- For the good ones, that is!
A good teacher burns himself like a candle and provides light to his disciples, they say. A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning, they say. But what teachers forget while stating these quotations to their students is the use of word “good” with “teacher” in the lion’s share of sayings. Hence it is not all about just being a teacher. In Maggie Gallagher’s words: “Of all the hard jobs around, one of the hardest is being a good teacher.”
Saifullah Jamali, a student of chemical engineering at the Institute of Engineering and Fertiliser Research (IEFR), a face brimming with his hopes from his future, but a soul that was tired of all the bullying and castigation he faced in the name of being educated. This is exactly where the problem lies. Our education system exploits students and parents in the name of awarding degrees. Our teachers implement their bizarre methods of pedagogy in the name of earning (faux) respect from students. Our schools allow such teachers to formulate their own ways of schooling irrespective of the results such despotism brings about.
It is not the first or only incident of its kind. Maryam Khaleeq, an 18-year-old A Level student who was put under undue stress by her teachers for ostensibly not being able to ‘perform well’ in academics despite her brilliance, could not withstand subjection to incessant discouragement and succumbed to the wounds inflicted on her heart and soul last year just days before the results were announced.
In order to gauge severity of the situation, I interviewed a few classmates and juniors from all my previous educational institutes – two renowned private setups in Lahore and a public sector university – but whose identities have been hidden to prevent them from getting bullied.
Sharing a little from my own past, in my 16 years of education I have come across only two such gentlemen whom I can give the status of good teachers
“One of my teachers liked to frequently lecture us on the status of teacher in Islam,” told one of my university classmates, D. “‘A teacher deserves as much respect as your father,’ he would say. ‘Our teachers would even slap us in front of the whole class and we never dared to open our mouths. Students today have become too disrespectful to stand even a single comment,’ he would express innocently. He even called a student to his office one day and insulted her only because she had praised another teacher who was teaching her a subject which he had previously taught her in semester system. He, like many others, wanted us to give him respect and stay humbly silent to every insult. But they forget that a parent does not avenge praising of the other parent and a good teacher does not taunt students for not congratulating him, for instance, on the birth of his son. There exists no list of favourites and that of enemies in the mind of a good teacher. Only such a teacher deserves as much respect as one’s father, not every other individual who earns a degree and becomes an instructor and does not even know what makes a good teacher,” D opined.
H was another university fellow. “It is said that good teachers know how to bring out the best in students,” he expressed, “but then there are certain sadists and narcissists who like exploiting others’ feelings and love humiliating them in the subtlest manner and mask themselves as teachers.” One such person was the head of an extra-curricular society of which H was a member. “He made his own majlis-e-shoora comprising his favourite disciples. And who got to become the members of this council? Only those who visited the room allotted to him frequently enough to make their faces recognisable, those who were willing to share his managerial workload, those left no errands in praising him and, in short, who made themselves capable enough to be adored by him. There was no single criterion; it was an amalgam of many unknown factors driven by his likes and dislikes.” H further emphasised on how influential this person’s opinion was in the matter of awarding co-curricular certificates and medals. “There was a time when his opinion mattered. The list of awardees that he made was as such copied. But it is the fruit of revolt initiated by many of his victims that today’s students are eating. His opinion might not be as powerful as before but he is the king of his domain – the society. He elects those he wills and deprives those he wills.”
Such discrimination is prevalent in, but not limited to, universities. Thousands of students silently suffer throughout their educational years as there seems to be no ray of hope that could enlighten their teachers’ minds and their future. And this is the reason, perhaps, they say, “One good teacher in a lifetime may sometimes change a delinquent into a solid citizen,” because only a fortunate gets the privilege of being taught by even one good teacher.
M, a junior from one of my former schools, shared her story of how she was humiliated at the hands of her principal when she met with an accident and could not take her O level examination that year. After recovering from the bruises, when she finally went to her school after three months, this is how she was welcomed: “You are no more a student. Only those are enrolled in this school who pay their fee on time. If you want to get enrolled, fill in the admission form and pay the fee. We sent your admission for O Level exams and this is how you downplay the efforts of this school and its teachers in front of the syndicate by not sitting in the exams?” “I had an accident, Ma’am? I was bed-ridden for two months,” M explained while sobbing. “That is none of our concern,” the principal remarked. Before leaving the school premises, she dumped in a bin the cards she had made for her teachers as it was Teachers’ Day.
A much younger junior, S, from the other former school of mine agreed to share one such experience. “I was in grade eight. I was already being subjected to constant bullying from my class-fellows because of being shy and docile when a teacher deemed it appropriate to mock me over a mistake I had made in the past. These teachers want us to learn as quickly as a sponge absorbs water. They do not consider the hard work of those who learn by reading, those who are instinctively weak in studies but try winning the uphill battle with their determination. The apples of their eyes are only those who can bag them good grades and, therefore, a good repute. They themselves lack the ability to assist a student who wants to seek help to overcome his shortcomings. I was ridiculed by such a teacher when I mispronounced the word ‘donkey’ as ‘dun-key’. I did not know that I will be made fun of just as a donkey is laughed at. My only mistake was to mispronounce a word which then my teacher ensured to quote several times during the year,” S’s eyes welled up while telling this. “They crush your self-esteem and then expect to stand again with a firmer posture. It is, however, not possible to do so until you develop hatred for them and overcome your weakness for the sake of seeking revenge. And this is not even close to what teaching is all about.”
Sharing a little from my own past, in my 16 years of education I have come across only two such gentlemen whom I can give the status of good teachers. One was so keen in imparting whatever knowledge he had that he was willing to teach even if there were sitting only a single student in his class. The other was so humble that he never refused to guide irrespective of the number of times we would nag him. The question is out of dozens of teachers, why only two? Who is to blame? The individuals who call themselves teachers? Or the education system that protects them under the labels of ‘norm’ and ‘culture’? For, in Tucket Elliot’s words: “An individual school can handle a resident idiot from time to time, but an entire school system is only as good as its weakest leader.”