In my first year of secondary school, I received a “fair” conduct grade, the second lowest you can receive. What put me on the blacklist was an incident of cyberbullying. Not of a classmate; I cyberbullied a teacher.
Just before my final exams, when I was 13, our discipline master showed up at my classroom door one day and called my name. From the way she stood — her arms crossed, her eyebrows furrowed, and her lips pulled down unhappily — I knew I was in trouble … but for what? I was scared stiff, and fumbled my way out of the classroom.
She passed me three pieces of paper. When I saw what was printed on it, I froze. Have you ever been caught for something you never thought you’d get caught for? Yep, that’s how I felt.
Back in 2009, handphones were banned at my school. As a show of rebellion, I snapped a photo of my form teacher in class and uploaded it on Facebook. At that point, I had no idea the trouble it would cause. What ensued was a series of hurtful comments left by classmates about the picture. Because my teacher was so disliked by my classmates, they seized the opportunity to spout silly but nasty comments about her appearance and personality. Truth be told, I laughed at many of the things they said, and didn’t think that there would be any consequences. I left the picture up for the comments to continue, and shrugged off a nagging thought that a teacher from school would find out.
“Did you know that this is a serious case of cyberbullying?”
My mind was reeling — cyberbullying? As she listed out the consequences of this supposed crime, I grew giddy with questions and fright. Well, mostly fright. The school’s discipline committee held me fully responsible for this event because I uploaded the photo. I spent the next three days in detention alone, then everyone who left a comment joined me in a Corrective Work Order for the next two days.
On the last day, we wrote a letter to apologise to my form teacher. When I passed her the letter, she snatched it without looking at me, and disappeared into the staff room. When she reappeared, the hurt in her eyes was apparent.
She said, “Once you lower someone into the grave, you can’t bring them back anymore.”
We didn’t know this beforehand, but she had planned to retire that year. When I found out, guilt twisted knots in my stomach. It was only then that I realised how deep our words had cut. Imagine ending your teaching career reading hateful comments from your students. Words said online are still words that can’t be taken back.
To be honest, I cannot remember if she ever spoke to us again after that day. We had our study break, then our exams, before we all moved on to the next school year. I never saw her again.
It has been 11 years, and sometimes I wonder where my teacher is now, and whether she has recovered from the incident. I used to think that we were “unlucky” to get caught. It would not have been that bad if no one found out about the picture and comments, right?
Yet, I remember how my classmates were emboldened and encouraged to pile on insult after insult as they read each other’s comments. Even if my teacher had never read them and never got hurt, my classmates and I were becoming increasingly hateful, and that was an ugly sight to behold.