“There are no bad students, only bad teachers” is an aphorism to take home from the cinema, after seeing the Indian movie titled Hichki. The screen blares on showing us the struggle of a woman seeking a teaching job. Eighteen schools but none would employ her; why? Because she has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder which makes its victims yelp like puppies uncontrollably, and likely to be heightened by tension or anxiety. It is caused by loose connections in the brain, which gives small shocks, forcing the yelping sounds.
Her childhood was wedged with her father’s difficulty with accepting the shameful health condition, and several schools’ refusal to keep her in their classrooms, for her yelping which distracted other students. In the midst of all these childhood challenges, she found inspiration from a teacher who accepted her and publicly applauded her for bringing into their cognizance, the knowledge of such a health condition. The inspiration she found from this acceptance was what sparked her interest in being a teacher. However, what could ever go wrong?
This woman, Ms Naina Mathur would not give up. She kept on reapplying to schools that had rejected her. And luckily, her childhood school, St. Notker’s College had a vacant seat, for a class which had sent eight teachers running in seven months. The students in this class were children squeezed into St. Notker’s on a Community Initiative Programme because the school which was originally theirs was demolished to give room for St. Notker’s expansion. So, their admission could be described as compensation to the community for taking their school away. Now, what is the implication of this? These students, having found themselves in an atmosphere more expensive than they knew, with colleagues from far richer families, felt subconsciously out of place, and thusly, exhibited rebelliousness as a defense mechanism. Since they were seen as ‘children from the dirt’ and were not equally treated like the other students, they believed formal education couldn’t secure meaningful future for ‘people like them’. The school would even validate these negative thoughts when it listed these students not qualified to be prefects. All these had robbed them of the significance of learning and consequently, they had chosen to frustrate all teachers employed to teach them. This situation, as movie-zoned as it is, can be likened to wider instances, like in Nigeria where youths resort to cyber crimes because they believe ‘school is a scam’ and only ‘hustles’ can guarantee bright futures.
Ms Naina Mathur, achieving her goal to teach, is unfortunately stuck with the wrong class. The day she resumed work, they placed bets on how long she’ll last. In her first class with them, they taunted and mocked her. They pasted her picture all over town with her name, phone number and a caption which read: call me if you need someone to make you happy. They unbolted her chair to make her fall. They set off homemade explosives in her class. They told her blankly there’s no point in trying to teach them; they’re not going to learn.
Ms Naina Mathur never backed down, she instead sought a way to get through to them, and this she couldn’t achieve until a Parents Teachers Meeting which her students’ parents didn’t attend. When another teacher taunted her to perhaps seek the parents if they wouldn’t come, she took the cue. It was mockery but she took the initiative and went on the trip. This was when she saw that indeed, the home affects the student. The parents expected at a PTM were either busy queuing to fetch water somewhere or selling vegetables in the market. The children had not found reasons to dream; they did not see beyond their parents’ horizon and so, merely wanted to survive. Like Nigeria where most graduates end up hustling in the streets with people who didn’t go to school at all, they also found proof that the school wouldn’t save them, from the misfortune of their society, where their neighbours who were schooled sold detergents door to door to survive. Some of the students slept on house roofs, some on canoes by the local harbor. There was even one of her students she found gambling, busted and chased by the police.
The next day at school, she changed her methods. She made the gambler realize his mathematical skills; kid was so brilliant at numbers he could do arithmetic faster than a calculator. The students believed they could never know anything but she walked them through their qualities. She made them find their strengths in their weaknesses. When they saw that she was always defending them whenever the school found another reason to get rid of them, they developed affection for her and allowed her to teach them; a change which revealed brilliance unexpected, even from the possessors of this brilliance. What seemed difficult began to appear easy; they began to have ideas and even went as far as spotting mistakes in the science project of the generally acclaimed best students in the school.
At the end, even with several antics weaved into their way to get them expelled; they triumphed and won the National Science Fair for their school. Their major enemy, Mr. Wadia whose students had always been the best in the school, also eventually appraised these 9F students in his speech. “We all want to teach others something,” he said. “I too set out to teach 9F something, that they aren’t good enough for St. Notker’s. Not because they were failures, but because I wanted them to be failures.”
Hichki is a movie to watch for teachers and students, especially teachers. Children are pure; it is we, the adults and the society that either channel that purity into proper directions or ruin it. When a student is in the wrong society, his fate rests in the hands of his teachers, if heavens would at least bless him with the right ones. Teachers are builders of the future. Small salaries maybe, history doesn’t remember salaries but results. Hichki urges teachers to improve in their delivery methods so that improvement can be in the outcome of teaching. Teachers should not be those who notice how sexy their female students are but how bright their futures could be. I know teachers who sit down from 7pm till 11pm discussing their students’ breasts but that is the unfortunate disaster Nigerian economy has caused; people who don’t have passion for teaching or know the first thing about the values expected of a teacher are all in the classrooms, slaughtering the future of the nation, majorly because teaching is the only job available. When tailoring jobs are assigned to carpenters, they use hammers where scissors are needed, or what else did you expect?
According to Mr. Wadia in the movie, he said, “When I was young, I used to think being a teacher is the most difficult thing. After teaching for twenty years, I’ve learnt, there is something even more difficult… being a student. A student can lose marks for learning something wrong, but a teacher never loses marks for teaching something wrong. Teaching is easy, learning is hard.” From this assertion, one can suspect that indeed, a student’s performance measures his teacher’s mastery of subject matter. There are no bad students; there are only bad teachers.
Who’s a good teacher? A good teacher isn’t he who’s obsessed with how he looks but how his students’ performances look. We’re architects of destinies. When a country is working, the teachers are to thank. When it is otherwise, the teachers are to blame. Teachers aren’t people who go about ogling students’ bums; they’re those who go about struggling to salvage their students’ futures. Whatever we (teachers) do, our direct children will either enjoy or suffer, for every stone is our deeds’ counter, none will be left unturned. Waves that lap at history’s shore; a teacher’s words in the class. The future is our drawing board, our actions pick which brushes to use. So, please, let us be careful.
– Lord eBay (and his random ruminations, 2019)