During my first year at university, I had to work to support myself and my family. I didn’t want to ask my mom for money. I knew women love saving money, and my mom was a woman who loved to save money.
Finding a part-time job is like dreaming of going to space! It is very hard, especially since I was teaching English privately and searching for a good job at the same time.
One day, a man came to the office and asked for someone who could teach math in English. The teacher in the office looked at me and said, “Roya is good at teaching English and she studied math too.” The man told me the address of the school that needed a teacher, and asked for my address and phone number. I took a math exam and was the most successful among 50 teachers. I didn’t think I was good at math, but it was impossible to turn down the job. I promised to try my best and teach as well as I could.
The reason I was not good at math was the angry faces of my former teachers who used to punish me for my homework and used metal rulers to hit students’ hands. I had tried to remove all math relations from my life because of this experience! So with my new students, I didn’t use a stick to hit or force the students to learn math. Instead of punishments for not doing homework, I had bonuses for the best homework. The bonus was a tasty chocolate from my kitchen. (Once my mom was searching the kitchen for chocolate, but she couldn’t find any—all the chocolate was in my bag.)
All the math classes were games, and math hour was the happiest time. When I entered the class, the students were clapping, and when I left they were crying.
I was surprised at how well the students were learning math. One day, the father of one of my students came to thank the principal of the school for having such a good math teacher. I was successful because I loved the students and I let them find a solution for every question themselves. I thought of all those students as my children and called them “my son” and “my dear daughter”! Even though I was single, I was responsible for more than a mother. It is easy to be a scholar, but it is hard to be a teacher!
Let me tell you a memory of one student that hurts me a lot.
Tanya was five years old and looked even smaller than her age. She was always clean, polite, hardworking, and very smart and talented. She always did her homework very neatly with nice handwriting. But she had pain in her face and was always deep in thought. One day, she was crying. She tried to hide her tears from me, but I asked, “Tanya jan, what is wrong with you?”
She cried and cried. She was full of words but all that crying didn’t let her say them. I let her cry and then I asked her again. She was waiting to tell me the secrets she couldn’t hide it in her small heart anymore. She said, “Teacher, today my father fought with my mother and he hit her a lot. He hit Mom’s head and I tried to stop Dad’s anger but I couldn’t. He hit me, too, and my brother.”
She cried, and then said, “You know, teacher, Mom is sick and can’t work. I do all the work. I clean the room, wash the dishes, and sweep the yard. I wash my brother’s clothes and mine too. But Dad is always angry. He tells Mom he will marry a second wife because she is sick. “
Tanya continued, “When I finish my house work, I do my homework. Teacher, do you think if I study and become a doctor, my dad won’t marry? Teacher, do you think Mom will get her health back?”
I stopped her crying and told her, “Tanya, I am proud of you. You are not like a child. You are like a doctor now. You are big, my big daughter.” But I was heartily sad, because Tanya was too young to suffer these things. She needed someone to take care of her and her brother, but at her young age, she was doing all the work herself and was suffering too.
We had 20 minute breaks at school. During the break, all the students had something to eat. Some ate a banana, biscuits, cookies, cakes, and chips. Some only had a piece of bread. But Tanya was always sitting in a corner, not eating anything. One day, I called her and gave her half of the apple in my bag. She said she didn’t like it. I said, “But your teacher likes it.” She accepted with a sweet smile and ate it.
Tanya was the most polite student in her class and her homework was the best, but she was the weakest student at break time. Because of this, I forgot that I was their teacher. I played with them, running and laughing, and they called, “Oh classmate, join the play!” I was playing with them for Tanya, to change her mood. I couldn’t forget that she told me she asked her parents to let her stay at school at night as long as she did all the work around the house. When she told me her request, I laughed and told her we couldn’t stay at school at night!
I stopped teaching at the school because of a schedule change at my university. One morning when I left my house, I was surprised to see papers hung on the walls of my house. They read, “I love you, teacher. I miss you, teacher.”
Tears were in my eyes. Not tears of pain; tears of happiness, tears because my students loved me and because I loved them, too. While I was thinking this, I felt as if a small shadow hugged me. It was my small Tanya.
Tanya was a symbol of patience. She was so young with such a big heart. She was a lesson for me. I compared her life to my childhood. When I was five, I was a dancing doll. I was queen of my dreams. I was thinking about playing with my dolls and my games, and what to eat. My mom’s hug was paradise, and my father’s smile was the reason I woke up every day.
Who knows what the future will be for children like Tanya? Will they study, or will they become criminals? If now is the time for them to start life’s pains, how will their tomorrow be? Or will they have a tomorrow?