In Search of Self: My Journey from being a Christian Pakistani to a Pakistani Spartan — (II)

The Realization Phase of my life!

The second phase of my life started after bachelors in 1992. I just did fine in the final exams. I had never thought of doing something extra ordinary. I dreamed like many other girls either to get married and settle down in my life or to continue my studies. But life had something different stored in for me.

Like many children of middle class families in financial crisis, I quit my studies after my bachelors. I still remember the day when my dad asked me to look for a job. My father did not like and was not supportive of girls working in offices, and he wanted one of his kids to continue with his family profession, teaching. Of course, by being a father’s daughter I couldn’t refuse him, but he knew that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do. As I awaited my bachelors  result, I started teaching in a small, private school which paid me Rs. 1400 per month ($25). After 4 months, with the result declared, I was able to apply in a Christian school– a school just across the road to my father’s office. The news of my appointment as a science teacher at St. John’s High School came on the 1st of April, 1993 :). My first teaching schedule included one class of fifth grade math. Panicked by the fact that I had studied math only till grade 10 and that I was newly appointed, I went to the principal’s office to request a change in the timetable. His replied, “Insan ko daal khatey khatey, kabhi ghost bhi kha lena chaye” (which literally means, one should eat beef too once a while, rather than eating lentils daily). He wanted to encourage me to try other subjects too, rather than teaching science only. But with little effort, the principal was convinced that math should be taken out of my timetable. To my surprise, one math class was replaced by English for 3rd grade in the new timetable. I knew that I should not be going to the office for requesting a change again. Of course, it was my second day in the school as a teacher and I had a long journey ahead. Learned first lesson as a new teacher, that is, what it means to “compromise.” The first year of my teaching went by smoothly as a science teacher. The second year was different.

April, 1994: My second year- My first day as a class teacher in the classroom with 65 pairs of eyes of 3rd graders looking at me, with eighteen of them repeating the grade. I honestly didn’t know what to do and how to do anything. As Lortie (1975) argues that thousands of hours spent as a student in classrooms, are responsible for preconceptions about what it means to be a teacher and influence perceptions about teaching. I agree but these preconceptions also help untrained teachers like me to survive the beginning years. I won’t lie. I wasn’t interested in becoming a teacher and it wasn’t my choice. And it will be a cliche if I say, “I was always been interested in becoming a teacher” or “Teaching was my passion since childhood. I used to play teacher-students with my siblings/ friends and I always acted as a teacher.” The only thing I knew at that time was that I have to work hard and continue with the job. My priority was not teaching but earning for my family. The first time I felt something called passion for teaching was on the finals result day in 1995. The very first time I realized what it means for the parents that their kids must not fail any grade, especially for parents whose kids were repeating the grade. That day, the very first time I felt the responsibility I had on me toward the kids in my class. In the following years, things changed, I changed, and I don’t know when and how the kids in my class became my responsibility!

I was troubled in the beginning however, like majority of my national and international colleagues, I learned to teach in general through “sink(ing) and swim(ming).”There was no one in the teaching staff, who could spare some time to talk either about daily routines in the school or about teaching itself. I had third, fourth and fifth graders who did not like science, not because they found it uninteresting, but because they found it very difficult. I struggled and learned to swim safely. I must admit that I worked very hard to teach English as compared to science. After couple of years, Mrs. Christie who was an excellent English teacher, became my friend. I questioned her about anything I did not understand– words, their use, translation from Urdu to English, and so on. She became my mentor. I shared my problems with her. Sometimes it was just sharing, sometimes we looked for solutions together, and sometimes we just moved on. I also did B.Ed  from Allama Iqbal Open University for job confirmation, to secure my job. ecause my job confirmation relied on the B.Ed degree. I initiated speech competitions, skits and other games in my class on every last hour of the day before the weekend. Students were happy. Here I must acknowledge the support of the principal Mr. Munir Gill. We  collected absence fine from the students who were absent from the school without any information every month. I remembered requesting Mr. Gill to allow me to buy small gifts for the students from the fine money. He allowed me. I also organized annual school and Christmas functions. I also wrote short serious and comedy skits; directed students for performances and tableaus. The principal appreciated what I did as a teacher and I was able to make my position in the school as a very hard working teacher. Life was good, then everything changed with the sad dismissal of my father.

Feb 28, 2000… when death took away what I treasured the most, my dad. His death was sudden and just in an hour, he was no more. Since the day I was born till the day he died, in every minute of illness and pain, I saw him standing by my side, filling the refrigerator with all sorts of goodies along with cooking specially for me. I can’t compare anyone’s love even a mother’s love the way he loved me and took care of me. February 28, even after 13 years is as painful as it was in 2000. It not only took away my daddy, it also took away the mother I had in him and a friend, who was always there to listen and help me. But before his death, he had already bought admission form for M.Ed, and I knew what to do!

My dad & I (1995)

My dad & I (1995)

The dearest  and the closest person in my life was no longer there. A girl who lived a very protected and dependent life, was suddenly no more protected and no one’s responsibility. Once again I was alone in the trial of life with no one to guide me through. But this time in my personal life, facing and understanding the darker side of relatives and blood relations. First time in my life, I understood how it feels when the protective, comforting overhead shade is taken away. It took me two years to accept the absence of my dad’s protection from my life and took my first step out alone in search of a post office to post my assignments. A colleague  and a very dear friend of me, was generous enough to give me pick and drop from school to home and other way round. To go for personal chores was out of question. During the following four years, I did my M.Ed and M.Sc in Mass Communication from the same higher education institution along with teaching full time and doing tuition till late at night to support my studies, my mother who was a retired nurse. I was so busy in earning and studying that I did not have time to  do anything fun or  to relax. I used to get up at 4am, prepared breakfast for all at home, and left home to school at 6am. After teaching in the school, I went to three different places for tuition and returned home around 9.30-10.00pm. Sometimes I prepared dinner, when my mother hadn’t and then did M.Ed and then Mass Comm assignments. In her introduction for a TV reality show, The Undercover Boss (aired on November 30, 2012), the president of Cinnabon Incorporate, Kat Cole said that the circumstances she grew up in, gave her a strong “desire to be successful” and this desire was a “very powerful driver and differentiator in business.” Similarly, the circumstances I was growing up from, kept driving my desire to be successful. To become a person recognized by others.However, I must again acknowledge that Mr. Gill, the principal, always issue No Objection Certificate or service letter whenever and for whatever I needed them.

This phase of life which stretches over twelve and a half years of my life taught me number of things that I still cherish and want to instill the same in my students… trust thy self  and have faith in thy self, along with keeping faith alive in Jesus, the closest friend I had since the day my dad died (whichever religion you belief in).  I learned not to fall prey to self-pity. I did for two years. It didn’t do any good to me. I learned that you cannot be passionate about things in life that you haven’t experienced or even tried at least once. My passion for teaching and making a difference in someone’s life grew out of my first two years of teaching. Blood relations and friendships are good to have, but you should not rely on them. Never step back once you have started something because of the hardships.  Let those hardships strengthen your inner self . Learn from every mistake you make, even a tinny tiny one. It will help you become a better decision maker by making you wiser. Last but not the least, SMILE no matter what, but don’t let others’ smile fool you!

Santa and Sam Story: Little Things Matter!

20315_10151187684188719_1804603250_n    Ho!Ho!Ho!

Christmas spirit is in the air. Wherever you go you see homes, streets, malls, shops, cafes, all decorated with lights and what not. Yet sometimes rather many times, grad school stress diminishes the festivities around us. Everything seems meaningless when a grad student is upset about something related to his/her studies. I felt the same today. One of my professors sent me email that she is available in the afternoon to meet. As I was waiting for the bus, I saw dark clouds rising in the north. The breeze as it touched my face, brought a smile. It was so refreshing. It was almost 15 minutes wait when I saw a bus coming on the opposite side of the road.As the bus approached, oh my god… A Santa driving a bus!!!  and I wished to ride the same bus to the campus. Well, maybe Santa heard my wish 🙂

After waiting for 35 minutes on the stop, I saw a bus coming now on my side of the road. My smile broadened because my wish was granted. I was so excited to see the Santa. The bus stopped, the door opened and I heard… ho!ho!ho! I looked down to swipe my card, oh! not today, instead I got a candy from the Santa. I was one happy Sam. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Sam. When I started my grad school in 2009,  one of my professors and class fellows had difficulty in pronouncing and remembering my name Samina. And back home, one of my elder brothers called me Sam, so this name wasn’t new to me. Since then, I go by the name Sam too in my college.  When we reached the bus station, I requested the Santa if I could have a picture taken with him. I heard again… ho!ho!ho! You can see the proof that I rode a bus, driven by a Santa.

Sometimes when we are stressed about things, we forget the little, tinny tiny stress free things scattered around us… things that take away our stress, things that might not be important… yet good enough to help forget your worries or stresses or tensions. For instance, how many times in our life we see dark clouds rising and breeze blowing against our faces. Maybe uncountable… but one cannot see clouds or feel breeze or ride with Santa (if my case today), if one stays inside their homes. One has to go out to experience all these things. Same is the case with our tensions, worries and stresses. We cannot deal with them if we stay in them or with them. We have to come out of them to refresh our thinking process and to find solutions.

Hope you all have a stress free and a very festive holiday season! ho!ho!ho!


In Search of Self: My Journey from being a Christian Pakistani to a Pakistani Spartan — (I)

“The past gives meaning to the present. Often, it is only in the context of someone’s past experience that we can understand why what they are saying or doing makes any kind of sense” (Stone, Patton & Heen, 2000, p. 34)


7-year old ME with the hope of becoming a medical doctor

Before defining my work and talking about the areas of research that interest me and provoke my thinking, I would like to take you on a journey with me. I want you to know me as a woman and to learn about my experiences as a Christian Pakistani and as a Pakistani Spartan. This is my narrative about who I was, who I am, and who I inspire to be– this is my story.

Born and raised in a traditional, middle class Christian family, I learned not to question the dogma, either it be a religious or parental in nature. However, being a father’s daughter, I learned his way of authority and power. In his life neither he nor I understood what I did but now when I look back,  I know I was  a silent rebel (I still am, in many ways). I did what I wanted to do but with his approval. My whole world revolved around my father.  He always said that one day I would be a doctor (of course, a medical doctor). The seed of passion for science was sown and as a child, I dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. Yet, science topics were not discussed at home. My mother was a nurse, so medical terms and medicines made their way in our daily conversations. It was the school teachers, who nurtured my passion for learning science.

 I was in 4th grade and had taken my first term exams. My science teacher Mrs. Naseem (not my mother) was revising the question paper in the class. She asked me to answer a question. Shy and nervous I was.  She encouraged me to speak. She told the class that I was the only one who got 50/50 in general science. She appreciated me a lot. After that she encouraged me to participate in the class regularly. Her encouragement strengthened the passion for learning science. Because I was an average student, after that I have nothing to boast about. I have my reasons for not getting higher grades, but I don’t want to get into the details. So let’s settle down with the fact that I just had good grades, never failed in any subject.

After studying in Pakistani federal government school in Tripoli, Libya, my parents came back to Pakistan. I was admitted in Presentation Convent after summer vacation in September, 1985 in 8th grade. Mrs. Misbah, my 8th grade English teacher helped me improve written and spoken English. She did that without making me feel embarrassed.  On the other hand, my math teacher humiliated me for not getting good marks in a math surprise test. I still remember her words, “I don’t understand why Christian girls want to study science, when they are not good at math and in studies.” She herself was a Christian and getting 80% marks in math was one of the criteria to study science in 9th grade. Ah, she sure did hit the wrong button. I worked hard and I scored 88/100 and what a surprise!!! The first day when class teachers of 8th grades were suppose to separate students in science and arts groups, my class teacher was absent. My math teacher was given the charge. I still remember her calling my name, “Saima Naseem” and I stepping forward and correcting my name as “Samina Naseem.” She was surprised, really surprised. I don’t have words to tell how proud I felt when I passed by her to stand with the science group girls.

My 9th and 10th grade science teachers were good, especially my math teacher, Mrs. Bashir. She was a real hero for me. She knew I needed extra help in math. She explained me exercises separately many times,  gave extra time, and helped me to understand formulas and methods of doing problems. In 10th grade national exams, I performed well all because of Mrs. Bashir, who took extra pain in helping me understand math. It is not just me, who acknowledges Mrs. Bashir’s extra efforts with her students. Every student in Presentation Convent, who had the privilege to be in her class, would agree that she made math so easy for her students. Though I didn’t do math after 10th grade, I can still do the basic math well.

My college life… 11th, 12th grades and 2 years of bachelors in science majoring in botany, zoology and chemistry. My dad couldn’t afford to send me to a private college, so I got admission in a public college. Mrs. Raana Akhtar, what a great teacher she was. She had masters in chemistry. I remember the first day of  11th grade chemistry class. I was scared that she would ask definitions of terms like atom, molecule, compound, etc. She did not. She explained every term to the class as if we were hearing it for the first. She refreshed our memories and then asked to define the terms. I was in love with her the very first day of my college classes. Luckily, she continued teaching inorganic chemistry to my cohort at bachelors level too. I loved studying inorganic chemistry because of her. When I quit my studies (I will discuss the reason in the second part) and went to see her in the college, she was really sad to learn that. She said that after a very long time she thought one of her students would excel in inorganic chemistry. The best compliment an average student like me could possibly get from her teacher. She was very kind.

My biology teacher, Mrs. Iffat in 11th-12th grade, who taught us one of the zoology classes at bachelors level too, talked about content so openly. I overcame my fear of talking about reproduction and other such topics in her classes. We had home exams in the first year of bachelors. Parents of science students were requested to meet the teachers and collect their daughters’ results. The second day when my dad went to collect my result, he had the shock of his life.  Mrs. Iffat told my dad that his daughter could have achieved really high scores, if she  had been a little more serious in the class. She told my dad that I was one of the naughtiest students. My dad surprised, asked in a confirmation tone pointing toward me, “Madam, are you talking about my daughter?” Her affirmative reply brought a smile on my dad’s face. His reaction and reply surprised my teacher. He said that he was so happy to learn that his daughter “talks and laughs”  (I was a very quiet child at home). Last but not the least, my English compulsory teacher in bachelors. She was the first one who recognized and appreciated my creative writing skills when I wrote an essay  “My College Classroom.”  I used humor to highlight the problems in our classroom, from the dust on chairs and tables, to cobwebs all around the classroom, and ceiling fan motor hanging without wings. After reading, she suggested that I should seriously think of continuing writing. But it was something that was not supported beyond the college walls.

The other side of the reality. I couldn’t score enough to meet the merit for getting admission in a medical college in my 12th grade board exam. So the dream of becoming a medical doctor was shattered. I believe that whatever happens, happens for good. Even if I had good scores, my parents were not in a position to bear expenses of medical college. It slowed me down, but didn’t stop me. The teachers I talked about, made a difference in my life. They not only developed passion for the subjects they taught, but they saw the potential in me, encouraged me to recognize it along with making me realize things that good teachers do. As a teacher, I did and I do with my students, what these teachers did for me. My experiences with these teachers define me as a teacher. Many of my doctoral friends would say, ‘Ahan, a classic example of “apprenticeship of observation” ‘(Lortie, 1975). It is indeed. But only to the extent that I find my teachers’ approaches useful. I don’t imitate their style. I have developed my own style, of course I added humor to what I do. Majority of my teachers were Muslims, but they never differentiated their students on the religious basis. At least I can say this without any doubts about the teachers I mentioned.  I learned from these teachers the significance of encouraging students, helping struggling students in their studies, recognizing students’ potentials, and having faith in students. The most important lesson I learned that neither teachers nor students in the classroom have any religion. This formed the base of my teaching and everything I do as a human. I don’t differentiate between my students or people I meet on the religious grounds.

Here ends the first phase of my life…To Be Continued!