“It is was 2003 when I joined a new primary school in Primary three. I fell in love with the school at first sight, on the day I had visited for pre-entry interviews. A week later, I started classes. Our class was located at the far end, lower block D, middle room. It was welcoming, with the walls covered with posters with great idioms about success written all over.
The class Teacher was a fat woman, of medium height, who preferred to be called Madam Hellen. She was a brown lady who always wore a weave. It still looked great on her and had a cute small face that kept smiling even when administering punishment. My young, innocent eyes saw a lady that rivaled mom in beauty.
But looks can be deceptive.
Inside, a smiling innocent face was a monster of a woman. She was evil.
This lady had a crush on me because I was always on the receiving end of all her fury.
Madam Hellen was our class Teacher and doubled as Head of the Department of Music Dance and Drama. You had no way of avoiding her. And indeed, she would start the music session with the words “you have two choices, to love me as your teacher or to love me as your teacher.” Usually, in Primary, the third term is known as a period of music, dance, and drama. Each class prepares for the year-end party, dubbed “Speech Day.”
During classroom music rehearsals, she would come and listen to each class sing. And that is when my troubles started. The first, second time she entered the class, she said, “I heard the voice of a frog during your last practice sessions. Who is the frog?” I will find out.
For some reason, good handwriting has not always been my thing. One day, she gave me an English exam. Much as my answers were correct, they were not easy to read. I did not have trouble with other subject teachers.
According to Madam Hellen, my handwriting so bad she could hardly read anything. So, she did not mark my exam paper. Around noon, after the break, she called me into the staff room. Little did I know what was about to happen.
As I entered, she looked at me and said, “You boy, who writes like a frog, why are you making my work difficult?” As a punishment, she asked me to read the answers aloud for her as she marked. I am sure she thought I would fail to read my handwriting. But I ashamed her.
And that is when I got her furry in a full doze.
She got three canes and asked me to put both my hands on the table. I complied.
She started beating me, saying, “why do you write like a frog” repeatedly. She had listened to our class music rehearsals, and I am sure she knew I did not have a good singing voice. So, as she beat my hands, she asked me to repeat after her, “why do you write like a frog?”
With pain and the presence of other teachers in the room, as I was being tortured, my voice was worse. I started repeating after her. She asked me to sing it. When I did, she said, “ I have found the frog’s voice.”
Other teachers looked on and laughed at her jokes.
I remember vividly. That was the lowest point in my school life. I missed classes for the next week, as I was afraid of returning to the class to face that evil woman.
This woman made my life miserable. From that day on, I was never the same. I lost self-confidence. And that made me avoid music lessons at all costs.
But I could not give up on writing.
I practiced the letters again and again and improved my handwriting. I put all the energy and loss of confidence in my studies. I wanted to prove to Madam Hellen that I could do it and become somebody.
And indeed, I made it.
Recently, I went to the village and saw an old Madam Hellen. She was frail, weak, and not her former self. I wanted her to remember the pain I went through so that she learns her lesson. I gave her a Ugx. 20,000 and told her that “if you had not punished me, I don’t think I would have woken up to working hard and taking all my opportunities. Thanks.”
She looked at me and cried. And then she said, “thanks, my son.”
And thanks for forgiving me.
I was surprised that she remembered what she did to me. All long, she knew what she was doing to me.
Since I was driving myself, I just zoomed off and left.”
As told to Mustapha B Mugisa, by the victim of Madam Hellen.
To all teachers out there like Hellen, please stop killing young people’s dreams.
From the above, we can draw several lessons:
Teachers can make or kill the talents of young dreamers. If in doubt, encourage and support. Do not give names or punish young people. They come to school to discover their abilities and be nurtured and not to be discouraged or punished when they try.
Do not look down at a young person and write them off. The future is always full of surprises. The person you may be punishing today could be your boss tomorrow.
I was lucky to channel all the punishment, shame, and discouragement to working harder and reading books. A positive attitude goes a long way in giving you a great future. Have a great positive attitude, and look at the positive of whatever is thrown at you.
After all, if you still have life, you have many more chances to win.