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By Mariha Khan

Teach For Pakistan 2018 Alum.

Human touch is a powerful thing. To extend your hand towards another’s is to say, “I see you and I care about you.” To allow your fingers to gingerly pat them on the back is to say, “Well done! I knew you could do it!”It became the norm in my classroom to shake hands first thing in the morning and then once again as we said our goodbyes for the day. For me it was important to show the students that they are seen and respected as individuals. And a firm handshake conveyed just that.

I remember one student came up to me once and said, “Teacher, eik baat bataon? Aap ko dekh ke baqi school ki teacherain bhi apne students se haath milana shuru ho gayi hain.” (“Teacher, can I tell you something? The other teachers in the school have also started shaking hands with their students after seeing you do it.”) Her observation was not news to me. I had noticed it, too. It was a testament to the fact that my presence in the school had made at least a difference. Where teachers once used to repeatedly raise their hands to hit a disruptive child, they were now punctuating this with a compassionate touch. This meant everything to our kids, but now, I fear that the impact I made will have been for naught.

Human touch could be potentially deathly these days. The space between my students and I has multiplied manifold as we learn to adjust to this strange new world. Touch is a foreign concept now. Where once I could easily high-five a student when she completed her task, I am now struggling to find the right words to type as a response to her message on WhatsApp. Prior to this disruption, I strongly relied on nonverbal cues to convey my admiration to the students. Now, over WhatsApp, I struggle to find the balance between not saying enough and saying too much. I resort to using emojis knowing all too well that a lot will be lost in translation.

I crave the human connection that once was. I yearn for the touch of tiny hands as they tugged my dupatta to grab my attention. I ache for the hurried handshakes of the kindergarteners as they would run past me and say, “Teacher, aap aaj buhat achi lag rahi hain.” (“Teacher, you are looking very beautiful today.”)

Sigh. Is there an emoji for “I hope we never take for granted the value of human touch again”?

Fellow Mariha Khan was placed in a school in Saidpur Village for two years, where she taught English and Social Studies to 5th graders. She will start at Vanderbilt University in the Fall of 2020 as a Fulbright Scholar to commence the M.Ed. in English Language Learners program.

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