I was going to school today feeling a sense of finality of everything. The exact same pre-school morning routine. Packing my bag after checking for all the essentials. Meeting the same people in the lift, other children who go to better resourced schools and their parents. Taking a rickshaw to school with the meter reading between Rs.44-46 everyday (as per the latest fare revision - fares changed thrice during the two years). Reaching school before 7:10AM, the time for the first bell. Signing in on the teacher's muster. Leading my class line for the assembly. Being greeted by a "Good Morning" by my students. Setting up the class for the lesson - the closing lesson of the year. Taking attendance. Executing it to the tee, well almost. The video collage of photographs of some of the key moments of our journey made them realize that this was the last time I was taking a lesson for them. That was when it dawned on them and me that I had only a few minutes left in that class as their teacher.
Students started to rest their heads on the table. Students looked away from each other - avoiding eye contact. A tear dropped roll down Kaneez's cheek. On the other corner, Firdos started crying. And gradually the grief of parting spread to many others in the classroom - Mehak, Zeba, Madiha, Farhin, etc. I wanted to appear strong. I did not want to make the kids to feel any worse.I kept stepping outside the class time and again on the pretext of work, while I was actually just wiping a tear that was waiting to roll out of the corner of my eyes. I asked the kids to pose for some photographs, making the girls laugh by passing random comments with the help of the boys. After around 30 minutes, we managed to get out of the gloomy phase and set up for the open house.
And then I met the parents. They asked me "Who will teach them after I go?","The kids really like studying with you. We are not sure how their next teacher will be." and "Why I was leaving?" Those questions hit me like a hammer hitting iron kept in the furnace. I was not sure how long I will be able to hold. To make matters worse, Zeba's mom started crying. I consoled her - telling her I will be around and reachable - but both her and I knew that wasn't always going to be true, that things were going to change forever, that I was no longer going to be her teacher. Even then, I did not cry.
The kids left with their parents. I sat in the classroom watching the charts on the wall, soaking in every moment I had left in MY class - Metamorphia. I read the anthem and the pledge. I stood at the place where I would start my lessons from, my most common view of the classroom. I stood at the window from which I could see the homes where some of the kids stayed. I stood in the corridor looking over the door to my classroom. I stood waiting for someone to come, something to happen. But no one came and nothing happened.
I wished the other teachers good bye and sat in the rickshaw to home. That was when it hit me - it was over. This was not just another end of day procedure. The dam of tears that I had held back through the day burst in the form of a river, that trickled down my face. I didn't try to wipe them. I didn't try to stop them. I knew that nothing could stop them today. No words could console me. No hugs would bring happiness. No person would bring me peace. The void that was to be filled was deep.
When I taught my students something, my students taught me much more. They gave me a part of themselves and I gave each of them a part of me. Today, when we said the good bye, we knew that something in each of us had changed forever from the first time we had met. We were not individuals but a living body that was a sum total of all our thoughts, values and voices. Going our separate ways, we would never truly be alive again in the same way.
Today, I am depressed that the journey is ending, but in the future, I am going to take great joy and pride in the fact it happened. I have two educational degrees none of which have taught me how to live my life. I have worked in two organizations before this, but the intensity of learning in the fellowship was incomparable. No amount of power, money or comfort could replace what I learnt going back to school to those 35 stunning children everyday - the courage to endure and rise above the challenges; the compassion to be gentle when I was vulnerable; the wisdom to make hard choices; the stories of truth and hope; excellence without excuses; honesty without fear; and the children's philosophy of life and living. Most importantly, the road that leads to a country where all children attain an excellent education is long and what I have learnt in these last two years is going to be invaluable while I am on that path.