How does a teacher want to be remembered?

Today, I received bad news from a fellow parent at Hikari’s school. Hikari’s first grade teacher passed away on Thursday.  Ibu Siti, Hikari’s first grade teacher, was still young. She hadn’t been enjoying a good health lately but still the news was shocking, especially for us, the parents of students she was once taught.

Ibu Siti taught Hikari and his other 8 friends when they were in the first grade. It was tough first graders she taught. There were only 9 of them but each carried their unique challenges. When the parents of these 9 students met her for the first time in our first PTA meeting, we gave her a long list of how unique our child was. She gave us assuring smiles and a promise that if God permitted, she would do the best she could.

Ibu Siti’s long list started from a child who wouldn’t stop crying and screaming the first time this girl arrived at school. The girl was from out of town and brought up by her grandparents. Every morning, all parents, students, and school staff witnessed her crying, screaming, and holding her mother so tightly because she was afraid to be left alone. It took Ibu Siti less than a week to turn the crying girl to one of the best achiever-students in school. Now, in her third grade, the girl’s mother never forgets to mention how she is so grateful to have Ibu Siti as her child’s teacher.

Then there was this bully in class. With his physically bigger body, he liked to challenge other kids, hit them, mock them, take their belongings, swear, and he did all those not necessarily in that order. The first month of this class was full of reports of this boy doing this and that. After a month passed, and another month, and another, the boy changed from a bully to a very nice kid one could only imagine. It turned out that he was actually a loving kid who witnessed too many bad examples at home. As the boy progressed, he became the guardian of his 8 friends. The boy moved out of town before the year was over. When they were in town, the mother made an effort to return to school to tell everyone how her boy was praised by his teachers in his new school on how good and caring he was.

And then there was Hikari, of course. With his uniqueness, he drove his teachers crazy in his kindergarten before. He was once called pan’s ears by his kindergarten teacher because he seemed unresponsive to her. Whenever he felt bored with the lesson, Hikari chose to do something else -silently in class- than sitting nicely in front of the teacher. When I told Ibu Siti about Hikari’s behavior, Ibu Siti laughed. Even now I can still hear her words in my ears:

“Hikari likes to move around the class. He cannot sit still. He will sit still only in the beginning of the lesson or when he finds the subject interesting. He usually walks from one corner (a mini library corner in class) to another (toys corner) when I am explaining things in front of the class with the other students sitting down in front of me. He never disturbs other children or tries to talk to his friends when I am explaining. He is busy with his mind and walks around as if he was not listening. But actually, he always listens! When I call him out and ask him a problem, he is always able to answer correctly. It seems like he puts his ears on my table when he walks around….”

Ibu Siti always laughs whenever she talks about Hikari. “I give Hikari two places on the far right side and far left side of the classroom. I told him he could move only from one place to the other during a lesson. But he cannot disturb his friends and he has to use his ears to listen to me. So whenever he gets bored and needs to move his muscles, he can walk from one corner to another. The arrangement satisfied him so he hugged me and told me he loved me!”

Hikari progressed a lot under her supervision. He was accepted with his unique ways of thinking and behaving and most importantly he was given a solution. He even changed from a child afraid of competition to a competitive-and-fair child. In one year Ibu Siti taught him, I remember having a lot of inputs from her. We talked and discussed things so often. I gave her books on child psychology and she shared the content with her friends.

Ibu Siti also had to deal with 9 physically (health related) challenged kids. Every week, one or two students would be absent from being sick. She would only have 5 to 7 kids in class and had to repeat her lesson everytime. She once joked to me that she was given 9 students with health problems perhaps because she also had health problems. “It makes us feel bonded because we understand how each person feels.”

When it was time for the students to be promoted to the second grade, they asked for the same thing: Ibu Siti for their second grade teacher. Their wish was not granted so in the first week in their second grade, they ran and hugged her tightly whenever they came across her in school.

A couple of months ago, I remembered asking the principal why I didn’t see Ibu Siti at school for sometime. Hikari asked me if Ibu Siti could teach him again. The principal said Ibu Siti took a long leave to take care of her lung problem. It hadn’t been 6 months. Today Hikari and I learned that both of us were given only a year to meet such a great person and teacher. I am shocked and sad hearing the news, yet I am grateful that my son was given an opportunity to meet her. I am a teacher myself but to compare myself to her, I wouldn’t dare.  She only taught 9 students that year, but looking at how these 9 students progress, she had successfully presented this country 9 great people. Imagine the how many other students she had taught before and how many lives she had helped transformed and how these lives would support their country.

A teacher is never selfish. I think that’s probably how a teacher wants to be remembered. By the marks she has left on her students.

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