Monday Column: Sailing on the academic boat

Oman Sunday 04/December/2022 21:09 PM
By: Saleh Al-Shaibany
Monday Column: Sailing on the academic boat
Saleh Al-Shaibany

I normally don’t get to be driven to tears but the action in the group messages from one of my students did well-up my eyes.

She took the time to work out a problem for her fellow students and posted it in my class group to help them with their revisions for my exam scheduled for the next day. I stared at her message for several seconds until the writing went blurry.

I was at a coffee shop and the next thing I did was to get up and walk out of the place. I was compelled to just walk around but I was glad it was dark and the street lights were not bright enough to light up my face. I walked past a few people but no one was looking my way. I was in the privacy of the darkness of the night.

I felt pretty stupid to be ‘worked up’ by a simple message. Anyway, I let the walk wear out the mood. By the time I got back to my table, I tried to work out why I was in that state. Students can be brutal to each other’s feelings. The brighter ones usually bear the ridicules of the slow students. As a teacher, you usually see all that and you might want to do something about it.

This particular bright student, perhaps to hold a white flag of reconciliation, unselfishly reached to her fellow classmates to help them out. Did it work? I am not sure that it did. No one in the group said ‘thank you’ and it was left to me to reach out for her. On behalf of her fellow students, I did write some words of gratitude to make sure she would never abandon her unselfish ways even if no one appreciates her efforts.

Ten minutes later, I was still sitting at the same spot not really sure I used the right words to thank her. The words “you will never walk alone in this life” was my way to make her feel appreciated from the blunt silence of her classmates. I was having a second thought. My choice of words might have caused resentment. I felt, as a teacher, perhaps I should not have taken sides.

There were over seventy of them in the group. Even with fewer number, it is always a challenge for a teacher to make sure they all get the same attention. It makes it worse when I consider of their young age and the fact that they look up to me as a father figure. Every time I walk out of the class, I wonder if I conducted myself in the right manner and dealt with their problems the right way.

I have this fear that if some of them end up in a place where they should not be in the future, I may question myself if I did what I was required to do as a teacher. For me, a teacher is not just there to deliver academic lectures. The mentoring and guidance play a pivotal role, too. We should be there if we spot an irrational behaviour and fix it.

It is like an injury, my old teacher used to tell us, if not treated early, then it might be incurable and spread. Anyway, it is worth considering all that before you take up the role of teaching. It is not just for the money because teachers never get paid well, anyway. It is the impression you are shaping up for youngsters who look up at you as a role model.