Transformation takes time. It’s the first truth I have learnt 3 months into my Fellowship. Kids don’t suddenly become Math wizards and they don’t become fluent English speakers.
Teach For India has a structured training program that prepares a Fellow for meticulously planning each aspect of each lesson and forming a strong conceptual base for the students. However, this often plays out differently in class where teaching non-violence takes precedence over Maths and teaching non-venomous vocabulary takes precedence over English. There are moments when you become the sort of teacher you dreaded in school, shouting loudly and almost hysterical at times. This is when students who are yet to be corrupted by the diplomacy that comes with age, tell you in a brutally honest way that they didn’t enjoy your class because you shouted too much.
There are rare moments which would make any teacher proud, that prop up most unexpectedly. Once, I was teaching word problems and there were some students who got the test wrong because they were not paying attention. I was unimpressed and let them know it. Soon, the recess bell rang and I went to the staff room to have food. 20 minutes into recess, the students who I had curtly told to pay attention in class, walked in with their test worksheets. They had skipped their recess to finish their paper. This dedication is something that I can neither take credit for nor understand. I don’t remember once skipping my recess to do anything remotely academic in school but here were students who I had assumed didn’t like to study, skipping their break to perfect a math objective.
Dedication. When I see Akash staying back for an hour and a half everyday after school to learn, I discover what dedication really means. It’s not me who has asked him to stay back, in fact it’s the other way around. Akash is one of the weakest kids academically, who reads at a KG level in 4th grade. When the Unit test results were declared and a parent teacher meeting called, Akash’s mom initially refused to come, certain of her son’s failure. Akash assured her that he had done well this time. His mother walks tentatively into the class, still not convinced. She sits down to look at the marks and her face slowly brightens into a wide smile. Akash has scored a 70% on a tough math test, better than a lot of his peers.
Pre-conceived notions are needless and hinder relationship-building with students and the community around the school. For instance, parents in the low-income community surrounding the school are extremely passionate about the power of education and demand that I give homework every day so that their child doesn’t while away time hanging out with the wrong sort of people.
Teaching a class of 60 boisterous including 48 boys is a task that requires something far beyond knowledge. It requires courage. The courage to fail, to falter and to find your way again and again. Till a Akash comes along and makes it all worth it.
I was rather proud of my immunity and the fact that I had never had any disease despite eating street food in thoroughly unhygienic places including a pani-puri stall near a gutter at Mankhurd station.
Well, disaster struck one month into the Fellowship. It took one mosquito to give me Falciferum Malaria and a week off from school. Now, some rationale on the rather dramatic title:
- 2 days before I was admitted to hospital, I was having a pretty bad day in school. I was tired, had lost my voice and didn’t cut a very impressive figure. I was making the class stay back after school for misbehavior. A parent comes up to me and says, ” You don’t look like someone kids will be scared of and that’s why they don’t listen to you. “
- 3 days back in school, a parent goes straight to the Principal to complain about a kid in class choking her son. The kid who was choked did not come to school for two days because he was scared of being beaten. The Principal tells the Parent, ” This happens in their class because this Sir and Miss don’t beat their children.”
In the midst of all this, life (lesson planning, differentiation and re-teaching) goes on.
There are rough days and then there’s 30 June 2011. The day conformed with Murphy’s fundamental law- If anything can go wrong, IT WILL. It was a day on which I was abused by a kid, told cheekily by one that he would take me to the Principal for not allowing him to go to toilet during a test. A day on which I had management issues with 10 kids who were staying back for an extra-class because they thought it was a punishment. There were kids who were crying for missing their tuition because of the extra-class. That’s when I decided to tell them bluntly why they were here. I wrote the word ‘MAKE’ on the board. None of them could read it. I said, ‘That’s why you are here.’ It was cold but it was effective. My co-teacher devised a game where the first one to reach 10 points could go home. One by one they went home until there were just 2 of the weakest remaining. Finally they made it to 10 points and I told them that they could go. That’s when they said in one voice, “Bhaiya, one more sum”. It dawned on me then that all kids want to learn but only when they feel they are learning.
My first day at school didn’t go according to the script aka lesson plan. Firstly, I had a bunch of kids from 2 sections in fourth standard. Secondly, at Institute, I had made apparently stellar lesson-plans for a bunch of 15. 50 is NOT 15. I had an elaborate coloring activity planned where the kids had to share stationery and each bench had to color one cutout together. The plan essentially dictated that kids share and receive pencils with those around their bench. The plan did not factor in the importance of a BLACK SKETCH PEN. There was just one of those and everyone wanted it so it was me going around the whole class delivering ‘THE’ black sketch pen. And then after having used 10 colors for one cut-out, the kids would want 6 more. I had been teaching for close to 5 hours and was quite exhausted. This went on for a while and then help came from an unexpected quarter. Bandini, a student suggested that it was time to collect the colors and assured me with a gesture of her palm that she would take care of it. She did.
The next day, she helped me mark attendance and told me who was absent. My class theme ‘Little leaders’ suddenly makes sense for Bandini is already the third teacher in my classroom.