Dear Ms P***,
I’m writing this open letter to say thank you.
*Thank you for being a math teacher.
*Thank you for being our head of year for 5 years.
*Thank you for being one of the main reasons why I became a teacher.
You may be thinking; “but hold on…I didn’t even like you throughout your 5 years at school.”
Yep. You’re right. That feeling of hate towards me was extremely evident. In your words and more so your actions. I just wanted to take my time to say thank you.
You see Ms. P***, the feeling was most definitely mutual. To be honest, I don’t think anybody in my year group liked you. Despite you being our head of year for 5 painful years. A math teacher to some of us and a bloody headache to all of us!
You were a great teacher!
Just not our conventional “great teacher” ??
You taught me everything I didn’t want to be by being exactly the opposite of who you were supposed to be.
To be honest, I don’t think anybody looked at you and thought, ‘I want to be just like Ms P***.’
You were so vindictive and cruel. It seemed as though your drive was our misfortune.
You spoke down to many of us and treated us like I would never even imagine treating my students. Even my most troublesome student!
It’s been a while since I last saw you, 14 years to be precise. Yet, I remember you clearly.
You wore your hair in a grey ‘Dot Cotton’ style bob. A white shirt beneath a V-neck cotton jumper. You’d alternate between a straight cut midi length skirt with tights paired with 1-inch block healed shoes and above ankle length suit trousers with the same shoes. Sometimes, when it was hot, you’d take your jumper off. You wore small glasses that were always laying half way down your nose bone so you’d tilt your head down and look at us from above, and it always seemed so scary.
I remember the day you set a tornado in my mind and a fire in my heart. It was the day I found out what injustice truly meant.
Your words are like gold to me…and your actions… a lesson!
I had many questions for my parents that day, and the many years to follow. You opened my eyes to the people you only hear about in films or read about in books.
You instilled a type of fear in the hearts of my parents for me. Fear of being treated unjustly no matter how hard I worked. Fear of being hurt again, no matter how much I braced myself. Fear of knocking my confidence, which they worked so hard to build in me!
I’d be lying if I said you didn’t affect my mental state. You did. You certainly did. I was a cheeky, happy go lucky, hard working student with a naive positive outlook on life. Yet you tried so hard to knock me down.
Thankfully, my foundation was strong.
You were a rock that was thrown at me as I stood on 2 mountains… Those mountains were my parents.
How can you compete?
My mum told me to use my hurt to fuel my drive to do exceptionally well, in everything I set my mind to. My dad reminded me of my worth and reminded me that I should never allow anyone to make me feel any less than that. Even if they were my superior!
It was the night before Ramadan and I hesitantly told my mum that I wanted to wear the hijab the next day. She asked if I was sure and what brought the decision on. I told her that I wanted to fast the month of Ramadan and trial the hijab with it. Once she knew my mind was set, she told me that she would go buy me an “appropriate one” the next day. I was a little gutted, as this meant that I’d delay it till day 2 of Ramadan. I asked if I could just borrow one of hers, she said no, unfortunately. I reluctantly agreed.
After school that day I was excited to see what mum had bought me…I hurried home.
“So mum, did you buy me the scarf for tomorrow?” I asked.
“Yes” she responds, as she hands me a small gift bag.
A little amused as I take a look at my 1st ever hijab, I said, “I was expecting to see some kind of special personalised hijab or at least my initials stitched on. This is a plain navy blue scarf mum, surely you could have just borrowed me your plain black one yesterday?”
Mum laughed and handed me over this “special hijab”.
I wondered why she made me delay wearing it that one day. But whatever, I got what I asked for. “Thank You, mama”.
I go to my room smiling. I shut my bedroom door and try it on and look at myself in the mirror. I was genuinely happy with myself.
Anyway, I wore it to school the next day. Mixed emotions. Nerves and excitement. After all, I am a teenager.
I barely slept that night.
Wondering what my friends would think, but at the same time, so excited that I was finally doing something that I’ve secretly wanted to do for such a long time.
I woke up that morning and excitedly jumped out of bed. So proud of myself. As I kissed my parents goodbye and left for school with my younger brother. My dad looked at me, as he got ready for work. Then he looked again and finally a third time. He then smiled and said I looked beautiful.
That morning I walked to school with a spring in my step. Although I was a confident girl, I did often think about what my peers would think. There were very few girls who wore the hijab at the time.
I got to school, took a deep breath and walked towards a group of friends that were waiting around for the bell to ring.
We spoke for a little while and nobody mentioned anything.
“Oh gosh! They hate it. I look terrible. They must not like it but don’t want to hurt my feelings so kept quiet….”
And then, “oh Nabila, you’re wearing a scarf?! It looks nice. But how come?” My friend asked. I smile and tell her ”I’ve decided to start wearing it as it’s Ramadan, kind of similar to a new years resolution.”
Then the day went as normal. Lots of my friends asked the same question, I answer the same to each of them and the conversation moves on.
It. Didn’t. Even. Matter.
Lunchtime, we laughed and joked. As usual. I needed to visit the loo, so I said, “I’ll brb” (meaning ‘be right back’ – don’t laugh, that was a ‘thing’ back then).
I walked into the building. As I go pass reception, I hear an old stern voice:
Ms P***: errm, excuse me young lady, come here!
*As she points at where she wants me to stand*
Me: *I stand on the exact spot* Yes Miss?
Ms P***: …what’s that on your head?!
Me: it’s a hijab, Miss.
Ms P***: and why on earth are you wearing that?
At this point, a classmate of mine, lovely guy called Miles, saw what was happening. He noticed she was telling me off and mimed “are you ok?”. I nod and look back at Miss.
Me: *genuinely confused at the question, I respond* erm because I’ve decided to wear it as of today. Is that a problem Miss?
Ms P***: Well you weren’t wearing it yesterday. So take it off please.
Me: Sorry, but why Miss? I don’t understand. Have I done something wrong?
Ms P***: just take it off now…matter of fact. *She looked around, and looked back at me and said* go to my office!
Miles approached and said, “Why is Nabila in trouble, Miss?”
Ms P***: that’s none of your business. Go away!
Still genuinely confused at what I’ve done so wrong to be in trouble. I comply and go to her office anyway.
As I stand outside Ms P***’s door waiting for her to come. I lean on my hands against the wall as I look at the Science display on the opposite side of the corridor, I try to brace myself by thinking about all the things that I may have done wrong.
I’m still genuinely confused.
I’m cheeky, but I’m never in trouble. If anything, I used to try to make the teachers smile. I always respect my teachers. My parents made sure of that. I joke about, but never at the wrong time. I never talk back, but if I need to, I do so with their permission and without being rude.
Still, extremely confused.
Innocent me, made it about what “I may have done wrong” as opposed to, her personal issues with me wearing a piece of cloth in my head.
Two painful minutes later, she comes and brings along with her my science teacher.
I’m even more confused now, because I didn’t have a science lesson that morning. So what could I have done wrong?
They walk in and ask me to enter.
Ms P***: so, Mrs. S, Nabila here is wearing a hijab for the 1st time.
Now I realise why she asked her to come. Mrs. S is a Muslim and maybe she wanted her input. Ok, great, maybe she’d be better at explaining it to Ms P***than I apparently was.
Mrs S: *confused as hell*
Ms P***: Nabila said she is wearing a hijab today because she has made a resolution as of this Ramadan to add something new to her life. Does that mean that you as a Muslim cannot be involved in Ramadan and thus your fast won’t count?
Me: *mouth wide open – I’m genuinely speechless. How did she make this about my irrelevant science teacher?*
Mrs Science, let’s call her: Well excuuuuuse me young lady. No it does not mean that at all! Nabila must be confused and quite frankly Nabila, you don’t know what you’re talking about!
Me: but Miss, I didn’t say anything about not wearing a scarf invalidating a persons fast. It’s the individual’s choice. I don’t understand how my decision to wear a hijab has got anything to do with anybody else. What have I done so wrong to offend you both? That’s a genuine question Miss.
I began to get upset and I didn’t even know why.
Ms P***: well Nabila, there you go; you don’t need to wear it, so therefore, take it off.
Me: am I not allowed to wear it in school, Miss?
She doesn’t answer my question.
Mrs Science: Nabila, stop making it out like it’s a big deal. Look at me… what are you trying to say about me?
Me: *in total shock now* Miss, I genuinely don’t understand how me wearing this has offended anyone. And if so, you need to explain because I’m extremely confused.
Now I begin to cry out of total frustration.
What. Have. I. Done. Wrong?
And then I hear what sounded like a protest outside.
Ms P***: what on earth?! Go and check what’s going on outside, Mrs Science.
She opens the door and I see many people from my year group. Friends and classmates chanting in the corridors, with their arms in the air.
“Let Nabila wear her scarf!”
“Let Nabila wear her scarf!”
“Let Nabila wear her scarf!”
Now my frown turned into laughter. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Miles, my classmate that saw the initial interaction with Ms P*** and I, had gathered as many people as he could to help release me from the Ms P***’s dungeon.
Ms P*** immediately ran out and screamed at the lot of them. They wouldn’t leave. Then she ran back in to get a paper and pen and shouted to them that if they didn’t leave in the next 5 seconds, she’ll be contacting all their parents and will be out on detention for a whole week.
One by one, people began to disperse. I don’t blame them. Only a few remained. They asked if I could leave. Ms P*** said no because I was in trouble and that it was none of their business.
I innocently and obediently just sat there, red faced.
I’d wiped my tears and feared Ms P*** even more now because I knew that would have got her angry.
She looked sternly at me and said, “How did you call them?”
“I was with you the entire time Miss, I promise I didn’t call anyone!”
This conversation went back and forth for the rest of lunch break.
Again, I was in tears.
When it was time for the lesson before home time, which was conveniently Science. She told me that I had to remain in her office so that I wouldn’t cause a scene in class. And I did. I sat there trying to write a mental note of all the things I could have done wrong.
I was dismissed at home time. I immediately made my way home and said the quickest hello to my mum as I ran to my room. She noticed something was up as I usually kiss her when I get in.
She knocked on my door and asked how my day was. I avoided telling her what happened. Because quite frankly. I don’t even know what happened.
However, as she opened the door to my room, she saw my red face and red eyes and immediately asked what had me crying.
I tried to lie, but a mother always knows.
I briefly told her, “I got into trouble for wearing the scarf but I honestly can’t tell you why mama”. She asked if I had done anything wrong. I told her no, of course not. She put down the vacuum cleaner and got dressed, she told me to put my shoes back on as we were going back to school. I begged her not to make a fuss of it, but she refused to listen to me and said I’d have to explain everything on the way.
We got to school and both my lovely teachers had already left. So mum made an appointment with the receptionist 1st thing in the morning before school the next day.
That evening I explained everything and she told me I did the right thing by not being rude and complying to what they asked me to do – except removing it.
Next morning, my feelings were the total opposite of what they were the morning before.
Anxious, fear, insecure, unconfident and utter confusion.
I considered not wearing this piece of cloth on my head, as I did not want any more fuss over something that was only meant to affect me, and me alone.
I asked my mum if it would be a good idea to not wear it today. She looked at me and said, “That’s a decision only you can make.” But, she reassured me that she’d prove to me that I’ve done nothing wrong and that I shouldn’t worry because she’ll sort it.
I was still dreading this meeting.
*What would mum say to her?
*Would that get me into more trouble?
*I should have just kept my mouth shut and just taken it off when Ms P*** first asked me to! Now I’m going to be in even bigger trouble!
Mum had a little folder with her but my mind was too occupied to even care about what it was.
Mum: “Good morning Ms P*** and Ms Science. As I’m sure you’re aware as to why I’ve requested to see you both this morning. My daughter came home yesterday extremely upset and confused. The complete opposite to how she left home in the morning. I’ve spoken with my daughter about what happened yesterday, but I would now like to ask you both for your side.”
She waits like a boss….
Ms P***: *red faced* Well…. *She stutters* thank you for calling this meeting with us. I’m sorry if you feel concerned. But, to be honest with you madam, you shouldn’t have troubled yourself, there is no issue. I asked Nabila about what she was wearing and why she was wearing it – out of pure curiosity. She then began to get defensive and somehow managed to convince her friends to gather in the corridors protesting her release and causing a big scene in school.
Me: Oh my God!!!! *Seriously shocked as I’ve never witnessed someone lie so easily* THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED MAMA!
Mum: Be quiet please, Nabila. Let Ms P*** finish.
Ms P***: Mrs Science, isn’t that right?
Mrs Science: *Even she seemed a little uncomfortable, but she still went along with her madness. * Yes, Nabila compared herself to me because I do not wear one. Then she cried.
Me: *Mouth wide open* Mama, I swear to you! I promise I didn’t do that!
Mum: I know you didn’t, Nabila.
Mum: Look, it seems as though there has been a big misunderstanding. My main concern is my child.
She then places a booklet on the table and asks Ms P***and Mrs. Science to open it.
Mum: Please read section 4 of page 9 titled ”Uniform Policy”.
*Ms P*** reluctantly reads*
Mum: My children have obediently been attending this school for the last 6 years. Not one time have I been contacted by the school about their uniform, misbehaviour, not following instructions or failing to hand in homework or assignments. I make sure my children follow all that is expected of them and respect their teachers. So, for my daughter to have been reduced to tears by those that I have entrusted to take care of her has not only upset her, but also me. Not even I, as her mother, asked her to neither put it on nor take it off. My duty was to make sure that what she wore complied with the school rules as per the official school booklet which is revised and certified by the local borough and handed to all new students at the start of year 7. So the night before she decided to wear it, I asked her to delay it for a day just so that I could go out and buy her a plain navy blue coloured hijab as per the school’s uniform policy you just read a moment ago.
*(NOW it made sense why mum made me delay wearing it a day)*
I would like to conclude this meeting with a question for you both. Do either of you have a problem with Nabila’s behaviour during your interaction yesterday, that i need to address with her?
Both of them: *They look at each other and awkwardly respond* … ”No”
Mum: Now, can you please confirm whether there is an issue with Nabila wearing this to school?
Ms P***: *as she stutters* No madam, just as long as its navy blue or white. There is no issue with Nabila wearing this to school.
Mum: You have now confirmed that my daughter did not lie, disrespect nor disobey you both. If it were not for the good relationship that I have with this school and the fact that I do not want to disrupt nor affect my daughter further, I would have reported you both to the department of education for the way you have unfairly treated my daughter and reduced her to tears. I will be monitoring her after this experience and ensure that she recovers from this incident. My husband and I have been teaching our children to respect their teachers as they respect their parents. Despite the way my daughter was made to feel by you both, I am proud that she still managed to control herself and give you your due respect. I trust that you will both treat her with the same and this will be the last time that my daughter is reduced to tears by her teachers. Please also keep your personal opinions to yourself and do not let it affect your role as an educator.
*Mother dearest finishes off like a boss*
”Thank you and have a nice day. Come on, Nabila, get to your 1st lesson.”
My confidence restored!
So, Ms. P***,
Thank you for treating me like sh*t, because, from this experience, I learnt many lessons and gained enough confidence to deal with the many similar situations I have had to deal with throughout my adult life as a minority in the big world. It only made me stronger and work harder. Now I treat my students with so much respect because I’m so afraid that they may feel, as I was made to feel, by my words or actions.
In turn, my students love me.
An honourable, respectful and kind teacher!
PS. Can you guess which Simpson’s character is who in the featured image?