will truly miss this section,” were her words.   

Illustration by Lloyd Ivan Morales

In my head, I was saying, “No Miss, thank you. For all the years we feared you, you have helped us become not only better students, but better individuals. Despite not being able to meet this version of you sooner, may this not be the end, but the beginning of our deeper relationship. I hope that one day, we can all make you even prouder – as fruits of your labor, who successfully found bright futures with the untaught lessons of the one and only, Miss Terror.”

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