My Students – My Motivation

My post today is about the relationship I have enjoyed with my students. I feel extremely lucky to have been loved by my students so much. In my eight years’ teaching career in Bangladesh, I was able to develop wonderful relationships with my students in all the universities I taught. I have four years’ part-time and twelve years’ full-time teaching experience here in the UK. I have enjoyed every moment of my time with students both in Bangladesh and in the UK.

I begin with my relationship with my students in Bangladesh, and I still feel baffled why my students loved me so much. I would like to feel that I was kind to them, but I was never too soft and lenient. Contrarily, I was always strict and uncompromising about rules, regulations, discipline and above all, studies. I only tried to do a few basic things meticulously, for example, coming prepared in class, making classes as interesting as possible, giving my 100% to help my students understand my lectures, trying to help my students in academic matters both inside and outside the classroom, trying to be friendly with them without compromising the fundamental differences between a teacher and a student, and trying to be sincere and honest without ever discriminating between students. These are, according to me, some basic characters a teacher should have. I feel that my students understood me very well and realised that there is a loving person inside my apparent strict behaviour. They also understood that my strictness was more to do with some positions I held, like Coordinator of Academic Affairs and Head of the Department rather than any intention to be harsh on my students. 

Initially my students were very scared of me. I wasn’t aware how much they were afraid of me until one student said that straight to my face during my early days as a teacher. She was a student of 2nd batch at Darul Ihsan University English department. I don’t remember how this discussion began, but at one point she said clearly that in the university everyone was scared of me. I was stunned! Am I that rude? Am I that scary? However, she immediately clarified that it had nothing to do with my behaviour. She found my personality scary and also said that they respected me more than they feared me. However, this was not very reassuring for me, and I decided to make sure that I get my students’ love – not fear. I tried my best to make them feel that way, and fortunately I was successful. 

My best opportunity to be closer to my Bangladeshi students came in early 2001 when I took some students of Darul Ihsan University for an excursion tour to Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. My wife and my eldest daughter also accompanied us (the other two weren’t born then). For the first time my students could see a different side of me – not the person who would take lectures, ensure students’ attendance, be busy with timetables and exam management etc. but someone who would wear jeans and T-shirt (they saw me wear them for the first time when I reached the railway station for the trip), laugh, joke, sing, play cricket and enjoy the beauty of sea. Every night, we would have an ‘adda’ where everyone had to do something. We also had a wonderful ‘bonfire night’ at the sea beach one late night and a formal dinner the night before our departure from Cox’s Bazar. I feel that I spent some wonderful moments of my life in those few days. I still remember beautiful harmonica tunes of a student who later became my colleague, witty jokes many of them had, some emotional speeches at the formal dinner, and many more small but interesting incidents. 

I left Darul Ihsan and joined Manarat International University a few months later. There too I enjoyed wonderful relationships with my students. Two opportunities brought me closer to my students there. The first one was through the organisation of the first ever Inter Private University Cricket Tournament, which I envisioned, and successfully organised along with American International University, Bangladesh. A group of extremely sincere MIU boys worked with me day and night to make this mega event a great success. The second occasion was when MIU authorities gave me the responsibility to organise an admission fair to enrol more students. A bunch of dedicated and capable boys and girls and some wonderful colleagues contributed to ensuring the highest intake of students in the university in that semester – thanks to the Admission Fair. 

The most memorable day of my teaching career in Bangladesh is the day I was given an emotional farewell by the department of English of DIU. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the love I received from my colleagues and students. The way some students were crying was enough to prove how much they loved me. Besides, DIU and MIU, I also taught part-time at North South University, Asian University of Bangladesh, International Islamic University Chittagong Dhaka Campus, and Northern University of Bangladesh with similar loving relationships with students. It was heartening moments for me when matured MBA students at AUB would organise farewell parties for me at the end of my three-semester teaching stint with each group. 

The UK teaching experience is completely different. Teacher-student dynamics are completely different here and I did face some cultural issues at the beginning. The first shock for me was when I entered a classroom to give a lecture for the first time. In Bangladesh, a teacher is always addressed as ‘sir’ and students would stand up when a teacher enters the classroom and say ‘salam’ when they would meet outside the classroom. In the UK students call teachers by their surnames in school and college but by their first names in university. My first experience was teaching a course at Edge Hill University during my post-doctoral research there in 2004. Although I knew this, still I was a bit taken aback when my undergraduate students called me ‘Salman’. However, I quickly came to terms with the different cultural environment and realised that the teacher-student relationship is very informal here, though students are very respectful. Interestingly, I have had a few Bangladeshi and Pakistani students here who tried to call me ‘sir’, but I never felt comfortable and asked them to address me by my first name. I get a lot of ‘thank you’ cards and e-mails from my students, and some also bring gifts after the end of their graduation. They have overtly expressed many times how much they enjoy my class. More than 95% of my students are White English and I am absolutely unapologetic about my Muslim and Bangladeshi identity and never hesitate to express where I stand on controversial matters. However, in student evaluations, I have always received positive feedback with students expressing how much they enjoy my style of teaching and my support inside and outside the classroom.

My teaching time with students is for a very limited time, but my relationship with them is forever. I have contact with many of my former Bangladeshi students through facebook. We don’t keep in touch with our students in the UK through Facebook, but I do keep receiving appreciative emails and requests for references from former students all the time.

My students are my motivation; they are my inspiration. Here in my university, teaching ends in mid- May and the new academic year begins at the end of September. I can’t express how much I miss being in a classroom these few months. When I see the campus buzzing with students, it gives me great joy and satisfaction. It is this deep bond I feel for my students that keeps me going. Face-to-face interaction with my students ended prematurely this year due to the pandemic. As we are preparing for the new academic year, I look forward to seeing my students in person once again, albeit in a more limited way due to the current situation.

Leave a Comment