7 September, 2015 became one of the most memorable days of my life. Exhilaration and misery both accompanied me, leaving me with a sleepless night and a struggling train of thought! As always I was enthusiastic for school and left my bed excitedly to get ready. I left home in a bright and shiny mood. Upon reaching school, I quickly indulged in my work. Joy surged through me as I entered Class Nine. My students greeted me with a “Happy birthday” song. I beamed and stood there astonished. They gave me giant chocolate bars, and a handmade card on which one of my dearest students, Abdul Rafay had written a poem about me. I was over the moon! 🙂
In Class Ten, the blackboard read “HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO MISS SHUMILA.” My students expressed their love by presenting me with lovely gifts which included a crystal decorative, a silver wrist watch, a cucumber face wash, a body spray and birthday cards. I was speechless! A smile of delight brightened my eyes and I wanted to hug them all. I felt pure joy. My heart melted and I could see their faces wearing the sunniest expression!
Amidst the blissful ambience, I noticed tears in the eyes of one of my students. I felt a sense of grim despair engulfing me. I tried to soothe him but I couldn’t understand what was bothering him. My birthday was behind me and I was overcome by emotions. It’s not easy for me to see anybody crying and being a teacher I had to be in control. It took me all my strength to compose myself and not shed a tear or two. But my insides were turbulent. I was troubled because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened! In that painful moment, I was instructed to just leave him alone. I was torn between following the orders I had received and listening to my heart. I did what I was told to do but my conscience was in crisis.
Soon, the happy atmosphere changed into a tensed one. A grimness settled over me when my students were reprimanded for celebrating my birthday. I suffered in silence and felt horrible. I was told to return their gifts which I didn’t! I didn’t have the heart to hurt them. After all, those presents represented their love and warmth and I just couldn’t break their hearts. I love them too much to crush them like that. Besides, I couldn’t see anything wrong with my students expressing their love for me. My superiors thought it wasn’t right. They feel that I’m too friendly with my students and that I should keep a certain distance.
In that moment of confusion and despair, I halted but guilt pricked me hard. It was my class and he was my student and I was told to carry on with my work, leaving my student tormented and in tears! It felt so brutal! No matter what I was told about him, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. Sure, students are supposed to respect everyone and I teach them respect. I talk to them about integrity. I try to enrich their minds with goodness but I can’t treat them badly or humiliate them based on their behaviour patterns with other people. I can’t treat my students differently based on how they behave at home or with other teachers.
I returned home battling with some really conflicting emotions! My head was full of what had happened at school. I was both happy and grief-stricken. Happy because I was honored, I was celebrated, I felt loved and gloomy because my students had to face so much trouble because they showed me they cared. I was distressed because one of my students sobbed bitterly but I couldn’t console him. The instructions I had received stopped me from doing what I believed was right. In my 9+ years as a teacher, it was the first time, I felt so awful. It was the first time I felt like a failure. I’m a teacher and I’m supposed to touch lives. I’m supposed to change lives. Teachers are candles. They guide their students; not leave them alone in their darkest moments. And that’s what I did. I left him weeping. I knew what was the right thing to do yet, I didn’t stand up for what I believed in!
Written By Shumila Malik