I was marking homework that night. It was a Form Two class in a school in Balik Pulau, Penang. The exercise books piled high on my working table. I didn’t mind at all. It was all kind of fun and exciting. I had only been teaching for 10 days so marking students’ homework was kind of new to me and I quite liked it.
The exercises were simple enough. Very routine, 20 sentences , fill in the blanks kind of stuff. Very easy to do. Even easier to mark.
I was marking this particular homework when I saw additional markings at the bottom of the page. At the end of the exercise, this particular student had written, in pencil.
“I hate you, Sir! You have no experience teaching. You don’t know how to teach. I hate you!”
I was taken aback. I wonder which boy wrote this. I looked at the front cover to see the name of the boy. Rusmah. It was a girl.
Who is this Rusmah, I wondered. What did I do to her that made her hate me so much? I tried to recall the class I had with her earlier to see if I had done anything to hurt anybody. I remember when I returned the students their earlier homework I had called her and asked her to finish her homework which had stopped at number 17 instead or the required 20.
That hurt her? Did I scold her? No, I did not. Did I threaten to blow her head off? I wish I had. I certainly did nothing that could have hurt any normal human being except to remind her to finish her homework. And for that she hated me? What evil spirit possessed her to say such nasty words to a nice person like me?
I would probably laugh off something like this now. But at that time , when I had only been a teacher for 10 days it was a big thing for me. It bothered me a lot. Should I call her and asked her why she wrote what she did? Should I just ignore it? Should I give her a piece of my mind? Should I put a big red circle over what she wrote? Should I burn her book?
Perhaps it was just a minor childish thing on her part but for me it was a big thing. I was a new teacher and I wanted to make a good impression. I did not want to start on the wrong foot too early in my career. Plus, I was scared of my Head of Department at that time , the notorious witch, Ms Loh Mei Lin! Mei Lin treated the students like her own children and if she were to find out I had done something to hurt a little girl she would skin me alive!
I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of what Rusmah had written and guessing what I had done wrong. I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only thing I could think of. Next to what she had written about how much she hated me , I added my own in pencil. I wrote.
“Well, at least my mum still loves me.”
I returned the homework to the kids the next day and just ignored Rusmah. I couldn’t detect any reaction from her. At the end of the class I collected the exercise books back after they had finished their exercise for the day. I pretended as if everything was normal.
But when I reached the staff room, I quickly opened Rusmah’s exercise book to find out what she had to say this time! My hopes were dashed though, for she had erased what she had written and what I replied!
Till today I never knew what made her write what she did and what I did wrong to her. I must say I looked upon this incident as a challenge for me to prove that I could be a good teacher. Now, 23 years on, I have garnered a fair share of awards for my services. I should probably thank Rusmah for providing me with that initial challenge.
by Kamarul Azlan Habibur Rahman