“Students! Can you all hear me? Students!” I scream at the top of my lungs.
Your internet connection is unstable.
I have half a mind to close the laptop and just go back to sleep. But I turn off the Wi-Fi and turn it back on. As I join the class again, I plaster a fake smile on my face and wait for it to connect.
As soon as it connects, I check whether they can hear me, and continue the lesson.
I see Roger picking his nose, Charlie picking his teeth and Marlene picking at her plate of food. I have the sudden urge to end the class early, but I keep pushing on, finishing the module on cell structure.
After the class, some students have the courtesy to say ‘have a good day’ while the others log off as fast as their fingers can press the ‘leave’ button.
I end the meeting and close the laptop. Folding my arms on it, I rest my head for a few minutes, my mind already buzzing with lesson plans and worksheets and assignments that I have to make.
But before I can completely surrender to the tempting haven of sleep, I hear the door open, and the jangling of keys.
Edwin is home.
Thank all the gods in the world.
Getting up, my knees almost buckle, having lost all feeling after sitting at my desk for so many hours. I walk to the living room, and lean my head on the wall, watching Edwin as he unties his shoes and takes off his socks.
I wait for him to carefully place all his items in the proper places before I announce my presence with a loud clearing of my throat.
He looks up at me and smiles.
That is enough for my legs to become like jelly again.
The honeymoon phase is still not over.
When the pandemic started, we were quite literally forced to spend all our time with each other. We played all the video games we could, sulked over losing card games, watched movies with my head tucked under his and our fingers intertwined and made a mess of the kitchen every day with our experiments on food.
We had done it all, and I was still in love with him. Even more, because of all of it.
I wait for him to take a shower, and then pounce on him, his body smelling of lavender and his arms a familiar comfort.
That night, as we sit and watch the second-last episode of the television show that we have been binging, my mind soon begins to stray from the plot and characters.
My students are never far from my thoughts.
I am still worried whether they understood my explanation today, what with all the internet issues and time constraint. I make up my mind to teach it again tomorrow and ask them questions, especially the ones who tend to stay silent throughout the class without a care in the world for what is on the screen.
It is not easy at all teaching from kilometres away, not knowing whether the children are awake or asleep, paying attention or playing a game on their phones.
Their parents are more concerned about their every action since the lockdown, and the whole atmosphere would be one of stress in every household.
It is my responsibility to help them out, to see through the façade that they are hiding behind and make them feel at least a bit relaxed and happy.
Half the class is over.
After all the camera issues, the connection problems, the distractions and accidental humming and screaming from unmuted microphones, I decide to step in.
“Boys and girls, I think that’s enough of cell structure for today.”
I can almost hear their cheers and sighs of relief through the screens.
“I want you all to answer this question of mine honestly. Be open, don’t hesitate to tell us the truth. We are not any less of a family here, so you can tell us anything.”
I take in a deep breath and let it out.
“What is the difference between the you of today and you before the pandemic?” I ask.
I give them a few minutes to think about it, and I think about it too.
“So, who will initiate this discussion?” I ask.
Dead silence. They still have their thinking faces on, seriously considering my question.
“Okay, since none of you have anything to say, I’ll be the one to break the ice,” I say, and I see all of them lean forward, eager to hear my answer.
“I know that this is something common between all of us, no matter what our ages are or what circumstances we are in, but I know that past me used to take a lot of things for granted,” I say, and I see heads nodding fiercely, some of their faces reflecting their worst memories.
“I took my family for granted, I took my profession for granted, and I took money for granted. Now I understand the value of the things that we think we will never lose. We don’t know what we have until we’ve lost it,” I say, and some eyes go visibly moist.
“So that is the difference between past me and present me. So, who will go next?”
I see the tiny hand icon on Roger, and I urge him to speak out.
“I took my grandparents for granted. I just thought that they would always be there whenever I had a holiday. I just wish that I could take back all the things I told them out of spite, all the phone calls I avoided for lack of anything to say. Now I regret all of it,” he says, and his body slumps, almost in relief after having carried that in his heart for so long.
I offer him words of comfort, and he seems to brighten up after that.
Many others speak out, some saying that they became closer to their friends, they started talking to their parents more, they began spending more family time, they started talking to long lost relatives and old friends.
My heart threatens to almost burst as these young children speak wise words with great maturity, having more understanding of their feelings than I ever did as a child.
I guess it’s true what they say: a teacher always remains a student.