There was something strange and unusual about Khalfan. He was too strong for his age. He looked like a thoroughbred mountaineer. He always had a rucksack on his back and he never combed his hair. He needed a shave badly but you got used to it when you saw him everyday. It didn’t matter anymore. He was quite rough. Everybody in the class feared him. When he punched you, he punched hard even while play fighting, not that we encouraged play fighting. In the midst of all these outward toughness, I knew that there must be another layer of him, that needed to be explored and investigated.
From the first day I had him, he didn’t log in. He was like a ring leader. Whatever he said held a lot of weight. All the boys in the class looked up to him and what a bad example that was. I targeted him. I knew that when once I had him on board, the rest of the tribe will follow suit.
I studied him. I interacted with him. I asked him questions. I probed into his heart. I began to feel him.
One thing I noticed about him was he never looked into my eyeball whenever we spoke. I also noticed that he did not command respect. People feared him instead and that was because of his gruesomeness.
One day I had a terrible time with the group. They were so unsettled and did not want to learn anything. I did not just want to give up on them so easily. My instinct said to me, “forget these dudes, they weren’t ready to learn. You get your paycheck at the end of the month anyways, so it’s their choice to learn or not learn.” Yet in my heart I thought of my son. If my son was in school and decided to act foolishly, would the teacher ignore him and watch him fail? Certainly not! He was acting his age and in the future he would realise how foolish he had been.
I decided to give it one more push. I went to google translator and typed in ‘loser’ and ‘winner’. I allowed them to read the translated meanings.
“I know some of you here are champions – batal”, I paused and let it sink it.
I continued “I know your future is very bright.”
“Teacher is it me, is it me?” they chorused.
“Hamed, you are a star, Mousa you are a star”.
I paused and the room was dead. I looked around, staring everybody in the face. Making eye contacts with everybody and walking slowly past all the tables, sometimes putting my hand on a shoulder and continuing on with my walk.
I left them to imagine whatever they wanted to.
“Teacher what about me?” Khalifa asked.
‘What do you think of yourself?” I asked him. “Don’t tell me, tell yourself and be honest”.
“Alkhasir and batal, choose one” I concluded.
I stopped at Khalfan’s desk. “Look at me young sir” I quipped.
His face popped up and he looked at me and then he melted. I asked him where he belonged. “Batal” he managed to say.
“Well done son” you have made the right choice, then you have to act like one and not a loser” I told him.
He nodded his head and the unkempt hair straightened up. He slapped his face to wake himself up from slumber.
From then henceforth, I saw a change in him. I thought to myself. ‘Well at least I have a convert.’
He would come to his lesson on time. He would get his book out on time and listen attentively and get on with his tasks. Not that his life was devoid of all his old traits, but you could see him trying really hard to stay focused and that was what I required of him.
His life experienced a ‘u’ turn. He kept re-iterating to me that he was a batal.
Thursdays were much sought after days because we finish early to make up for our unusually early start up from Sunday to Wednesday. I loved Thursdays because it was the beginning of a weekend and the boarding school kids got to go home to their families. I looked forward to it because my BBQ equipment will be busy and I loved barbequed food. I loved it even more so because I got to relax with my buddies on my roof terrace and watched the stars. I had the honour of just enjoying the real nice weather that the season had to offer.
The students all looked forward to it just like we the staff members all looked forward to it.
On Wednesday, the hype would have started building up. And then Khalfan became very sad. His face was forlorn and he was quite moody.
“Khalfan stay behind, I would like to talk to you” I said to him after the lesson was over.
“About what teacher?”
“What about me?”
“You will soon find out”
“Am I in trouble?” he quizzed.
He stood by my desk with that rucksack hung over his shoulders.
“You have been very sad, what’s wrong?”
“I am okay” he said.
“No you are not okay. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, you are all a happy lad and then Wednesday, you become sad.”
“It’s because tomorrow is Thursday.”
“What about it?”
“Everybody will go home, me I have no home to go to, I will stay here on camp.”
“Yes teacher. Every one goes home except me. I have to stay here and eat here and do stuff here.”
“What about your family?” I asked.
“Well teacher if I have family, I wouldn’t be here on weekends.”
“I am so sorry to hear this but I know that your future is quite bright.”
“Thank you teacher” he said. “Can I go now?”
“Yes you can go. And have a great weekend” I managed to say.
From that day I re affirmed the need to always check out a kid no matter the circumstance. I now understood why he had been acting the way he had been. My strategies with him changed and my role was to restore that confidence in him to know that no matter what, he still had the same potential as the rest of the students and he doesn’t need to be gruesome to ascertain his masculinity or his alpha-malism. He could be even more powerful by influencing his mates in making the right choices despite the tide of life seeming against him at the moment. That was the hallmark of a real leader.
*(alkhasir – loser, batal – champion/winner)