Monday, October 06, 2014

Ghazala

Having finally got a holiday, I decided to catch up with Haider. I had received mixed reviews about it, but since it is a Vishal Bhardwaj movie, I was willing to take my chances. I was not disappointed. The adaptation of Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet' in the context of Kashmir's history was masterful. The story was stretched unnecessarily at certain points in the plot, but the execution and performances were so stunning that I was not complaining. I am not going to review the movie in detail in this post. Instead I want to capture the feelings which Tabu's portrayal of Ghazala evoked in me.

Ghazala's role is a complex character. She is torn between her love for her son, her commitment to her husband and her passion for her lover. At no point does she have all three of them due to which she is always left wanting in the movie. The void itself is difficult to portray because all these relationships are defined in a manner that would be considered unorthodox in India.  Apart from her unfulfilled relationships, she is also in the dark about the complete truth, which makes it difficult for her to fully support one of the many narratives that exist in the story. Moreover, the setting of Kashmir of the mid-90s where the people live in the shadow of militancy and military brutalities takes a further toll on her life.

In a recent post, I had spoken about excellence and Tabu sets the benchmark in excellence for modern day actresses. Not only does she looks incredibly beautiful as a Kashmiri woman, she portrays the many shades of Ghazala with relative ease - the fear of losing her loved ones, the passion of a lover, the compassion of a mother,  the duty of a housewife, the indecisiveness in choice and the courage to do what is right. She does all this putting on a believable Kashmiri accent. While I don't have a clue about acting, I don't think even an accomplished critique can do justice to Tabu's performance.

When a great director, a great actor and a great character meet, magic happens. You don't have to be a student of the art  to recognize the brilliance you are witnessing. You just have to surrender your senses and soak in the emotions. Tabu makes you empathize with Ghazala's predicament. You want to help her but you can't. You want to give her a shoulder to cry on, but you can't. You want to scream out the truth to her, but she can't hear you. You only watch. You only wait to know what becomes of her, despite it being a slow paced movie. You remain mesmerized in her life.

Not discounting a fabulous performance by Kay Kay Menon and a career best by Shahid Kapur, it is Tabu who keeps you engrossed in the movie, making you take notice and applaud. You leave the theater with part of her soul latched on to yours and her words playing on a loop in your mind

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Mehak's Lesson

Mehak is one of the advanced readers in my classroom who demonstrates a high degree of value based leadership and takes immense pride in her team’s and her own learning.

In the month of September 2014, our team was struggling with two out of four fellows in the grade being out of action due to severe illness and the rest of us struggling with our own wellbeing. As a contingency plan, we had to reshuffle fellows among grades 7 and 8 to ensure continuity of learning. Due to the sudden changes in class structures and increased number of students to manage, the quality and quantity of my interaction with my own class fell significantly. I was feeling dejected that I couldn’t finish the term on a high after starting off on a strong footing.

Noticing my mood, Mehak wrote to me a letter. Among the many things she wrote, she mentioned how I was the one who told her “how each chapter links to the vision” and “made her goals more clear”; how I showed her the “importance of friendship” by “caring about people who I have a relationship with”; how she learnt the “importance of putting the same emergency (urgency) in studies as I put in planning”. Lastly she expressed confidence that I will find a way to “make my mind happy again”.

 I had never explicitly taught Mehak about urgency, friendship and compassion. I never asked her for the letter. I realized she was simply mirroring the many things I consistently did for the class through the year. Even while I thought I was mediocre then, Mehak proved to me she was learning the values of grit and commitment.

 Mehak made me realize how being a teacher gave me the power to change the mindset of my students, even when I am at my worst. She showed me a way to be happy again.

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.