A letter to Miss Soares

Picture Credit Zarine Mogal

Dear Miss Soares,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this. You are a legend, almost an institution yourself. You gave more than 50 years of your life teaching Maths to girls in a school, St Joseph’s, in Karachi. If one talks about girls’ education or about education in Pakistan and specifically Karachi, one has to mention St Joseph’s. If one talks about St Joseph’s then one has to talk about you. You dedicated your whole life to making maths come alive for us. Is it any wonder that when we heard of your passing away we were shocked and deeply saddened? Tributes are coming in from all over the world. You taught grandmothers, mothers and daughters and left a mark on each and every one of us.

You were petite, bespectacled and usually wore a knee-length skirt and blouse and walked briskly. The only jewellery you wore was a wrist watch. You would enter the classroom and we knew you were not going to let us waste even one second. You didn’t smile but your eyes twinkled and we all loved you. You would start each lesson with a small test covering the topics taught earlier. The marks of these tests counted towards our final mark. As this is what you did during every lesson, we weren’t stressed by these tests. This was low stake testing designed to test our knowledge of what had already been taught. While we would be busy doing the test you would walk up and down the class (we sat in rows, facing the front) looking over our shoulders. This would have given you an indication of who was struggling with what. You were so ahead of your time. Regular, low stakes testing of previously taught material is now known to be the way to go about teaching and learning. We would then open our homework, you would call out the correct answers and we would check our books ourselves. You would go over the difficult problems by solving them on the blackboard. Whole class feedback and again ahead of its time! You would collect the books and look over them later. This would give you an idea of how well we had understood the work you had set us but as we had already checked it ourselves it would reduce your workload, giving you more time to plan any adjustment for the next lesson.

You lived and breathed maths. I have been going through all the messages left on the school Facebook page. One of your students has posted that she visited you last year and you told her you missed teaching. You taught for over 50 years and you loved the vocation so much that when you finally retired you still missed it. That sums up who you were.

So many of your students are saying that they grew to understand and love maths because of you. If a student develops a love for a subject because of how it has been taught, then that is the biggest accolade for a teacher.

You were strict but you were fair. You were a disciplinarian, a no-excuses teacher but you were never harsh. And you had a wonderful sense of humour. Your one-liners are legendary! “They look but they don’t see” being one of them. Your strictness, your fairness and your humour endeared you to us. There was never any low level disruption during your lessons. We worked hard and we worked silently. But it was a happy place and there was laughter too. You taught us maths and you taught us so much more. You taught us the value of hard work and the value of not giving up.

In Pakistan students don’t sit public exams in their own schools. Instead they are assigned another school where they do the exams. You would come to the exam centre on the day of the Maths exam, your presence reassuring to those who may be feeling nervous. You didn’t have to do this but you did and we were all very grateful to you for that. At the end of the exam season you would treat your whole class to a trip to the cinema.

You embodied what St Josephs’ stands for which is that every girl who walks those hallowed corridors has a right to a good education. You played a huge part in making that a reality and for that your students can never thank you enough. Miss Soares, you will continue to live in the hearts of all your students and your memory will be kept alive by us remembering and talking about you and the time spent with you.

Rest in peace.

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