When my father asked me to follow my sister lead and become a teacher, I firmly said no. I didn't want to teach. I didn't want to end up like the teachers I encountered in my school.
As a student, I had good teachers and bad ones, but the latter were the dominant type. They were not only bad in the way they treat students, but they were also uninformed, superficial and not quite the role model I wanted to follow.
I tried to resist my father, but being at that time the good girl I was raised to be, I eventually followed my father's orders and joined the College of Education for women, to become a teacher, like my sister.
When I was asked what department I wanted to join, I chose English. In school I loved this subject that opened the doors and expanded the limited conservative world I was chained to. I always excelled in it and to continue studying it, even for the purpose of teaching it, gave me some sense of freedom.
I was good enough during the first two years of the university. Being excellent student did not make a sense for me at that time, when I knew I would end up teaching in secondary schools. My level of English was far better than what my teachers had. I didn't bother attending most of the lectures, especially those that aimed at training students to become secondary-school teachers. However, I loved literature and language modules. I was very good in them. By the end of the second year, when I realized that I could pursue different careers with my study, like translation, I decided to take my studies seriously. In the last two of my undergraduate years, I was the top student.
As I excelled in the department, when I graduated, I had the chance of joining Baghdad Observer, Iraqi newspaper published in English. However, as the top student, everyone, including my professors, advised me to pursue master degree in English literature. By that time I was deeply in love with the subject of literature. Between the lines of a poem, story or play, I found a hidden meaning of life, a lost passion I always looked for. I convinced myself that I would join Baghdad Observer when I obtain master degree, and then I would probably have the chance to become a writer in the newspaper, rather than just a translator.
Before the time I submitted my master degree, life changed in Iraq and post-2003 era started, after wiping off the life we knew in Iraq. Baghdad Observer was shut down, and the media landscape in Baghdad started to take different and unfamiliar shapes. By the time I received my master degree, I missed another chance to work in another newspaper, which was published in English, because it was not safe to join the field. My dream to become a writer, a columnist perhaps, who share her knowledge and experience with the world, was killed in the bud. Lacking the companionship of a listening ear or understanding mind at that time made me eager to communicate with the wide world through my words, and what was better than a newspaper that published in English, a language that most of the world can speak?
Because of the security situation after 2003, I was left with no other career option but teaching. There was a need for lecturers in English and after searching for few weeks, I landed on teaching jobs in two different colleges. During the following years, I finished my PhD in contemporary American poetry, and established myself as lecturer of English and American literature in a university in Baghdad.
However, deep inside I continued to hate the job. It felt like a wall separating me from what I really wanted to be, which was not a teacher. I felt conflicted. I knew what a huge responsibility it was to stand in front of a class waiting for me to enlighten their minds with the knowledge I acquired, while in fact I didn't want to do that. I felt that I was fraud. I felt that I was bad teacher, even when there were students who admired me and considered me as a role-model.
This even affected my relationships with my colleagues. I despised many of them for being fraud as well, being as bad and less informed as my teachers in the secondary school. Every year, my frustration with the job and disappointment with academia in Iraq grew deeper. I tried to resist but the system established in Iraq after 2003 was bigger and stronger than individual attempts of helpless academics like me.
When I came here, I was surprisingly disappointed to know that my fellowship terms did not include teaching. I tried to cheer myself up by repeating the thought that I cherished for many years: I hated teaching. But that was futile. I felt sad, because in spite of the fact that I hated this job, it was the only thing I had been doing since 2003 till I left Iraq in 2015. It was my career for 12 years. To stop doing it all of sudden left me impaired, not knowing what to do. Without teaching, I felt there was no purpose behind my research, which I did not give enough attention during the last two years.
For two years, I wrote and published articles related to my research, I participated in conferences, seminars and workshops as expected from any academic serious and passionate about their fields. However, nothing satisfied that urge to stand in front of a class and share with them a book I loved to read, or knowledge about literature I recently acquired.
I did several desk jobs in London, mostly research, translation and content editing. However, the urge for teaching again grew bigger, that I felt there would be no career satisfaction unless I was a teacher again. Finally, I decided to apply for teaching jobs, even if would be outside the university.
Last month, I was accepted in a part-time teaching job in Essex. For some reason, I felt extremely happy. Not because the job paid well, or will change my financial situation drastically. On the contrary, the job proved to be a burden on my budget. Yet, I felt excited to go back to teaching.
I went to my first lesson feeling proud of myself, excited to stand again in front of a class and share with them the knowledge I had been accumulating for years, but above all eager to regain that part of me I lost when I left Iraq. Teaching was the bigger part of my life in Iraq, it was my self-defining reality, which I lived for most of the day. When I stopped doing it, I felt that I stopped to exist, that I was no longer visible to the world. This was how I felt when I was in my way from London to Essex to start my first class. Though I had a long-day work in London, I was happy to start my class in the evening.
I walked to my first class, introduced myself to the new students and asked them to introduce themselves. I started teaching and tasted back that familiar air of teaching! First lesson was successful. I gained back what I lost. But, was that what I really wanted?
That night I couldn't sleep. I stayed awake in bed thinking and processing what had happened. The joy of victory, that I was doing something that was denied to me since I came here, no longer felt, but was replaced by exhaustion and disappointment. I realized that the urge to teach was an urge to gain back a lost life; a life that in exile grew ideal, simply because I was forced to leave it, rather was ready to end it.
Nadia F Mohammed