Sometimes you look back at your experiences, and think why was I even born here. Don't worry, this isn't a sad story.
This is about a small classroom in 2004 in Lahore. I don't remember which month but it was in that academic year when what I am about to tell you happened. I was in O Levels back then. So a young little person just being in class because, that's expected of me. But what is also expected that the teachers teach.
We were studying Chemistry, and I don't even remember what the topic was, it was probably a chapter before organic chemistry. But I remember that class distinctively because at the age of 15, I was reminded again that I was different from everyone in the class. My teachers in that school had a habit of killing time sometimes by talking about stories not related to their subjects. This was a sort of a way for them to bond with us.
But that day, he began to be a preacher and not a teacher. I don't even remember what the amazing story was that he was telling. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those times when our teachers would start telling us stories, especially stories based on religious history because of my keen interest in narratives. But then, from the story, it switched to something about why it is good to be a follower of Islam and then he turns to me and says firmly, "You should convert to Islam."
My immediate response was, "No, I won't."
Now I'm just a teenager at that time. But he was a full grown adult. Somebody that I am supposed to look up to. But of course, when you refuse to listen to your adults, you face the consequences right? Yeah, that's what sort of happened. He puffed up like a bull frog and yelled at me, "Then get out of this class!"
Now you might be thinking, "Oh my God! How dare he!"
But I was like, "No." At least on the inside. And I refused to get up from my seat. I couldn't speak after I was kicked out. But I didn't leave the class at all.
My whole class was silent. They didn't know how to respond. None of them even said "I'm sorry" to me, everyone just went about their own way. I didn't tell my parents about this either.
For the rest of the class, the teacher didn't speak to me. It was like that for the rest of the week. Of course he never apologized. Why would he? He is the "adult". Right now he is a colleague of mine, and I'm sure he has forgotten about that experience. But I'm not here to bash him. He may have been the best Chemistry teacher out there but, he was a horrible person to me. I'm sure he is a good teacher to others. He probably didn't consider what he said had consequences, because till now, I haven't forgotten that experience.
It reminds me that I do not belong. Truthfully. But I also look at that moment as a defining moment to me because I learnt to stand up for myself, especially for my beliefs, alone that day. I knew I couldn't complain to the principal of the school because the teacher was a good buddy of his. My class fellows couldn't stand up for me because they never thought this is something that happens in class. Plus, most of them have never been kicked out of class or told to change their religion growing up. So they couldn't relate. I didn't tell my mom and dad because I didn't want them to worry about it.
Mind you, this isn't the first time someone tried to prescribe a new religion to me. I was even younger when these would happen too. This also wasn't the last time I was made to feel like an outsider. But this was just one of those events that I wanted to write about. Because to be honest, I am a teacher right now.
In my career as a teacher, I never saw a reason to want to kick students out of the classroom. As a teacher, I fail to understand why this teacher couldn't be inspiring enough for me to want to convert, but rather force me into it.
As a student, I asked myself why was he not teaching Chemistry? I look back, I hated that teacher. So, I actually got a C on my O Levels Chemistry. I knew the stuff, but didn't bother doing well on my exam because of him. I always performed better in classes where the teacher at least made the class seem fun, and the subject fun.
Now I'm not going to criticize religion here. It had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with bigotry in that teacher, and the lack of compassion. For a very long time I was angry about this incident. I was angry no one stood up for me, not even my proverbial best friends in that school at that time. I was angry that a person I'm supposed to look up to would behave like this. I was angry that somebody made me feel like I wasn't a part of the class because obviously everyone followed something, and I was reminded that I wasn't part of this "exclusive" group.
As teachers, we are supposed to help our students go through their lives facing forward. As teachers, we should guide children to the answers, not drill them into their heads. As teachers, we are supposed to be examples of love, not symbols of fear or even anger. As teachers, we should work with our students without judging them. As teachers, we are supposed to be accepting. But that's not what this teacher did.
For anyone thinking of being a teacher, I just want to say, please, don't be like him. Please, do not kick out a student out of the classroom because they are disagreeing with you. Please, do not kick out a student because they are troublesome. Please, do not kick out a student because they do not believe in the same thing as yourself.