Hamza ambled towards the squeamish student appearing to hide behind the cover of his notebook. As he came close to him, the student almost jumped out of his seat! Somewhat anticipating his reaction, he gently put a hand around his back and comfortingly smiled at him.
“Son, don’t be scared when you haven’t done a thing wrong! Swagger back at the bullies and put them in place!
The student whose name was Farooq, was quite astonished to see the accommodating behaviour of the teacher. He had been incriminated in a rowdy incident despite being the most well behaved child. Hamza, who had a gift for understanding character immediately understood the bogus claims of the accusation. Farooq, the poor student, anticipated some dressing down but it was replaced by a special tenderness that endeared him for life. Farooq’s problem was diffidence that had slowly seeped through the entire frame of his physical self as a result of a traumatized childhood and constant exposure to the school bullies. This small act of encouragement turned around Farooq’s life and he never looked back!
This was the trademark of Hamza! He would always peep deeply into the eyes of his students and detected the problem that was the cause of their academic retardation. He would develop a special relationship with his students that bordered on a sense of camaraderie rather than authoritarianism. (Aside) But hang on! Before you start being judgmental about the portrayal of the atypical features of this teacher, let me remind you that this is an eastern set up in which teacher dominates the class although the standards are changing here as well.
"I want you to be happy learners; someone who willingly swims in the sea of knowledge and extracts unlikely treasures.” Hamza deposited his charged statements right into the hearts of the students. He brimmed with positive energy. He would often engage the students in drawing upon their personal experiences and found a meaningful connection between their narrative and the routine classroom work. He always believed in the authority of authenticity as it replicated real life much better than traditional pedagogical materials. He struck an immediate connection of bon homie with his students and this pretty much drove away the customary fear of the teacher that was not allowing them to be themselves! The whole atmosphere wound down into a state of composure that was a great advertisement for this profession of professions!
Hamza worked in a private school. Once, he overheard the principal using the name of ‘client’ for the students. He was shocked beyond measure! How could the noble label of a student degenerate so much to be turned into a commercial commodity! Students were here to add to their knowledge and this concept has no connection with pecuniary gains.
On another occasion, Hamza’s classroom was invaded by an informer. She had been especially hired by the administration to keep tabs on all teachers’ activities. However, she had run into someone who was known for defying any instruments that would impede his freedom. She started pacing the floor and seemed to examine Hamza’s teaching style and the response of the students. She would stop at every student’s desk and inspected their note books with a detective-like glance. And all this happened while the lesson was going on. Initially, Hamza tried to avoid this unwarranted interruption but after some time could not restrain himself. Without mincing words, he pleaded his case. “I believe you are encroaching upon my private territory. This is not only a disruption of the classroom instruction but an assault on my teaching practices. I would request you to leave immediately before my restraint gives way to a more expressive verbal protest.” The headmistress looked at him with a wry smile and then disappeared from the room.
Hamza understood the fact that every student is different and responds to a different pattern of engagement. He identified the individual differences and treated every student accordingly. He would first observe them for hours like a doctor analyzing a problematic case study and recorded their attributes in his mind. Then, he would have a one-on-one meeting with them and made them psychologically relaxed.
His unusual approach did not go down well with the institution in which he was teaching. He was only a powerless member of this ‘commercial academic club’ and had limited maneuvering space.
He would often take his students to the college garden for the literature class and let them partake of the presence of nature around them. He meshed the poetic environment with the natural environment in an attempt to arouse their creativity by lifting the barriers between what they study and what happens in reality.
He was more of a friend with his students than their lord. This often snapped the drabness of the lesson and the freedom of discussion sometimes turned the classroom into a boisterous place. Once the principal was passing by the window, when she noticed the chatter of the students crossing the limits. She immediately released summons for the culprit. Hamza advanced to her office after the lesson. She snapped at him, “You don’t seem to have control over your students. After all there is something called discipline.”
Hamza smiled in return and emphatically refused to take the blame. “I would say I have more control over them. I rule their hearts and the obedience comes without trappings. What you saw was the misleading blurb of a book. The plot of the story takes an entirely different turn.”
The principal cast a look of disapproval, but said nothing else. He left the room in silence. There was a sense of triumph in his strides.
He always focused on getting knowledge rather than degrees even if it appeared to put the students’ immediate academic interests at risk.
During the parent-teacher meetings he would give a brutally honest account of the flaws or weaknesses of students before their doting mothers. He would also be politically incorrect most of the time and drew the ire of the management. He spoke openly about his disappointment regarding the educational standard of the institute. Now this was an intolerable offence for the private institution that one of its teachers would breach the foundations of the fortress on which it had been built. The next day, he was charge sheeted before the principal and asked to wear a diplomatic garb over his character. He was sternly warned of the implications of a second time! Hamza again protested and pleaded non guilty. He asserted.
“I was only telling the truth. It is the principle that I have lived by and I cannot dismantle my dearly held principles for any petty institutional compliance.”
He could not accept double standards and always spoke his mind.
But the world operated differently. He wanted to introduce his own brand of education in the institute but he found himself pitted against the whole bureaucracy of the school. Soon he was ostracized and all his colleagues started to maintain their distance. He used to have one confrontation after another and it became awkwardly repetitive.
One fine day he found a white envelope on his desk.
He knew the content even before he opened it. He tore it into pieces without reading it and smiled his way out of the portals of the so called 'nursery of knowledge' to try his luck somewhere else. As he stepped out, he felt doubly sure of himself. There was a glint in his eye that illumined his entire frame. He had reassembled the declining reputation of a teacher by defending righteous behavior in the midst of fiercely opposing forces! It was an exit but a triumphant one!