Suzanne Furstner Scholarship 2013 Winning Entry: Rumina Iftikhar

We were thrilled to receive entries from all over the world into our scholarship this year. After careful deliberation by a panel of judges, we are delighted to announce Rumina Iftikhar, from Pakistan, as our overall winner. Many congratulations to Rumina who will take her prize of a 4-week CELTA course in Philadelphia next year. Thank you to all applicants for your inspiring entries.

Here is Rumina’s winning essay…

It’s seven fifteen in the morning and I’m on my way to work. I switch on the MP3 player and flip through the songs till I get to Rihanna’s “Diamond in the sky.” I sing along, loud and carefree. It may be Monday but that’s not going to get me down. I’ve got my planner for the week made, a pile of horribly written English language essays duly checked and I feel prepared to face anything. Even school! Nobody’s going to accuse me of shirking my responsibilities!

As an MBA who opted for teaching after my kids were born, because of the flexible hours and summer and winter breaks, I have often felt at a disadvantage because I have never received any formal training in teaching the English language. That’s the problem with Pakistan. A country that focuses more on long-standing feuds with neighbors than on education and training. Anyone who can speak the language fairly well becomes an English language teacher. Now, me! I’ve always loved this language! As a child I would devour story books. Enid Blyton was my favorite writer, followed by C.S Lewis and Louisa M. Alcott. I was happiest sitting alone in my room, nose stuffed into a book. So though I love the language and feel very passionately about helping my students, sometimes I feel, even after all these years, that I’m just groping in the dark. I’ve learnt on the job, I’ve had some fantastic people help me, but no formal training. And that is what I want more than anything else now. My MBA just won’t let me get very far in this field.

So, back to Rihanna. She helps me enjoy my long, long drive to school and it is with deep reluctance that I get out of my car when I finally arrive. Nevertheless, I stride purposefully into school and make my way to my class. The kids stand up as I enter and chant “Good morning ma’am,” with big grins on their faces. That is what I love about them, their unquenchable spirits. Even Monday can’t dampen those. They may not be the best at essay writing or figuring out the meaning of words from the context, but there is no lack of enthusiasm and good cheer here. They like their English teacher, though she can be a bit of a grouch at times, and they’re willing to try as hard as they can to please her. This week I want them to write a science fiction story. We’ve discussed different genres and the features of some of them. Science fiction appeals to me because there is so much scope for the imagination here. I’m sure they will enjoy it.

I’ve brought along an interesting sci-fi story that I downloaded from the net. We’re going to read that first and go over the features of a sci-fi story as we read. Next is the long brainstorming session. We think up several brilliant ideas and I show them how to turn these into a simple narrative essay. After 80 minutes of non-stop brainstorming, instructing, guiding, I feel they’re ready to fill in their sci-fi prewrite, duly photocopied and handed to everyone in the class. Then they should be able to write the story.

They work assiduously, silently. I walk around the room keeping an eye on them to point out any startling grammatical errors. I know they’re enjoying this, but I can only hope they churn out decent stories. The problem with these kids is that they come from families where English isn’t spoken very frequently and neither do they, as a general rule, enjoy reading. This makes my job even tougher. I don’t have a magic wand, and despite all my planning and researching, I still feel like there is so much more for me to learn. So much more that will equip me with real confidence in my own teaching abilities and will allow me to guide these children better. These children who look upon me hopefully, sure that I will put an end to all their language-related woes, something I would dearly love to do. I think longingly about the CELTA course being offered in Philadelphia. Six weeks of that grueling course would teach me so much, and I would come back so much more poised and in control, undaunted by the challenges of my exacting job, ready to face them head on. It seems like a dream right now, but it’s one I’m determined to achieve.

Cactus is proud to run the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship each year as part of the Suzanne Furstner Foundation, which was set up in memory of our much-loved friend and colleague, Suzanne, who we tragically lost in a road accident in Spain in 2006. The Foundation aims to support language and educational projects across the world, a subject that was close to her heart.

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