A few months back, I started teaching at a local university as visiting faculty. The reactions I got varied from extremely flattering to downright insulting to my decision. One foreigner I know mocked it with a very derisive “So what will you achieve by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms?” Honestly, at that point in time, I had no idea how to respond to that scathing comment. I seriously did not know what I am supposed to do as a teacher apart from imparting knowledge on the subject I teach.
In the past three months that I have been teaching, I have had my highs and lows. I have had some very good days and some not so good days, but one remarkable change that I have seen in my students is that they want to discuss issues instead of just going through the lectures like they did in the first couple of weeks. They question, they debate, they ponder, they contest, they deliberate, they argue and they have learnt to respect different views even when they don’t agree with them. This is something that we don’t often see in Pakistan and for a teacher, it is one of the most encouraging and heartening sights.
On Wednesday, I got an email from my student Bemisal saying that the student body is extremely distressed at the twin bombing incident at Islamic International University. What irked them most was the government’s cavalier attitude towards the safety and security of the students and the fact that most provincial governments refused to provide security to the institutions of learning and closed them down till October 26th. They wanted to protest against the acts of terror and government’s apathy towards its citizens. They also wanted to show solidarity with the students who died at the twin blasts on October 21st 2009.
In two days time, they managed to not only mobilize other students and made their presence felt with out any prior activism experience; they did so in face of opposition from their parents and families who tried to discourage them from stepping out of the secure confines of their homes. They did it when a local tv channel aired the news that a suspected bomber wearing a suicide jacket was seen in the vicinity of the area of protest.
Seeing my students at the protest, demanding their constitutional rights with a consciousness and confidence not common amongst most Pakistani, was perhaps my finest hour as a teacher. Arfa, Sabah, Danish, Hiba, Umair, Bemisal, Farwa, Aqsa and Ahmed, you guys made me proud today (most of them are girls, so double hurrah for them). Looks like all those debates in the class and gargles I took after every three hour session were well worth it. If anyone mocks me any more and say what have I achieved by teaching rich kids in air conditioned classrooms, I would say that I played my tiny little part in bringing them out on the streets. They don’t need to be out on the streets but they decided that they don’t want to stay apathetic and stepped up to claim their right and space. How is that for an achievement?
PS: Those who want to support their efforts in future can stay connected through their facebook group