At the beginning of the school year, Nshuti was promoted to Primary 5. His new teacher, Mrs. Kamara noticed that Nshuti was different from her other students. He arrived late, didn’t play well with other children, his clothes were messy and he did not pay attention in class. Simply put, Nshuti was that ‘’unpleasant’’ child.
As an experienced teacher, Mrs. Kamara made a “good’’ decision (at least so she thought); She was not going to let one lazy, unfocussed boy derail the rest of her class. She decided to ignore Nshuti and focus on her other students. Over time, Nshuti’s performance declined further, he scored the lowest grades in class and sadly, he didn’t seem to care.
At the end of the school year, as was the school custom, students
brought in gifts for their teachers. Everybody in the class always looked forward to this time of year. They wrapped their gifts in beautiful ribbon and bright paper and each took turns in handing their gifts to their teacher. Nshuti’s gift came last. He hesitantly walked to Mrs. Kamara’s desk, quickly dumped his shabbily wrapped gift in front of her and shyly made his way back to his seat amidst his classmate’s laughter.
At lunch break, Mrs. Kamara excitedly opened her gifts, beginning with those that looked most attractive. She had received bracelets, ear rings, tea cups, photo frames and many other lovely gifts from her students. She opened Nshuti’s gift last. In it she found a half bottle of perfume. For a moment she wondered why Nshuti would gift her a half bottle of perfume, but in her usual neglect of issues concerning Nshuti, she gave it no more thought as she sprayed a little perfume on her wrist.
That afternoon as Mrs. Kamara walked by Nshuti’s desk, Nshuti looked up to her, smiled shyly and said to her, “Mrs. Kamara today you smell just like my mother used to smell before she died early this year. That perfume I gave you was one of her favorite possessions, it was the best gift I could give you as my teacher.’’
Mrs. Kamara could not believe her ears, with a mixture of both shock and anguish she headed straight to the front of the class and gave her class an early dismissal. After the children left Mrs. Kamara cried for at least an hour. She suddenly realized how little she knew about her students, their challenges, their family situations, their struggles, their joys, their hurts or their journey. Tthat day, she made a decision she was going to quit teaching reading, writing and mathematics, instead, she began to teach children. She began with Nshuti. She paid particular attention to Nshuti. She listened to his endless stories (most of which were about his mother), she gave him additional support, and as she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the following school year, he had become one of the smartest and most engaged children in her class. Nshuti came alive! He was not only classroom smart but was also engaged in School Leadership activities. He spearheaded two School Hygiene Programs and was voted Student of the year twice in a row.
Two years later, as Nshuti was graduating to Secondary School, Mrs. Kamara with tears in her eyes, wrote him a note to say, “Nshuti, you taught me that I should teach people, not subjects – I didn’t know how to teach until I met you!”
Mrs. Kamara’s positive influence on Nshuti very clearly brings out the powerful transformational role teachers can play on their students. Do leaders have lessons to pick from this story?
As leaders, we too are called to look beyond the ‘face value’ of the people we lead. We must realize that we are leading human beings: with emotions, personal problems, challenges and a life beyond the workplace. We must stretch our leadership beyond the office walls and show overall concern for our people, bringing the “human connection’’ to work. Only then can we get the best out of our people, in a friendly and conducive work environment. In his book, ‘How to win friends and influence people’, Dale Carnegie brings this notion out clearly when he states, “You must capture the heart of a supremely able man before his brain can do its best.” When people feel that their hearts are touched and their emotional needs are met, they release the energy that triggers discretionary effort: According to the Corporate Leadership Council, 400% more effort!
The most effective leaders lead with genuine care for those they lead, with a growth focus and a human perspective. May you be that kind of leader!
By Shiphrah Kiiza