Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Value Challenge

I strongly believe that the only way your students can imbibe a value is if you demonstrate it with utmost consistency in the classroom. I have focused a great deal on teamwork, hardwork, honesty and self control and have been able to demonstrate these virtues everyday. In addition, I have started  implicitly teaching my kids about excellence, empathy and gratitude.

The last two weeks have been unimaginably stressful. It has been a true strength of my mental and emotional stamina. My focus has simply been to ensure continuity of learning despite everything that has changed inside the classroom and in our lives. In this time, I have often been slacking on some of the values of the class - especially excellence and self control.

 I have realized how efficiently classroom systems and procedures helped me manage my energy this far. Many of them have gotten undone with changes in class and team structure. The burden of many small decisions has fallen back upon me, which takes up more mind space than I imagined. With all this on my mind, conscious teacher modelling has become hard.

Excellence is incredibly hard to maintain in an environment that is unpredictable. While I have never gone to class without a plan, some of my recent plans have been disappointing by my standards especially in the new content areas I have taken over. I have seen myself let go of some points on my performance goals. I convince myself by saying that this is a contingency situation and I need to realign my goals to meet the changed needs of class - both expected and unexpected. Internally, I am not okay with mediocrity. At the same time, I am aware I have limits - physical more than anything else.

Showing self control is difficult in an environment where you have temporary untested systems in place, you have students who are in changed settings and your own energy reservoirs are on emergency backup. I have raised my voice with students, including some highly invested ones, at least once every day of this week compared to probably once or twice in the rest of the semester. I even shouted on some of my friends during conversations (which have barely happened), just because I have been on the edge.  While I know the change in my temperament is temporary, I need a system restore to go back to state of high equanimity and awareness.

At the same time, I have compensated for the lack of some values with some others. I have been forced to show extremely high levels of team work and hard work to make the grade function.

I have collaborated, supported and been supported by many people (including team members and students) often this month stepping out of my comfort zone. I have shown high levels of empathy. I have purposefully worked on differentiated management approaches to different individuals. I have been open to 'sharing and caring' as well as 'seeking to understand'.  I have shown leadership in planning and I am glad my team has played an active role in implementing or executing my multiple fall back plans.

I have also worked non-stop for almost three weeks - with just one half day break - to ensure minimal damage is done to the long term plans for my kids. I have taken initiative and additional responsibility to make sure I provide the basic inputs that are needed to keep classes on track towards their big goals.

Some of my more intuitive students and some of my closest friends have sensed my recent vulnerability. They have been incredibly supportive in giving me that time and space to recover and re-energize every day for many weeks now. I am proud of having them in my life.

I don't believe in the concept of work-life balance. I think work and life need to be integrated and have a free flow. If you can master the art of doing that, you can feed the positives from one into the gaps in the other to balance the stresses. At the same time, it allows both your professional and personal circle to be able to support you strongly when you are in dire need. Like the say, if your work turns you on, you don't need to ever switch off  in your life.

Most of all, I love how much this month has taught me. After I recover from the physical tiredness, I know I will be much stronger. I have been reading these lines by Tennyson and Tolkien for their therauptic value and appropriateness to the situation:

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

"It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
- Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Change and Children

Our 7th grade team is reduced to half its strength because of which the remaining half, Neerja and I, have had to put in four times the effort in the class. I have personally had a terrible week in terms of engagement and management of the classroom. It is difficult to teach two classes well simultaneously if you are a single teacher. You need extremely strong structures and procedures, which currently don't exist in all the three classes. I have reached that stage again where I have started looking at everything in school negatively.

I sometimes begin to wonder if their has been any change at all. I realize that the stress is just overshadowing everything that we have achieved this year. I am going to pause  the frantic pace of work this week to think about each kid in my new class.

Alisha CB now comes to school regularly and participates in all classroom activities.

Aliya and Mahek have matured into a strong and gritty leaders, learning to manage the different working styles of their classmates.

Sadiya has learnt the value of self control and shows much more maturity while in the classroom.

Ali has gradually, though forcefully, started taking more initiative in the class.

Raghuveer has spoken more English in the last two months than he did whole of last year.

Ragib, who once had three detentions in three days, has got just one in the whole term.

Asgar who refused to sit in section C first has now started participating in the class and helping his new team.

Nida has been on task and following rules of Metamorphia from the day she joined the class.

Anam's distractions have reduced considerably from when she started.

Mallika has shown more confidence in the last few months, no longer willing to be subdued by pressure.

Junej has shown much more hardwork in his studies and has improved as a team member.

Mahfooz, despite his occasional anger issues, has been more reflective and understanding of the classes need. His honesty is commendable.

Shabbir, as a consequence of his actions, has seen a huge increase in his mother's involvement in his studies.

Kulsum has already started taking initiative in the classroom, helping the class learn better.

Insiya has grown much more in self control and started acting responsibly in the classroom.

Fareen and Shofiya have helped bring balance and calm to group three, while challenging them by thinking harder.

Sufiya has been completing her work with much more regularity as well as studying for the tests.

Sumaiya has become a strong problem solver and one of the best critical thinkers in class.

Avesh has learned how to control his anger and focus in the class.

Sufiyan has started studying more for the tests, though he is yet to deliver results.

Taufique has participated actively in class and shared openly. Moreover, his friendship with Raghuveer is inspiring.

 Alisha has significantly reduced the time for which she gets upset because of consequences of her action and has become more mature as the Culture Minister.

Farhin has had a difficult group to deal with and has never given up on her team - so much grit!

Fatima and Halima have pushed group four to think harder and helped Farhin to raise the bar for self control in the group.

Mahek Khan has started answering in class occasionally. Earlier, she was barely able to focus.

Aman and Touhid have started studying again and worked harder on their own exams.

Firoz is new to class but has made friends quickly with Aman and Touhid.

Kaneez had a bad term last year but has come back strongly to find herself on the Marvellous Metamorphian wall again.

Saba and Sumaiya have shown tremendous team work to make group five a champion team.

Faizaan has come back strongly in Unit 2 after a weak performance in Unit 1. While struggling with self control, Farzan and Faizan are more aware of their actions and open to working on changing them to become a stronger leaders.

Arsaan has introduced a passion for general knowledge in Metamorphia.

Ufera, Areeb and Taskin have shown patience in giving our class a fair chance. Once they are aware of the class systems, they will take our class to even better places!

Kaniz has shown resilience in trying to make the team work despite many issues with some members.

Madiha has become a shining example of the values of Metamorphia.

Zeba has shown much hardwork and commitment to her studies, while balancing a tough situation at home.

Muzamil, has continued to be in school and do his homework, despite me being strict with him.

Sk. Touhid has started writing regularly in class as well as answering questions. His marks show his hard work is paying off.

Aman has been open in sharing his problems with me to be able to learn better in the class.

Mahek and Alfiya have shown leadership without being captains in the group, helping the group in Kaniz's absence.

Knowing each of my kids, I am sure we will again become an excellent class with excellent students soon. This is just a small break in our journey towards our big goals.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A lot to be thankful for

This week has been one of the toughest weeks of my life for many reasons. The good news is it is over. I need to adapt to the changed circumstances and quickly regain the momentum. Before I get lost in the craziness of planning and execution, I want to spend a few minutes looking at the bright side of the week that went by.

I am thankful to Pritish for reaching out and considering me a true friend.

I am thankful for how Metamorphians saw this week through. This week gave me a chance to see the independence which my kids have achieved. They were incredible. In a week when I was lost and lessons were haphazard, they held the class together on their own, showing tremendous patience with me and a lot of grace under pressure in handling the class. I owe them a celebration.

I am thankful that our 7th grade team is reunited. We had parted for the sake of consistency and connect with the kids, but circumstances have brought us back together. As Neerja and I were thinking about the new structure, we believe we will be able to drive significant learning for all 140 kids in the units to come. It does seem a step back for now but it will lead to much synergy in the time to come. It is only about meaningfully seeing the next two weeks through.

I am thankful for having Neha as my manager and more importantly, friend. Like me, it was a week of many firsts for Neha. What we learnt about one another will give us a chance to take our collaboration to a whole new level and impact the school more strongly.

I am thankful for having closely worked with Rajesh and Harry. There cannot be a bigger example of selfless giving and caring.

I am thankful for Neerja's new found resilience in coming to school every single day of the week despite all the aches and pains and being there for the kids and me. Without her, I would have broken.

I am thankful to Piyali for sharing and caring.

I am thankful I work in an organization where people are always at the centre of everything we do and where empathy and gratitude are practiced and encouraged.

I am thankful for the understanding shown by my parents, sister and Pallavi - giving me the space and time I needed for more pressing work related issues.

I am thankful to my Masis for having managed the household chores in my absence without asking for appreciation. It saved me a lot of effort and time in what was a stretched week.

I am thankful to my seven year old cousin for tolerating a boring baya at home.

I am thankful that my health  did not get any worse than it was at the start of the week and Akriti did not have a relapse of her illness. Fingers crossed for everyone's well being.

And I almost forgot, I am thankful for having Jigar as the one person who has truly intended to be with us through every day of the week and faced the frustration of not having been able to do so. 

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Get Well Soon

The monsoon season brings with it the onset of seasonal diseases. A concentrated number of incidents occur in areas which have a conducive environment for the vectors and microbes of illnesses to thrive, like Shivaji Nagar, and the high density of people in such areas ensure they spread rapidly.

No matter how much care one takes of themselves, failing health is a constant challenge during the season. A five day outbound retreat, multivitamin supplements, preventive medication, regular exercise, additional hours of sleep - nothing works. I have strong plans for my kids, but I don't know how to over power the constant attack of illness. I recovered from viral fever last week and am currently suffering from conjunctivitis.

Further, it doesn't help when not just you but the whole team is struggling with the problem. A team member recovered from malaria a fortnight ago, another has just recovered from typhoid. My co-fellow had a bacterial infection accompanied by high fever last week. All the absenteeism significantly increases the pressure.

I have been focusing on everything positive for the last many weeks. The only thing that is currently keeping me going is my love for my kids and my desire to utilize every second I have left with them. It has helped remain gritty and be in school every single day of the last semester.

There is only so much mental strength you can conjure to face the daily stress of working in the area. However, it has not been easy. I can't wait for this season to end soon and my health to fully recover so that I can shift gears from this conservative pace.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Excellence makes NO excuses

Aliya (see picture) is one of the sharpest and most hardworking students of my class. She is an exceptional leader. Above all, she is tenacious and raises her bar every time we require her to. Considering how most parents are in Shivaji Nagar, I had assumed her parents would be well educated to have trained not only Aliya but also their other two daughters well. I had assumed that they would be financially well off to afford education for all their three daughters in private schools or colleges. My visit to her house today proved me wrong.

I had never visited Aliya's house because I always prioritized other parents over Aliya's  considering her parents' and her own investment in her education was high. I was at Mehfooz's house when he told me that Aliya lives in the neighbourhood. I told him to take me to her house after I had met his parents.

He took me down the pathway to the street bordering the garbage dumping ground, which is  the largest in Mumbai. The stench was appalling. The lane kept getting narrower until we finally reached Aliya's house. Unlike many of my students who live in pucca houses with asbestos roofs, Aliya's house had walls and roofs made of asbestos sheet.  I removed my sandals at the doorstep to enter her house. My foot fell into a puddle as I took the first step into her house. At that moment, I realized her house had no flooring. The walls were so thin that you could hear one neighbour's television and the other neighbour's conversation. The house had minimal lighting and no air circulation.

I saw Aliya sitting on a mat on the floor and studying while her father was lying down on an old bed, that was in no better condition than the house itself.  Her father  was dressed in an old torn towel and a t-shirt while Aliya was still in her uniform. Unlike the houses of my other students, there was no storage space except a rusted metal cupboard. There were very few utensils and almost no crockery. There was no bath or toilet in the house. Considering the size of the house, I assumed only two members would fit on the bed while the remaining three would have to sleep on the uneven floor using a carpet laid out on a plastic sheet as their bed.

As I spoke to Aliya and her father, I discovered that her father had diabetes due to which his foot was in a pain. His medicines cost him Rs.1200-1500 in a month. As a result of his pain, he couldn't work with the same intensity he used to. Aliya's mother contributed as much to the household as her father, but even then they earned only Rs.12000. In Rs.12000,  they managed the cost of their daughters' education, utilities, medical expense, travel and groceries.

Despite all their constraints, her father spoke with great pride about his three daughters and his intention of sending each of them to college. He said he will do everything for his children's education because it is the most important gift he can give to them. He spoke with great interest about my own background. I shared with him stories of my sister's and my own education and work.  He urged me to stay in education and continue helping other children like Aliya. In the meanwhile, Aliya had forced me to eat something saying "Bhaiyya, you have come to my house the first time and it does not look good if you don't have something."

I was having a discussion after school with a group of my class, of which Aliya is the leader. Each student had to share a story that inspired them to work hard or work for the good of others. While other students spoke about incidents, Aliya spoke about her father. He had started working in the villages of West Bengal at the age of 8. He never went to school. However, he was one of the wisest and most hardworking persons she knew. Unlike other fathers in Shivaji Nagar, he did not want to get them married. He only wanted them to do what he couldn't - study and work in a comfortable job. I realized the respect and pride was mutual.

I had tears in my eyes after I started my journey to return home. I should have visited Aliya's house not because Aliya needed it but because I needed it. If Aliya can be excellent despite all the hardships, I certainly have no excuse to be mediocre with the comforts that I enjoy. Excellence makes no excuses.