"Teacher, I don't understand."
I sighed: Cahide again. "What don't you understand?"
Cahide opened her workbook and pointed. I took a quick look and stifled another sigh. "Can you come and see me about that tomorrow morning, before class? I can't explain all that to you right now -- I've got another class to teach."
I had to repeat this half a dozen times before she got it, but Cahide finally nodded. "Okay." It took her so long to understand, I seriously considered including her in the list of students who belonged in a lower class. I wondered when she would give up and realize that she was out of her depth.
First thing the next morning, Cahide was there with her workbook. I was surprised to see that unlike the majority of her classmates, she had completely filled in the pages I had assigned for homework. While her classmates' books were almost entirely pristine, Cahide's was full of penciled-in explanations, scrawled dictionary definitions of words in margins, erasures, crossed-out bits, and answers. Nothing had been left undone, either; she had even completed the sections I told everyone not to bother with.
It took ages for me to explain everything Cahide didn't understand, but the light of reason finally dawned and she went away, satisfied. It was enormously gratifying.
Unfortunately, she was back the next morning. She caught me gulping down coffee ten minutes before I was leaving to teach another class. "I don't understand this," she said, opening her workbook.
I took a look and blinked: she was already onto the next unit! I shook my head. "We're not doing that yet. Wait until we cover it, okay?"
She furrowed her brow and tilted her head. "Sorry? I don't understand."
I fought the urge to look at my watch. "We will do that unit the day after tomorrow. Wait until then, okay?"
When she finally understood, she nodded -- grudgingly -- then turned a few pages back to the unit we were on. "I don't understand this," she said, pointing.
I let out a slow breath. "Come and see me after class, then."
"Twelve thirty o'clock?"
I bit my lips. "Yes, twelve thirty is fine." There went my lunch break!
Sure enough, Cahide came and saw me after class and stayed an hour while I did my best to explain around hurried bites from my sandwich. She didn't leave until she was certain she had understood everything.
Over the next six weeks, Cahide hounded me and the colleague I shared her class with. She followed us out of the classroom and buttonholed us on our way to the toilet to ask us questions. We took to hiding from her, she was so determined. Her stamina and tenacity amazed us: she did every assignment we gave her, wrote every paper, filled in every form, answered every question. And if she didn't get something, she was never shy about letting us know. We began to dread her Teacher, I don't understand.
But we began to admire and respect her even more. She never gave up. When the rest of the class yawned and looked at their watches, Cahide nodded her head and raised her hand. When everyone else sprinted out as soon as it was break time, she stayed in the classroom and asked endless questions. She walked to the teachers' room with us afterward, grilling us about details. What should she be studying? How many hours? Which compositions should she be writing? Would we read her work after she had finished? Would we correct it please?
Before the midterm examination, Cahide's diligence surpassed itself. She doubled, then tripled her efforts, constantly bringing us compositions to mark and questions to answer. What impressed me the most was that she never gave any preference to my Turkish-speaking colleague. Coping with our language gap must have been as much of a trial for her as it was for me, but it never seemed to faze her. My colleague and I were exhausted, but increasingly heartened by her enthusiasm and incredible determination.
The only thing that worried us was the midterm. Many students fail the midterm, particularly those of Cahide's level. We hoped that failing wouldn't discourage her the way it has discouraged other students.
Yesterday we got the midterm results. Cahide, it turned out, got the best mark in the entire class.
"I am so proud of you!" I told her today. "You are an inspiration!"
I wrote it down for her. "Inspiration. Look that up in your English-Turkish dictionary when you get home today, okay?"
She smiled modestly, but she seemed distracted. "Okay. Teacher?"
She flipped the pages of her workbook until she found the unit we will be starting next. Pointing, she said, "I don't understand."
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
"Teacher, I don't understand."