September 5, 2020
Respected Soma Ma’am,
I’m writing this letter on behalf of the shy and introverted 13-year-old Sohini Basu that you met long ago. I’ve always known that teaching is a noble profession and the achievements of a student are the actual proof of success for a teacher. However, I’ve never been good at achieving things and always believed in keeping a low profile in class so that my failures can never embarrass my teachers. When I was barely passing the science papers, sadly, enough people were insinuating that I was not paying enough attention to studies.
But nobody was there to truly understand the problem or guide me through it. Fortunately, I met you.
Ma’am, it’s only natural that you won’t remember this instance but I remember each moment like it happened yesterday. I was in class 8 and the board exams that we were supposed to sit for in a couple of years started haunting us and our parents already. My private tutor along with my parents started worrying about my future.
To their horror, I really ended up failing the math paper in the half-yearly exam, I got 36 out of 100. That was the first instance of me failing at paper. I was extremely embarrassed and feeling miserable because it was a norm to get up in front of the whole class and say our score aloud to verify the marks.
You started roll calling and cross-checking the marks we scored and my roll number was 35. At that moment I was constantly gazing downwards, there was an uncomfortable palpitation. With each passing roll numbers, my ears started to feel extremely warm. You called roll number 34 and I kept praying to God to somehow make me invisible. Suddenly, the next thing I heard was you calling, “roll number 36”! I knew there was a mistake and decided to talk to you after the class.
When the class ended, I went up to you and in the manner of confessing I mumbled, “Ma’am you missed my roll number and I didn’t interrupt because I got…”. My embarrassment took the shape of a lump in my throat and my eyes got filled with tears. I couldn’t finish the sentence, you said, “I already know what you’ve scored Sohini. Would you please tell me if you’re having any problem in understanding what I’m teaching?”.
Trust me, ma’am, no one ever asked me that question before. I was so shocked and overwhelmed that for the first time I cried in front of someone. Instead of adding to my embarrassment, you focused on comforting me and tried to understand the difficulty.
For the next few months, you guided me with a few others in a separate classroom during the free period. That year I scored 72/100 in Maths in the annual exam and it might not seem a big deal but trust me it was. Not just because I got better (I still dread that subject), but I understood the power of compassion and empathy over pity and false sympathy. Ironically, “think positive and act positively” was the motto that everybody was preaching in our school but you were the only one who made me realise the importance of kindness and positivity.
Being a shy kid, I could never actually come up to you ever to thank you for the sheer generosity. I felt it was a huge favour you’ve done for me. Eventually, in a few years, you got a better opportunity and left the job in our school. I will always remember our conversation in that empty classroom. I was crying uncontrollably out of embarrassment, shame, and guilt that no matter how much I worked hard probably it wasn’t enough. I was worried that I will fail the annual exam and not get promoted to the next grade.
You told me to acknowledge the failure but not to focus on it. Instead, you advised me to focus on my strengths and what we learn every day, success will follow you said. You told me, “Sohini never be ashamed of yourself, you’re not a loser. You have no idea how good a voice you have and you seem quite interested in storybooks. Learn to focus on your strengths.”
That day, those were the only positive thing I heard throughout the day. Back at home when my private tutor was lecturing me about how irresponsible and careless, I was and my parents felt ashamed yet again because of me, for the first time I didn’t pity myself. In my heart, I said, “At least I’m a good singer”. Acknowledging my strengths helped me a lot, I knew maths was only a part of my journey and not the ultimate destination. That day I decided to make you proud.
Today I may not have many accomplishments attached to my name, but your guidance and wise words shaped a shy, indecisive, timid teenager to a strong, independent, and confident woman that I am today. These words of gratitude will never be enough to thank you and I don’t wish to be your favourite student but I’ll always be grateful for your presence and guidance in my life.
I’ve followed your advice ever since and I hope someday that I’ll make you proud. In the critical situation, we are living in, I just wish every student going through a difficult phase of life gets a compassionate and inspiring teacher, mentor, and guide like you.
Thank you for being there ma’am.
Sohini Basu, your student forever.