THE TEACHER

He was hated even more when he first came to the church in the parish where the school was located. Students' parents, who had not been friendly, glared at him with angry eyes. And, when that mass was over a teenager, who might be a student, asked him a question when he was just right outside of the gate. "You go to our church for a reconnaissance, don't you???". That youth then ran and disappeared into the crowd.

He was a church goer and had been sent to a catholic school, Lasan, for 9 years. However, he hadn't gone to that church since being sent there and none knew him a catholic. When he was a teenager, he was well liked and had been known as a smiling boy of few words. But everything had changed since 1975. He suddenly had a new name, the traitor's son, whose parents had fled the Communist North to settle in the South in 1954 when the Country was divided into Two. Therefore, regardless of how well he did in the entry test of the Medicine University, he was sent to study at the Pedagogy College.

Although he still smiled a lot, he was no longer liked by others around in that college. In fact, some even teased him as an ugly smiling clown. Anyway, he did not stay there long. He was out after 3 years (it's 4-year college). Of course, he was not assigned to a school in a city, but in a county with population of a little more than ten thousand people.

He was one of those who came to the school to replace teachers who had once joined the South Army. They were later sent to a re-education camp. And, he again had another new name right in the first week when he got sick and could not teach right away. School officials (communists) called him the Lazy Teacher. Students, however, thought differently. They thought that he ought to be a big commie because he was the only one who's allowed to have a week off. In general, none from either side liked him.

He hoped that time would make people understand, especially students. However, he realized after a month at the school that time would not help those who didn't talk much or cared for an explanation. He would want to quit but he knew that life without a civil status in a communist country like Vietnam could mean trouble for himself, Mom, and relatives.

-"Teacher Hung, we're waiting for you at lunch room", the Principal suddenly said while he was deep in his thought.
-"Oh, I'm sorry!", he said. "You guys just go ahead, I don't feel like eating anything today".
"Next time, you have to report even when you don't eat", the Principal shot back and walked away. He mealed with school officials and again made another mistake. He had his first day off and could not believe that time speeded up that fast. It had been so slow for a month at the school with each day dragged longer and longer and the first month seemed as long as a human life. And, he had thought about resignation.

He became the hot topic in the school that week. Students who usually ran around yelling during breaks suddenly gathered here and there talking about him going to church. He didn't know what students were discussing and wished for a chance to chat with them. However, they departed in different directions when they saw him approach. Even students in the class which he directed would not want to talk with him about it, either.

It was really hot in one afternoon in early April. He was exhausted after an hour grading students' tests in his quarters. He had taken everything off except a shorts but he still sweated hard. He headed out to the beach for a swim and saw his class-head on the way back. That student stared at his neck-lace and was surprised to see his teacher wearing a cross.
-"Teacher, you wear a cross?"
-"Yes, my Mom bought it when I was a little and I've been wearing it since", he said.
-"So, you're catholic, aren't you?"
He again smiled while the student was embarassed in a sudden discovery. The student just could not believe that his teacher whom many of schoolmates had misrecognized as a commie was himself a catholic. He walked away smiling while that student stood there like a statue.

The school year was about to end and he visited students' parents for the last time. He found out that he was welcome everywhere he went and those parents were no longer upset when he made suggestions to help their children succeeded in the school work. Some even asked about his hometown and family. Although he still didn't talk much as usual, they all seemed friendlier than in previous visits.

He had had a big lunch with his students in the class party that morning and was preparing things for a trip home on summer vacation. And, there were some of his girl students came to help him put stuffs away. Those girls usually talked a lot when they were together, but none chatted anything that afternoon. They worked in silence until the end before one of them asked him. "Teacher, will you come back next year", asked one of the girls. And, they all ran away happy after they saw him nod with a smile.

He sat in a bus thinking about the first few months at the school. Teaching was not his wished career and he had disliked it right at the moment he stepped in the Pedagogy College. However, if all people in that county were possibly changed, he might be changing, too. He again became a liked person and a beloved teacher. Oh, by the way, he might not specify which of his characters; smiling or close-mouthed, was loved more in that small town if you asked.

Back To Stories