Some of my fantastic kids who worked with me on a grand audiovisual project for 21 February, 2020.
As a teacher, officially, I have spent only about three years as a lecturer at a reputed university in Bangladesh. But as a mentor, I cannot remember how long I have been the go-to person for so many. People I have helped in life have gone far, very far, farther than I have so far. My joy lies in their success. I wish I could go that far, but I have always seemed to play second fiddle in the greater scheme of things in life by choice. When I did have a chance of breaking out, I was not as careful or understanding of how the world works; to my defense, I was in my 20s, and thank God, it was then that I let things slip a little bit and not later. The best part about that phase of my life is that, now in hindsight, I am a lot more careful, patient, calm, understanding of situations and headstrong.
This blog post will be a little bit about my life and how I became the mentor, guide, and communicator that I am today.
Growing up in a somewhat liberal household with loving parents, an amazing grandfather and a super sister, I had family support for pursuing whatever I wanted to pursue, but this was much later in my youth. My sister was, and still is, the star of our family. Poetry and dance competitions on the radio and national television, arts, studies, she aced everything that she did. I on the other hand was much more of a black sheep. My mother did not know what I was exactly interested in or good at other than playing with He-Man and G.I. Joe action figures and making sound effects with my mouth. I wouldn’t do any of what my sister did. She was a good sketch artist and a painter, I was not even much enthusiastic about my art classes, she was into classical and folks dancing, singing, all of it! She aced all her exams in school. She was the star of the school. I always grew up in her shadow.
I was a bad student because I was bad at mathematics. And by bad, I mean really very bad. But then again, there is a good reason for that. I went to a school that I generally have fond memories of, but not all memories are great. I was bullied by other students because I was the skinny short boy who was liked by all teachers as a good pupil, but also the student who the teachers did not have much hope for because I simply failed to understand mathematics much. Well, how could I? From the age of 9 to the age of 15, I was constantly scolded, sometimes hit and mostly looked down upon by my math teachers who were supposed to be caring and nurturing. My third grade teacher called me “lazy” she let my mother know that my weakness was that I was a “lazy boy” when it came to mathematics, that I was not enthusiastic, that I took no interest in learning. My sixth grade teacher termed me as a “daydreamer” as if it was something bad. During my mathematics classes, I would often look out the fourth floor classroom window at the trees and the birds, they calmed me down tremendously. My daze would be broken when a flying blackboard duster would hit my arm of my chest, yes, corporal punishment was all fine back in the 1990s and early 2000s even in the renowned private schools in Bangladesh. I feared mathematics because it was ingrained within me that I was not good enough at it.
My high school years were spent between Bangladesh and the USA. An art teacher in my final semester of high school in the USA showed to me what nurturing is, how teachers should be. She was the best, she is still the best. I am still in touch with her. She is one of the best friends I will ever have because she made me feel like I mattered. She has no idea of what a dark hole she pulled me out of as I was going through moments of massive uncertainty in my life.
I went to the same university as my sister did. There, I started off decently, but then my CGPA plummeted. Why? Ah, the heartbreaks of young lovers. Yes, like a fool I let it affect me. But if it was just that, it would be more acceptable to me because it would have been my carelessness, thus my fault. Unfortunately, initially I had declared Marketing as my major. I thought I would do fine, my sister studied it, heck, she graduated as a Summa Cum Laude, top 1% student in America! Furthermore, my father was a quiet leader and pioneer in advertising in Bangladesh. Surely, it would be easy for me, right? Of course I needed to work hard, but when I was not doing too well at times, my teachers, yes, my university teachers would call me out in front of the class, and ask me what was wrong with me because my sister was such an amazing student, among the very best they ever had in their classes. One of the teachers (who is still my sister’s favorite) even showed a presentation in class once as an example of what our final presentations should look like. It was my sister’s presentation. This teacher upon opening up the presentation gave me a look of utter disappointment. I was crushed. I felt utterly defeated. I was not good enough anymore. I stopped attending classes the same way I had during my high school years in Bangladesh. You see, I never missed a class in my final year of high school in the USA because I had caring teachers. My spirits were lifted when I went into their classes. My university teachers crushed my spirits again. And then in my third year of undergraduate studies I finally figured out what I was cut out for and changed my major. I got teachers who were much more caring, understanding and encouraged me to keep at it even when my grades were down. I ended up doing enough to pull-up my CGPA up decently in my final year. Though it was not the best, I am glad I learned lessons from those years of not doing so well in my studies.
I moved back to Bangladesh. I got married, I got a job, I resigned from that job because there was a lack of honesty and transparency in the working culture of the company, I co-founded a film production house with my friends but our working styles did not match because I was too serious for their easy-going working culture. I opened my photography studio and within days of that, my first child was born. I also freelanced as a filmmaker. Both the photography studio and the freelance filmmaker gig were failed ventures because I could not do more than breaking even due to a variety of reasons.
Down on luck? Give up? No. I kicked into full gear. The need for stability was growing, I was maturing. I went onto work for one of the largest technology companies in the country, looking after their internal and external communication. I went for trainings to Singapore at my own expense because I needed to grow for the company I worked for. Then my wife fell ill. She suffered from bilateral pneumonia, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and dengue fever. Her right lung had full consolidation as did 85% of her left lung which also partially collapsed. She had 10% chance of survival. Our son was not even 2 years old. Thankfully she fought hard and survived. 31 days across 3 hospitals, half of the time was in the ICU and on life support. Life was changing fast. I did well at my job, but there was a glass ceiling and bureaucracy which I did not understand yet. I was working full-time and studying for a master’s degree full-time. I had 11 As and 2 A-s in my graduate studies and I graduated with a CGPA of 3.95 out of 4! I took part in a special research project from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I was then invited to go to UCSD’s prestigious Global Leadership Institute (GLI) as a visiting scholar for an entire semester. I now knew that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.
From my teenage years well into my 20s, I was quite cocky. No, I was not arrogant or over-confident, I had a pride not bad ego, my ego faded over time, but I was cocky. Becoming a father and then with my parents getting older, I got calmer, more patient and I was slowly becoming the person that I am today. I was doing great in branding, marketing, communication, public relations and even though I was so passionate about photography, film production, music and graphic communications, every place that hired me placed me in a communication management role because I was always good at it.
I was a boy scout, I excelled at it. I was a part of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in the high school I went to in California. I was always a leader and I always liked to take the weakest cadets under my wings and bring out their fullest potential. I guided some of my cousins, some of my junior friends, especially through their undergraduate studies journey. I gave career counselling to many. None of this ever stopped. I still do it for my students, current and graduated.
I consulted briefly for an international communications agency before joining the university I currently work at. When I joined, I expected to be hired to teach film editing and film production related courses under the Digital Film and Television Production major, yet I was chosen to teach Public Relations major courses because of my experience and field of study. I took on the challenge and I loved every minute of it. I love to teach just because I get to share my knowledge with so many bright youths. They are beyond amazing. Even the so-called “worst” students are just misunderstood. There will always be a few who will give you a hard time no matter how nice you are to them, but majority will always cooperate.
As a teacher, I employ empathy. I am a teacher, a mentor, a guide and as most students consider, more of an elder brother and a friend. I see the potential in the worst student because I see my younger self in them. I do not wish to be like the unfair bad teachers who gave me a life-long fear of mathematics and instilled in me the thought that I am not good enough. If a student does bad in my class, they are open to discussion with me, I provide chances to improve and share with them where they went wrong. Openness, transparency and critiquing.
Critiquing is not the same as criticizing. Critiquing is scrutinizing and analyzing the work done and measuring it’s merit based on assessment rubrics, it is telling the student where they went wrong and what they could have done for a better result. Criticizing is judging and disapprovingly indicating faults. The teachers who believe criticism is good are often the ones who say some students “deserve” a bad grade. I am allergic to the word “deserve”. There are assessment rubrics to go by and a student earns what they get. We cannot be the judge, jury and executioner and say what someone deserves. We are no one to say that. Students deserve what they earn, but we cannot outright say they deserve something if we have failed to bring them up when their grades are down. We as teachers have to try as hard as possible. We only stop when the time is up and the student has not cooperated. This requires a lot of energy. Understandably, it is not something everyone can do. It can be draining, tiring, and some students can take teachers for granted. Caring so much can be a double-edged sword and so anyone wishing to go down this road of never giving up on their students need to be weary of what lies ahead and how to handle all types of students.
As a teacher, I am extremely energetic in class and try to engage all my students in conversations. I help them when they need it and I try to lift them up when they are down because if we have synergy in class, everything works out fine. In my class, there are no “stupid questions” because the only stupid thing to do is not asking a question and then performing badly at a task. Students in my class have the liberty to ask me a hundred questions. If they are hesitant to ask a question in class, they can come to my desk (pre-COVID-19 days), email me, or call me. They can even call me as a group. No one should be left out. If everyone in my class feels secure about participating, no one will perform badly due to a lack of communication. Communication is key here! I got to visit the London School of Public Relations – Jakarta, as a visiting lecturer. Thankfully my thorough knowledge of interpersonal and intercultural communication came in handy there. Through practical experience, what I learned about teaching and learning there, I came back and shared with my students so that they can become better global citizens.
This job is very demanding and energy sapping. Yet my ultimate reward is in seeing my students (or as I like to call them, my kids) succeed. That is the only thing that makes me love this job. That is the only reason why I teach. Sometimes I think I have invested too much time into teaching. I did. I do. Sometimes I need some time to look after myself, my family and think about what is good for myself and my family. Is it selfish to think that way? Maybe it is, but sometimes it is needed. What will happen to my kids at the university when I am no longer around? I will perhaps be able to be their brother and friend for real then. Ah, there is always a silver lining, isn’t there? Positive thinking is the key to success, always.
The key takeaways from this long post is that empathy, understanding, nurturing, listening and then speaking, giving everyone a second chance (if there is an opportunity to do so), communicating transparently, explaining patiently, creating a strong synergy and lifting everyone up when they are down are a few of the most important things that can make a classroom, a family, a team at work, perform to the best of their abilities.
I was a rebel in picking up the guitar, forming a band and performing on stage, I was a rebel in becoming a documentary filmmaker and wishing to open a photography studio, my family supported me every step of the way albeit being a little confused about what I wished to do with it all at first, but life persisted in putting all my interests in a box because it had other plans for me. I am a flower in bloom a little late in life, but the best I can be is a mentor, a guide, a communicator, a team builder and a selfless person who wishes to do his best at his job. I hope I can continue to rise and all that is good in life will shine upon me for me, for my family, most importantly for my sons and my aging parents.