For the first issue of Ilm o Amal in 2014, we got talking to veteran teachers to find out how dedicated teachers impact students’ lives and what makes them an invaluable asset to their schools. Shahrezad Samiuddin compiled the results, which were revealing, educating and interesting.

For this article we set a list of criteria, which helped us identify teachers who would qualify as veterans. Veterans should:

• Have at least 10 years of teaching experience
• Know her/his content well
• Have a positive attitude
• Be in a position to mentor other teachers
• Be able to work well with students of differing abilities
• Be able to engage students to bring out the best in them
• Be resourceful

Please understand that this list was created solely for the sake of this article to enable us to identify the respondents.

Three schools, The Mama Parsi School, Foundation Public School and The AMI School sent in a list of teachers who fit the bill and we posed the following set of questions to them.

1. Why did you choose to become a teacher?
2. Describe an incident, which you consider your most successful teaching experience.
3. Describe a teaching disaster.
4. Is there any ‘teaching rule’ that you broke?
5. What was it that you think you did differently from your peers?
6. What would your critics say about you?

Why did you choose to become a teacher?

Hajra Soorma (Mama Parsi School): The aftermath of the 1971 war was disastrous. At 21, as a fresh graduate and position holder from the Rangoon Arts and Science University I tried to further my education at the University of Karachi. They gave me a most discouraging response. After that I took up the job of teaching three siblings for their Intermediate exams. Little did I realise that I was destined to be a teacher. A year later I joined Little Folk’s School. My family did not allow me to take up a research-based job in a pharmaceutical organisation and my dream of becoming a research scientist ended right there.

While I was generally shy, I felt like a totally different person in front of the class. I wanted to convey the knowledge and be in full control of it. Three years later I joined the St. Joseph’s Convent School in Saddar. Here I was teaching teenagers a little younger than me. I ended up teaching Physics and Mathematics, although I had specialised in Zoology, Microbiology and Parasitology.

Rakshinda Rahman (FPS): I think I was destined to be a teacher. Every time I would go to attend my daughters’ school for PTMs, I was invariably asked by their teachers and by other parents, what school I was teaching in. This went on for a few years and I finally decided that if I give that impression then why not become one! This happened 28 years ago and I have not regretted it for even one moment.

Seema Iqbal (The AMI School): I had never planned to be a teacher, but when I was compelled to work I decided to teach and this turned out to be a good decision.

Shaheena Sultan (FPS): My son used to study at the Foundation Public School. As his father had passed away, I was the parent who interacted with teachers and the administration. In 1987, an Urdu teacher left abruptly and I got a phone call asking me to step into her shoes for 2.5 months. I agreed to the offer, and this is how my professional career began, without any planning and without giving much thought to the matter.

Shaheen Khan (The AMI School): I chose to become a teacher, because I was interested in teaching since my childhood. I was inspired by my teachers and also by my aunt who was in this field. My aunt had dedicated her life to teaching and after my graduation she was the one who encouraged me to enter this field.

Rabia Masood (The AMI School): I used to admire my kindergarten teacher and always wanted to be like her, that is why I took ‘Child Psychology’ as my major subject and chose to work as a Nursery level teacher.

Anila Sardar Rahim (The AMI School): The reason I chose teaching as a profession is because of one of my teachers who inspired me and had a profound effect on me. I always followed her as a role model. I remember the way she used to teach, explain content, deal patiently with students, was always fair with everyone and set high expectations. She knew how to motivate students and use humour appropriately.

Describe an incident, which you consider your most successful teaching experience.

Hajra Soorma (Mama Parsi School): There are quite a few incidents. A few years after joining St. Joseph’s Convent I prepared my first batch for a solo Physics exhibition. They did a commendable job under my supervision. For 12 successive years I handled about 125 tenth-graders successfully with meagre resources.

Another teaching success was when I realised that I was wasting my energy teaching ‘Household Wiring.’ I asked the girls to pre-read the topic. Then I got the school handyman to make me a working model. The next day I used the model to explain how wires are led into a house and wired. A healthy question and answer session followed, after which I tested the students. The results revealed that the lesson had been a roaring success.

Seema Iqbal (The AMI School): I feel successful whenever I have taught any child something successfully. There was a fourth grader who had very bad handwriting and who improved it a lot after I encouraged him to and that made me very happy. When parents tell me that after being taught Urdu by me, their child shows an interest in Urdu, I feel happy and consider myself a success.

Rakshinda Rahman (FPS): It is not one incident, but a series of incidents. I have over the years been able to develop in my students an interest for my subject Geography, which is usually one of the most disliked subjects. I have also, over the years, trained more than 2-dozen teachers, who took on teaching the subject, and started teaching it well, which initially they were reluctant to do.

When I was chosen to head the administration of the school, my boss said, “My only regret at moving you to the administration is that I have lost an excellent Geography teacher”, but by then I had trained numerous teachers. That I suppose is my success story.

Shaheen Khan (The AMI School): In my early years of teaching I had no idea about students with special needs. Most of these students were considered weak. After attending a workshop on inclusive education, I learnt a lot and now we are aware of conditions such as dyslexia and autism. There were two students in my class who had problems so I gave them extra classes after school and during breaks, which encouraged them and helped build their confidence. Later they were able to speak in the class and perform better in their studies, which I feel was a big achievement for me.

Shaheena Sultana (FPS): About 3 years ago I asked a 9th grade class to write a few ‘dialogues’ about a mobile phone. Since the students were doing this for the first time, they were quite apprehensive. I explained all the rules, but they were just not comfortable with the idea. While this was happening, one student turned to another during the class and said ‘When will you return my mobile phone?’ the other replied, “What’s the hurry?’ the first boy said, ‘ I am not able to complete many tasks.’ This conversation gave me an idea. I told the students that we could only proceed with the class when they are done with their fight. The two started apologising but I made them stand up and they had to start their conversation. Everyone really enjoyed this conversation as it was a ‘punishment’ and listened very carefully to every word of the dialogues that were spoken. When they were done, I explained to the class that the boys’ conversation was their dialogues.

Sadia Kamran (The AMI School): I try to keep children comfortable in my class. As a result of this, one student who was very passive and introverted was selected for the school elocution contest after competing with his classmates. Incidents such as these give me a sense of satisfaction that I have at least made a difference in the lives of a few children who would otherwise be lost in this competitive world.

Naheed Saif (The AMI School): I was part of a workshop once and one of the classroom activities that I came up with was shared with the rest of the teachers who were attending. I had to demonstrate it in front of the class and I count that as one of my biggest successes.

Shabnum Akber (The AMI School): While working with a child who has Down’s Syndrome, I can never forget the day when after two months of hard work she excitedly pointed to a flashcard and said ‘Apple.’

Nabila Badar (The AMI School): I arranged an event in which I organised a doll’s wedding, which was a way to teach the students more about our traditions and culture. The vibrancy of the event surprised everyone who attended it as all the children came dressed in traditional wedding clothes. I had lined up many activities for the children, which they thoroughly enjoyed. It was a fun event, which enabled the children to celebrate our culture.

Anila Sardar Rahim (The AMI School): There are several successful teaching experiences in my career and I would like to share one of them. On an institutional level my colleagues and I were given the opportunity to teach and prepare young Afghan migrants to come up to school level within a year, which was an extremely challenging and unique experience and was achieved successfully.

Describe a teaching disaster.

Hajra Soorma (Mama Parsi School): While doing the on-hand teaching lessons for my B.Ed. I experienced a teaching disaster. It was my second last lesson in Physics. For that lesson I had chosen ‘Reflection by a rotating mirror’ as my topic. From the moment I started the lesson, the professor had a frown on his face and showed his displeasure clearly. I experienced ‘total blankness’ which I had never experienced before. I made minor blunders such as not mentioning ‘lateral inversion of the image,’ but the onlookers could not make out the lapse. In the end the professor said that the topic was an insignificant one and should not have been chosen.

Seema Iqbal (The AMI School): I don’t think there have been any major teaching disaster in my career, although I have to say that on the insistence of parents I have tried different methods to improve children’s Urdu handwriting, but without much success. I feel that handwriting improves with time. Children in 3rd and 4th grade should not be forced to improve their handwriting. Some mischievous children, despite being bright and capable are not interested in studying and don’t do good work and that saddens me. I also face problems when getting the class to be quiet.

Rakshinda Rahman (FPS): When I first started teaching, my whole class failed in their first written test! I thought I had failed as a teacher. But then I did some self-evaluation and realized that I had to come down to their level of understanding first and then slowly and gradually build up.

Shaheena Sultana (FPS): About 15 years ago, I gave grade 11 a passage to translate from English into Urdu. I had not read the passage myself. The students were asking me several meanings and I was telling them the words. However, when it came to the meanings of ‘units,’ ‘tens’ and ‘hundreds’ I got really worried. I turned towards the board in a panic hoping the ground would open up and swallow me, and suddenly the terms for these words came to me out of the blue. This incident taught me to always be prepared before a class.

Sadia Kamran (The AMI School): I still remember the days when I officially joined a school as a teacher and was trying to maintain discipline in the class in the same way in which I had experienced as a child during my own school days, by screaming, yelling and punishing children. Once I asked a student to leave the classroom without even giving her the chance to justify herself. Later I came to realise that I had made an awful mistake by crushing the child’s ego and self-respect. Thank god I realised my mistake soon enough and now I am glad that I am better equipped to deal with such situations in a skilful way.

Naheed Saif (The AMI School): I wouldn’t say that I have made any big teaching disasters, but yes I do make mistakes that I try to correct and not repeat.

Bushra Umair (The AMI School): There was a Science experiment about the Air Force. I had not tried it before teaching it and it turned into a disaster.

Is there any ‘teaching rule’ that you broke?

Seema Iqbal (The AMI School): I don’t think I have ever broken any teaching rule but when it comes to quiet and well behaved students I sometimes overlook it when they break rules.

Shaheena Sultana (FPS): Education cannot be contained by rules and regulations. To make your topic interesting you have to take many things into account, such as the children’s mood, the situation in the world, the city and the country, whether it is the first or the last day of school and even the weather. For whenever, I have taught Ghalib or Ahmed Faraz’s poetry to students sitting on the grass under a tree, they understand the deeper layers and meanings of the ‘shair’ right away.

Sadia Kamran (The AMI School): Being the facilitator in the class, my students and I are the best judge of what would be beneficial for the class. It can be a change in the teaching plan, teaching strategy, or the class rules. Anything and everything can be altered in the classroom with mutual consent and I would rather use the term flexibility, than say that I broke a teaching rule.

Samreen Jawaid (The AMI School): I abstain from conventional teaching techniques. Whenever possible I involve, engage and motivate children with activities and discussion that can trigger their imagination, arouse their curiosity and make teaching and learning a memorable experience.

Rubaba A Mapara (FPS): Sometimes in class there are days when children do not want to learn. Teaching them in that frame of mind is an uphill task. So I close my book and we have an interactive session discussing anything under the sun.

What was it that you think you did differently from your peers?

Rakshinda Rahman (FPS): I did many things differently from my peers. I taught with passion.?
Giving live examples. Once while teaching a chapter on weather and its influence on our lives, I called a pilot as a guest speaker, to tell the class how the wind’s velocity and direction effect the flying time and the take-off and landing of a plane. One lecture helped me in my explanation for years to come!
?I was known among my colleagues for going the extra mile. I would willingly take on projects such as international and domestic study tours, community service, Earth Day projects, Fund raising for SIUT and many more.

Shaheena Sultana (FPS): Reading is my passion. I have a lot of time and I want to do things differently also, so I prepare many things that would be considered ‘out of syllabus’ which I also share with my colleagues. I have mentored many Urdu teachers in FPS and often have teachers in my class who are there to observe me (I am not showing off, but just answering your question).

Azra Rafiq (The AMI School): I find a non-serious attitude and a lack of responsibility in many of my peers. They take teaching very lightly and as a time-pass job although they are drawing a salary for the same. I think teaching is all about responsibility and our future generation depends on it. I think that is the difference between my peers and me.

Sadia Kamran (The AMI School): When I became a teacher I decided that what I would do differently from other teachers was to break down all the barriers between my students and me. It is not the student’s studies and academics that need to be attended to but making students good human beings is also a top priority for me. For this it is important that I cater to their social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. I think this makes me different from my contemporaries.

Shabnum Akber (The AMI School): I had the opportunity to work at a school for mentally and physically challenged individual, which has gone a long way in adding to my teaching capabilities.

Rabia Masood (The AMI School): Even after teaching for 16 years I still feel that I have to learn more and new things related to my profession as learning never stops. Also I have coordinated schools events, which has given me a training that is somewhat different from my peers.

Rubaba A Mapara (FPS): Being a coordinator for English I work with my team of teachers. I try not to make the teachers do things the way I want them to, but I encourage them to do things differently. One such idea was to teach poetry through multimedia. They thoroughly enjoyed those sessions.

What would your critics say about you?

Hajra Soorma (Mama Parsi School): I have often been labelled ‘strict,’ ‘hot-tempered’ and ‘difficult’ by my students, but when they meet me a few years afterwards they give me positive vibes and the feeling that I am a good mentor. The administration has probably also pinned me with adjectives such as ‘blunt’, ‘outspoken’, ‘demanding’ and ‘perfectionist’. I expect myself to carry out my duties par excellence. I do my best to meet the challenge. And sometimes a little voice from within asks me ‘Could my hard taskmaster attitude have been otherwise?’ and ‘Should I have made teaching more enjoyable?’

Rakshinda Rahman (FPS): It’s very difficult to meet Rakshinda’s high expectations.?
She is very strict about rules and at times she is too blunt! ?My students thought I was very strict in school (some even named me Hitler) but when I met them socially or now when they are my ex-students, they think I am a totally different person, very loving and friendly. One of my colleagues is my old student and he says that they were very scared of me!

Shaheen Khan(The AMI School): People think that I am very strict and take my work too seriously but I think that that is how one should be.

Sadia Kamran (The AMI School): Some people might think that I am wasting precious time by discussing irrelevant things in the class rather than getting some solid teaching done such as covering a few more topics from the syllabus. They might think that instead of self-exploration the teacher should deliver the information. To that I would say that learning could only be fun, when it is not imposed.

Naheed Saif (The AMI School): I think my impatience works against me. I sometimes end up suffering because of my impatience and sometimes I end up being careless because of it.

Samreen Jawaid (The AMI School): I am often criticized for my over planning as I want to provide maximum learning in every lesson.

Strong veteran teachers who have been around for decades, don’t just add value to their students lives, but also to schools, especially if they have been at the same school for a long time. Their detractors see veteran teachers as being stuck in a rut and unwilling to change their ways. While this may or may not be true, we do know that veteran teachers are often a goldmine of information and experience. Such teachers are often institutions in themselves.

January 2014