I am a mother to two sons, aged 17 and 10. From the clueless, self-absorbed twenty something that I had been when I started out, they’ve brought me up to be the half-way reasonable human being that I am now. And along the way, my boys have taught me some pretty valuable lessons. To begin with, they taught me that patience is not a virtue, but a requirement. They taught me that I am capable of a lot more than I had thought I was. I learned that I need to give in, at least once in a while – I also learned that I need to put my foot down every so often. I learned that I am beautiful, and also that I look ‘a bit fat’ and have grey hair – all in a matter of minutes. Most interestingly, I learned some pretty impressive comebacks which work well in classrooms.
I have been a teacher to four batches of about 200 girls each. I am teacher because I have chosen to be one. It was after 35 years of restless quest for some direction in life that I came into the field of teaching, and I have come to accept it as my true calling in life. In the few years that I have been a teacher, I have learned a lot. My girls taught me that patience is something that can be stretched endlessly on a good day, but easily broken on others. They taught me that they are capable of a lot more than I would have expected them to be. They taught me that it is as necessary to give in as it is to be firm, and that the best way to get them to do things is by talking reasonably to them. I learned that I can be beautiful just by being fair in class, and that wrinkles and a few grey hairs don’t matter if they trust you. I learned that attributing goodness to a thirteen-year-old often gets better results than forcing it on her. I learned that teaching is more about learning than teaching.
Yet, when my son comes home with his eyes brimming, and tells me about the horrible day he had had at school, I instinctively blame his teachers. And often, when confronted with a particularly difficult situation involving a student at school, I tend to blame her parents for it. At such times, I forget that as parents and as teachers, we are victims of our circumstances. I forget that both of us – parents and teachers – are in the same team. I forget that in our eagerness to shift the blame, it is the child that is caught in the crossfire.
Less than a year ago, I had sat at the parent side of the table during a school open house, and listened in stunned silence to my son’s teacher – who had been teaching him for all of three months – telling me that my son was psychologically disturbed because he didn’t pay attention in class, and was always distracting his teachers and peers. Biting back bitter tears, I went to the next teacher who told me that he was very intelligent but has to learn to wait for his turn, and then to the next one who told me that my son was showing a lot of improvement in her subject and that she was very pleased with the progress he was making. The school counselor advised me to google ‘right-brain child’ and read that instead of worrying. Nothing, however, was enough to take away the pain caused by the first teacher’s words. Upset and worried sick, I learned two valuable lessons that day. One, that I urgently needed to sort out my priorities; with the ever-increasing load of lesson plans, corrections, power point presentations and activities for the impending inspection at school, I had been neglecting my then nine-year-old son and his needs. Two, that being a teacher, I should never make such statements as would cause pain and misery to the parent sitting in front of me. I also learned that I had no right to take out my frustrations on the child entrusted to me.
Sitting at the teacher side of the table during another open house, I have tried to console the weeping mother who is not able to give as much time to her child as she would have liked. In trying to tell her that things will work out in time if we really want it to, I learned that it applies to me as well. In class, I’ve listened helplessly to the twelve-year-old who broke into tears during a value education class for no apparent reason other than that she was ‘so lonely at home’ – she was an only child and both her parents worked long hours, so there was no one to talk to. From her, I learned that it is very essential to listen at least once in a while to my ten-year-old who talks nineteen to the dozen every waking hour – when he is not sitting at the computer, that is – as well as to my seventeen-year-old who asks me with touching modesty, “’Mama, what do you do when you’re as awesome as me?”
Life, to put it in a nutshell, has been one long lesson for me. And almost everything worth learning had been taught to me by children – both my boys and my girls. Why, just the other day, it was a seventeen-year-old – this time my son’s friend – who taught me that the word ‘parent’ is pronounced ‘pair-ent’ and not ‘pay-rent’ as I used to!
A version of this article has appeared in Gulf News.