I had a lovely time yesterday despite not celebrating the event in school. We'll be celebrating the occasion next week as the students are still in the midst of their mid-year examination. As usual our clients, the students, come first.
Teachers' Day celebrations haven't changed much in all these years.
There's the concert - performances by students, performances by teachers, the feast, and the student vs teachers telematch.
There are the presents - neatly or clumsily wrapped, expensive or second-hand, bought or taken from the home- given to the favourite teacher by the adoring student or the exasperated mother of a crying child who refused to sleep without having a present for the teacher.
True teachers don't really bother about the presents. A poorly-wrapped present of a box of tissue paper will be just as appreciated as a large bouquet of fresh flowers or a free voucher for a spa and manicure. It's all right if we don't receive any presents at all but it's important that they listen and follow our well-intentioned words. We just want students to learn; to be more knowledgeable, to be better children of their parents, and better citizens of the country.
"Happy Teachers Day."
"Teacher, Selamat Hari Guru."
The presents were passed from their hands into mine. Some were left on the table before I entered the staff-room. It is the same every year.
The students can be a 'pain-in-the-neck' for the whole school year and yet on that day, they'd give you a carefully wrapped present.
The students can be so shy that you'd hardly hear a squeak from them, and yet they'd shyly give you a big parcel.
A genuine case of remorse for adding wrinkles on the teacher's face?
A sign of gratitude for the lesson taught and books marked?
Or a way to bribe the teacher from punishing them for the rest of the year?
Or is it to make teachers notice them more in class?
"Wow, so many presents this year. What did you do?"
"Hahaahaa.. I gave them hints laaa. I stopped nagging them for the whole week and reminded them about this day."
"Haiyah... why you all ladies get more than us men? Next year I'm going to be kind and friendly, never mind if they don't do their homework."
"The popular teachers will always get more than the fierce one. We are after all, the ogres."
Ahhh... the presents.
Teachers Day celebration is the silent form of popularity contest among the teachers, especially the ladies. I've known teachers who'd secretly bring some wrapped parcels from home just so that their tables in the staffroom will not be bare, while their neighbours' will be so full of presents that they'd spill over to the next table.
I still keep them. The ones that I've managed to salvage after moving from one house to another in my years of teaching. The ribbon and crystal roses that they had saved from their own pocket money to buy, the purses and key chains that must had taken them a long time to choose, the table decorations that children love, the gaudy brooches,and photo frames that showcase my most memorable pictures with them.
I also remember those too poor to give anything but did their best in my classes and make me proud. I remember those who have no pocket money so they had spent time making Teachers Day cards for me. I remember the girls who'd wait for me to reach the school gate every morning and rush to carry my basket of books. I remember those who'd shyly send local fruits to me during the fruit season, the rambutans, the durians, and the machangs. I remember those in the villages who gave me freshly laid eggs which they had collected at home. I still carry the key chain given 9 years ago with the inscription,"To my teacher... from Nurul Amirah." Yes, I can remember them all -the excellent ones, the naughty ones, the average ones, the lazy ones, the ones other teachers have given up hope, and the ones who needed a surrogate mother.
It's not the presents that warm my heart but it's the thought and appreciation shown not only on one particular day but throughout the year. I'd still teach all the students although only a few'd give me gifts. I'd still treat them fairly and punish them based on their mistakes, no matter how exclusive and expensive the gifts given to me by a few of the students. As I'm fond of telling my students, "Thanks for the presents dear, they're lovely. I hope you'd work hard and do well in your studies. To see you do well in life and be a good student who obey the school rules and who respect teachers, is already a great present for me."
Ironically, some do give presents to teachers as an act of appreciation on Teachers Day. However, the next day, they'd return to their usual self, being lazy and showing disrespect to the same teacher by replying rudely and scratching the teachers' cars.
I wonder why they'd even bother to buy and give them to the teachers.
Is it because they think that there's only one day that they need to respect the teachers? And for rest of the school days they can act any way they like?
"Teacher, can I be absent on Teachers' Day this Friday?"
"Why do you want to be absent?"
"Boring... Nothing to do. Don't want to make Mr. Oh angry, heehehee, "said the 'hero and often punished' teenager from the last class.