He was the first teacher I had that wasn’t Caucasian. By the time I met him I was age 13 and our school student body had quite an influx of immigrants from around the world. Mr. P was from Pakistan and he was our math teacher. I had school friends from India and I'm ashamed to say that I didn’t quite know the difference between Pakistan and India at the time. It didn’t take long to discover that not everyone liked having a teacher from Pakistan.
Mr. P was a math and science teacher. He was a gentle man and tried to be friendly. Because of the way he was treated, he tended to have a stern expression on his face. He was determined to produce educated students. He was obviously intelligent, but that didn’t matter much to Junior High students. He was different; he looked different; he spoke quickly and sometimes we had some difficulty understanding his speech. We mocked his pronunciations. I joined in with the other students, although since my parents spoke with a thick German accent, I was no stranger to accented English. No one really knew where Pakistan was and no one knew anything about the people, but Mr. P seemed to be disliked by the students because he was different and he was from Pakistan.
The students had certain names they called Mr. P. Whenever his back was turned (after all, in those days teachers still wrote on chalkboards) kids shot spit balls at him. They threw crumpled wads of paper at his back. He would often turn around and wait for the class to settle down. He had a very stern look on his face, yet the students kept giggling and muttering degrading comments. The whole process was somewhat puzzling to me, yet I joined in with the giggling, although not usually when he was looking. I was weak – I wanted to fit in with the class, yet I wanted my teachers to think well of me and give me good grades.
Looking back, I’m sure teaching Junior High students was a challenge for him. As hall or cafeteria monitor he received the same kind of treatment. I don’t recall in all my years of schooling that any other teacher was treated in this way. I have no idea how the other teaching staff treated him or whether anyone befriended him. We didn’t think of it as bullying at the time, but Mr. P was bullied by his students every day of his teaching career at our school. And I didn’t do anything about it.
Mr. P stayed a teacher at our school for many years. I was his student again during my high school Biology class. He was a very gifted teacher. Biology became one of my favourite subjects and produced one of my highest grades ever. He was very knowledgeable and his teaching was extremely detailed. Unfortunately, the immature/bullying behaviour towards him continued, even in high school. This time I didn’t partake in any of it, yet I don’t recall ever challenging the other students about their behaviour. I knew Mr. P was too much of an academic to be teaching Junior High and High School students. I remember thinking he should be a university instructor – teaching students who were mature and wanted to learn. Of course that was before I discovered university students aren’t always all that mature.
Mr. P was an intelligent man. He was also a man who demonstrated incredible patience and long suffering, although at times it was a bit much for him and he tried speaking to the class about it. That just made it worse, unfortunately. The bullying he had to endure from his students was appalling. I stood idly by, at times even joining in the laughing. It was something I’ve always regretted.
Before Mr. P and I parted ways, I wrote him a personal letter during my Biology final exam. After completing the exam early, I wrote a long letter of appreciation for all that he had taught me. I also apologized that I hadn’t behaved more maturely and that I hadn’t shown him gratefulness during the years that I was his student. My letter was heartfelt and is one of the best things I did during high school. I do regret not standing up to the bullying that poor Mr. P had to endure at the hands of immature students.
Although I have attempted to find Mr. P, I haven’t had any luck. I wish I could let him know that he ended up being one of my favourite and most memorable teachers and that he taught me more than just Math and Science. He taught me about compassion; he taught me to stand up for those being bullied, whether child or adult; he taught me that you need extra grace and patience for the stupidity of bullies; he taught me to be more kind, to apologize when needed and to see beauty in every person.
Thank you Mr. P. May you continue to be blessed in your life, and if you are not with us anymore, may you rest in peace.