Dear Iqmal,

Sometimes I feel kids like you exist to make my life a living hell, but I know the truth is you have made me a stronger teacher and person. I remember when I first met you last year, with your big smile and eager eyes and you calling out for help every 5 seconds. And that moment when you excitedly waited for me by the road side with your pressed shirt and clean jeans for me to bring you back to read Peter and Jane together. You couldn’t even read the first word in the first book, which was Peter, but remember how you tried and tried the entire night?

I also remember, very vividly, you coming into my house stinking of cigarette smell in your breath and the look of defiance in your eyes when I nagged at you. But you kept coming anyway and you kept trying to read book 1A.

We made little to no progress last year and this year seemed to be getting worse for us. You started acting out in class, crawling on the floor to disrupt the lesson and you screaming your high-pitched voice. I know you never meant to hurt my feelings and I know you know I still care for you because you would do my work if I paid you one-on-one attention, but somewhere along the line, we both knew we were not getting anywhere.

Honestly, I was really so close to giving up on you. But last week, you were one of the very few boys from your class who came during Teacher’s Day. Shocked, I asked you why you came, and you said “saya datang nak jumpa teacher”. Then you, you little rascal you, waited for everyone to leave and took out a box wrapped with crumpled giftwrap and gave it to my shyly.

The thought of you sitting down wrapping the gift the night before, the thought of you finding ways to write that note IN ENGLISH, the thought of you cutting out that heart and pasting it carefully on the note, all that in contrast with thoughts of me wanting to give up on you.. just breaks my heart.

Dear Iqmal and the rest of the kids in that class,

I promise I will try harder each day and not give up on you. I will make you better people, even if you still can’t read by the end of this year. You will believe in yourself because you know there was once a teacher who always believed in you. This last line will sound cheesy as hell, but the reason why I’m on this path now is to be taught the meaning of humility, patience and grit by people like you.