Painfully Neat

Painfully Neat

Few things in school could put a smile on a girl’s face. More so if she was in a boarding school. Having a teacher commend her for being ‘painfully neat’ is one of those things.

We are always hearing the same stories about school life. The cold water showers early in the morning, the punishments when we went to class late, the humiliation of being paraded in front of the assembly because of one misdemeanor or another, the constant rebuke from a teacher who did not like the look of our faces, the rap on the knuckles when we were found making noise in class and the instruction to kneel in front of the class …the list is endless.

But if we were to ease off on the caviling, we realize that school wasn’t only about such negativity, now was it? Aren’t we tired (and a bit old, ahem!) of telling only the punitive, uninspiring version of school? What if we decided to tell a story about the happy, good side instead?

What if we decide to tell a good story about this good teacher who greatly influenced us and made us love say, the English language, to no end? Nothing wrong with such a story, is there? In fact, it would be a really good story, don’t you think?

What if we started from the beginning by explaining that she was a trainee teacher whose name, because of the many years it has been since we were in school, coupled with our pathetic memory, we have forgotten? This remarkable trainee teacher, we would mention, was beautiful. She was slender and tall, and liked to dress in nice skirts and beautiful dresses that gave her a very elegant look. We will not forget to mention how long her hair was. We will remember the hair because when we got bored in class, we could sometimes daydream about applying chemicals in our own hair so that it would be long and soft like hers.

But we were not stupid. We knew that we wouldn’t dare think about applying chemicals to our hair while in school because (a) the school rules did not allow it, and (b) what was our parents to buy us, books or hair chemicals. Priorities.

But still, if we are to allow our memory to wander and if we give ourselves the leeway to digress just a tad, we will remember this one time, when we led in our class and our father was overly surprised. Yes, he even joked that he thought all we cared about was our hair and our nails. See, we have been misunderstood right from a very young age – always misunderstood. Granted, we had long hair that we insisted on blow-drying during the holiday, and we’d always kept long nails since time immemorial. But still. We never expected our own to have such little faith in us! We were offended. But we forgive them, father, for they did not know what they were saying.

They had no idea how much we loved studying. How we especially loved English. How we specifically enjoyed writing English composition (yeah, surprise surprise!).

We will stop digressing now. We will then shift focus to this teacher who made us believe that there was something special in us.

We will tell the story of that random day when she came to class. Take this chance to point out that since most trainee teachers were more friendly to us than our regular teachers, this teacher was no exception. We suspect it was mostly because they were young and fresh from campus. Let’s talk about when this teacher came to class to return our composition exam papers. Let’s dwell on the fact that she held onto our paper and when everybody had got theirs, we looked around wondering why we hadn’t been given ours.

We will of course have no problem narrating the events that followed because they are forever etched in our mind. How, holding our paper in her hands, she explained that this one composition had deeply impressed her. Then calling out our name, she had asked us to stand up and go to the front of the class. She had then requested us to read out our composition to the rest of the class.

We had felt proud. It felt good.

And we read the hell out of that composition. Pausing once in a while to immerse ourselves in the moment. We had smiled, hadn’t we? Yes, we did. Our hearts had swelled with pride. We kept reading. And when we were done, we drenched ourselves in the applause.

We were to continue having a good relationship with this teacher, so we’ll mention that. We’ll describe how she made us feel. Include that one time, while passing by our desk, how she had stopped, looked at our work, turned a few pages of our book, then smiling, she had said “Renatta, you are painfully neat. Painfully neat!” Of course now we will remember how we’d marveled at that phrase. How we had fallen in love with it and fallen in love (all over again) with English. Sigh!

This one teacher gave us this love: the love for a language that we continue to feel and nurture to date. Love that has been true. Love that has been faithful. And when we think we could not love any more, we realize that we might just have another think coming.

We need to tell the story of this one teacher (and several others) who came into our lives so briefly but managed to make a great shift in how other students looked at us. In her short presence, she made us see ourselves in a different light. We were never the same again.

Let’s go a step further and say a hearty thank you to teachers who influenced us, touched our lives and gave us something, a gift, that we get to keep for years to come. Those teachers who awakened in us a passion that we never knew we had.

Let’s say Asante Mwalimu.

And let’s tell that story.

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