Friday, July 30, 2004

My First Ever Love Letter

“May I come in, teacher?” I looked up from the pile of exercise books that I was marking and saw the dark haired child peeping in. She was leaning on the staff room’s door knob in an imploring manner. “Yes you may!” I replied wearily as I still had more exercise books to correct. I needed to wind everything up within 2 days, as this was my last week in the school. She came as stealthily as a cat and quietly settled in front of my desk.  “Yes Sarah you wanted something?” The minute I asked her, she started blurting out like a wound up toy box: “Yes maam! I came to know that you are leaving the school! May I ask you why? Are you going to some other school? We are naughty I know but I hope we haven’t given you that tough a time?” This was followed with tears and I got flabbergasted! Oh no! Now if there is one thing I am incapable of handling, it’s tears!  I pulled up a chair besides her and on an impulse hugged her puny frame that was shaking like a rag doll. I started murmuring to her as one talks to a frightened baby bird or a kitten: “Hey listen Sarah! I am just going for a career other than teaching like writing and journalism etc; that’s all! I am not leaving for any other school.” “But whyyy?? Why are you leaving us, what have we done?” she kept on repeating and sobbing.

I racked my brains for a logical explanation; such as the pursuit of a dynamic career, following my dream, utilizing my post graduate degree and skills for a better purpose yadda yadda. But how can you explain all of this to an 8 year old, when you yourself are a 23 year old? All the logical reasoning, arguments and persuasive skills seemed futile in front of a sobbing child, who was heart broken at the prospect of losing her English teacher. My leaving was a startling surprise for my students, one that I hated giving them,  but had no choice! It was only 6 months down the road that I had left the university and joined a prestigious private school, as a secondary level teacher. I loved teaching the students the nuances and intricacies of English literature, in a world littered with cold and methodical grammar and factual physics and chemistry. I wanted them to think from the heart sometimes and not always from the mind. Gradually my enthusiasm for literature compelled the school to assign me some junior classes as well. As for me, I liked the experience of teaching the younger ones along with the teenagers. The younger ones were far more open to the Wordsworthian capacity of ‘wonder’, than the teenagers. My teenage students were a mix bag of bright, funny, often opinionated and self righteous ‘young adults’.  Most of them were far too preoccupied with the likes of  Boyzone and Enrique and being ‘cool’ and ‘hip’, rather than with Keats and Shelley.  I liked the bright and punctual students, who were quick in grasping the lessons and used to bag good grades. I knew that they could do exceptionally well even with a little amount of guidance. So my effections and efforts were reserved for the less-bright, less-confident and the shyer ones like Sarah. I had a special compassion for students like her! But my brand of compassion didn’t approve of slackness. So I drove them harder, challenged, motivated, bagger and cajoled them. I was unwilling to let them fade away in the back benches or allow them to be mute during class discussions. By and by, some of them began emerging out of their fragile little shells. I cherished the moments when their eyes used to shine on being able to grasp a lesson, or on giving a correct answer.  Their own parents were least bothered with their progress, so I began filling their copies and evaluation reports with stars and encouraging remarks. Interestingly enough, even my A-Level teenage students thought that getting a star was really ‘cool’ and they used to cajole me into getting them some as well. Those were interesting days sure enough for me as a young woman in her very first job.   

Yet at the same time, I was getting burnt out due to the unending piles of copies and transcripts that needed to be corrected day after day. I was frustrated of writing notes after notes to the rich but ignorant parents, who considered their business pursuits more important than their child’s progress. I was sick of the parents, who would care only to turn up on the parents Teacher Meeting Day, only to bicker on their child’s low marks.   I was tried of my in-charge’s cold and scheming autocratic ways and the subtle ‘staff room’ politics. I was beginning to feel that teaching was getting to be a thankless job that amounts to at the end of the day mere chalk dust.

Hence, when I got a chance to work as an internee in a newly established publication house, I literally jumped to it. I wanted to give my creative muse a chance. Though it also meant trading the teaching job’s security, smaller working hours and larger pay check of for a mere internship, a smaller stipend and irregular working hours that by and large defined the field of journalism. Was I nervous and scared? You Bet! The fear was looming larger than ever now, when a child was questioning my motive.

I looked into her quizzical eyes and tried to explain all of this to her to the best of my abilities. I began talking to her about the need for ‘moving on’. I told her that this was the kind of thing that grown ups have to do sometimes, it being a part of the process called ‘growing up’. I told her that when grown ups ‘move on’, they do different things: they switch jobs or careers, move in or out of relationships, leave their birth places and migrate to an unfamiliar lands. In doing all of this, they leave behind the ‘familiar’, the ‘comfort zone’ and the ‘mundane’ and go for the ‘unknown’ and the ‘mysterious’. Hmm, I admit now that wasn’t a good explanation at all for an 8 year old to grasp, but I wasn’t explaining all this to her. I was explaining and rationalizing all of this to myself, me. In many ways I was no different from the 8 year old dark haired girl. So naïve, so vulnerable and so scared of losing the familiar objects and people around me. And yet one knows that one has to ‘let go’ of the familiar; grow up and ‘move on’. And in this ‘moving on’, one always leave behind a part of oneself. Yet there is another part that one carries forward from the past into the future i.e. the ‘good’ and ‘happy happy’ experiences.  And this was the part in which my students, my children came in. That is how they figured and fit in the larger picture, the collage of my myriad experiences. Sarah was a part of it, I told her how much special she and my other students were to me. They were to stay in my memory, no matter where and what I ended up doing; teaching, writing, cooking, bearing babies; what so ever.

Sarah looked up to me and nodded in agreement. She wiped away her tears and gave me that special smile of hers. She took out a small envelope from her bag and hand it to me. She said: “I wrote this for you last night!”  She stopped me from opening it and pleaded: “Open it after I am gone!” Blushingly, she gave me a quick hug, had me promise future visits and ran off. I inspected the envelope closely. It was handmade from the Arts and Crafts class material; decorated with glossy glue, crayon floral patterns and sealed with a Mickey Mouse sticker. I opened it and out came a small page ripped from a copy. On it was a hastily written letter in the typical and crawly pre-adolescent handwriting and shaky English. It read:

For MS Ambreen- the Best Teacher in the World!
Thanking you! I know we rent good student. But don’t leave us, I promise to do good this exams.  Sometimes we are too naughty and that make you sad. Here is something to make you happy…………”

The lines were followed with shiny stick-on stars, smilies and kitty paws. I sat there and smiled for a long time. This was many summers ago, yet I still recall that dark haired child that has lived on in me. The letter is preserved in my drawer, my first ever love letter. Yes! Sometimes teachers do need love letters, stars and hugs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Author's Name: Ambreen Ishrat
Publication Date: 9th July 2004
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