Part 1: The disgruntled pupil
Five year old D was a lonely child. He refused to mingle with the rest of his class, although his classmates were amicable and helpful. To Nina, he seemed to be an impermeable mind that had decided that the new teacher was going to be worse! She had just begun her first stint as the new class teacher of the senior kg section B where D was a student. From day one, she could sense the boy’s resentment towards her. She could also sense a misguided anger in him towards everyone, an anger she failed to understand in the beginning. While every child in her class extended the olive branch of trust towards her, D refrained from even considering her, an ally. And, now after a month and a half, she sighed heavily as she knew that the circle of trust she had initiated with the children of her class, was incomplete without D. And, D was not ready to break the ice yet.
The world saw five year old D as a handicapped child with a paralyzed left hand and an unstable left leg. Having been exposed to a singular emotion of sympathy, D repelled the help that he received whenever he needed as much as he reveled in the comfort of being helped at every step. Even at a tender age of 5, he understood that he could not run like the others, could not use two hands together to open his tiffin box, or perhaps open his bag without scattering the contents on the floor. The children rushed to help him, every time he tripped and fell. A friend of his, G made it a point to accompany him to the washroom, every single time. However, children are children after all. Despite the prevalence of goodwill, the classmates indulged in troubling D whenever their minds turned idle. In such times, D suffered pangs of hurt, not because he was ridiculed for his lousy gait or his inability to control his bladder, but because he was unable to do things independently as everyone else could. He was sucked into the infinite black hole of sympathy that came from teachers and children alike. Nina was not sure, what troubled the boy more, the sympathy, or the helplessness in sustaining his self esteem?
Part 2: The thoughtful teacher
When Nina entered her class on her first day, she almost knew everyone just by looking at their faces. She had gone through every child’s record in detail. She was briefed about every child in her class and, especially about D before hand. The teachers had advised her to be overtly gentle towards D, owing to his condition. And, so began her challenge of handling a class of a naughty 22 with a challenging personality – D. As days passed, she realized that the 21 of her class were far easier to manage than managing the stubborn D who had decided to challenge her role as his teacher. While everyone in the class followed her instructions to the teeth, D had decided to disobey everything she said. In the initial months, she was gentle and calm. “Patience is the key”, she reminded herself as she constantly counseled D from time to time, often slowing down the schedule of the class for him. Also, she was constantly scrutinized by her subordinates with a hawk’s eye, a hostility she overcame later. Over a period of time, she realized that D had no mental handicap as was hinted by a few teachers earlier. The boy was not slow in his work as once in a blue moon, he would finish his work depending on his mood. She finally figured out that, D suffered from a huge mental block. He would work as slow as a snail when every child in his class would complete the class work before time. She was finding it difficult as she had to report every child’s progress to the coordinator on a weekly basis and, her gentleness was getting her nowhere! The coordinator reminded, “If you say that the child is good, why is he not performing? If he is not performing, maybe you need to rethink your way of teaching.” That was it and, Nina decided, “No more playing the good cop! It is time for an unconventional deviation!” It was during one of his worst tantrums in writing, shehad reached her breaking point. She would not have felt the hurt if the child lacked the aptitude to study. But, a child with a hidden intellect refusing to follow the rules only because of a misguided anger was not acceptable to her. She waited patiently for the perfect day to make her point! And, it came……one day…..
Part 3: Let the games begin!
Nina had thought upon conducting a small race for the students in her class. She broke the class in approximately 4 teams. Each team would run. Following which, the winners from each team would be applauded and would further compete with each other. Considering there were only 6 girls in the class, it was best to get the girls’s team run through, first. D sat silently with his eyes staring down at his feet, as the teams were being made. When his name was called out, a surprised class shouted in a chorus, “Ma’am, he cannot run!” to which Nina almost barked, “By God, he will!” D had not expected this and he wondered, how he was going to do a task which he almost believed like the others, that he could not. For the first time, Nina noticed that the arrogance had left the boy’s face and he had a questioning look on his face! At first, he refused to join in. And then, in an unusually stern voice, Nina ordered him to come and join his team. A perplexed D obeyed for the first time as he looked at his teacher. For Nina, the long suppressed words flowed, aloud, “D! You don’t have to win. You only have to run. It doesn’t matter if you cannot run like the others. It doesn’t matter if you fell down! It doesn’t matter if the others make fun of you. All that matters is, THAT is the post you have to touch and then, run back! Clear or not?”
And, on that On your mark, Get Set and Go, D ran with his team. At first, D looked scared and embarrassed. But, as his legs pushed hard to carry him, the speed ramped up slowly. It was the first of many times, Nina saw the boy enjoying as he grinned to himself ear to ear as he felt the wind brush his hair. For a few moments, it appeared to Nina that D had gone into his wonderland and was reveling in the action he dreaded to do, all this time. The ‘Yes, D! You can do it” started in murmurs first and then, the momentum picked up as the chorus got louder and louder when D touched the post and turned back. When D came back, he was sweating, panting and tired. But, it was his eyes that caught everyone’s attention. Those black eyes shone like stars as the others heaped on him celebrating his victory! The sounds of the clapping resonated in the ears of D and Nina for a long time. The ice had finally been broken between the teacher and the pupil. A wall had been mowed down inside the child’s head.
Part 4: The day that made the difference
The next day, D wished Nina, “Good Morning Ma’am!” and, she wished back. That was the first time D wished Nina in the class. Nina smiled to herself, “There is always a first time for everything!” During the class work, those little eyes fluttered for a while as those tiny fingers started moving fast on the notebook, something that had not happened in ages. D’s face seemed to be a collage of cocktailed emotions that had not emerged in a while. And then, he finished his class work first in the class and showed his work to Nina. Nina looked down and stared at a page of neatly traced Cursive Ls. And next to the red tick mark, now appeared a big beautiful red star on the paper. Nina loved giving stars to children and, D deserved a big one! The tears stopped right at the rims of the doe shaped eyes of D that met Nina’s eyes for a second. He happily jumped towards his seat (his left leg tugging behind) and flaunted his star to everyone.
For the first time, Nina felt that she had made a difference in a child’s life. The low pay did not matter anymore. The bickering colleagues did not bother her now. All that mattered to her now, was to make a difference in these tiny lives in the most impressionable way. What amazed her was the fact, that a degree can never educate you. It is just a stamp. The real education begins from within, just like it did for D and for her, too.
P.S: Above is a fiction piece inspired by a real experience. 🙂