Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Prelude

I finally met half of the 140 sixth graders I will be teaching over the next two years, along with my team of three other fellows. Majority of them have been with Teach for India for four years but initial assessment results have shown that they lag behind their grade level considerably (some at an emergent level - which means at a KG level of reading fluency). Reasons for low achievement levels have been aplenty and at this point, I do not have enough information to deduce which of those are facts and which opinions.

Let me present some of the facts.My school is run by a large Shia trust and is one of the largest in the Shivaji Nagar area. The class is mostly composed of Shia Muslims (around 60-70%) and Sunni Muslims (around 30-35%) and one-two Hindu student. An intriguing thing is that the school is next to one of the largest dumping grounds in the Chembur-Ghatkopar area - in which people claim bodies of victims of the gang violence are found. This gang violence is a reason why parents of our kids are over protective about their safety. As a result of their paranoia, they are hesitant in allowing their kids to stay back for extra classes after school. Considering the pressure of completing both the state and TFI curriculum as well as the varying achievement level in class, lack of extra time with the kids is going to be a barrier we will have to work around. I am hoping we can reach a strong consensus with the key stake holders on the same - both parents and school authorities.

However, the picture in the classroom is not bleak. I know my kids are strong and gritty in life. I have seen their sensibility in planning a farewell for one of the fellows. I have seen them shower love on the same fellow, like one would on their parents.  I know they are street smart.They may not be able to express themselves as cogently in English as they should at their age, but their thought process is not immature and they can reason.

I want them to consistently demonstrate the same qualities in the classroom. I will have to introduce them to many role models, both male and female, who they can look up to for inspiration to break free from the setting. I will have to drive a culture of achievement in class and make them believe that they can each learn despite and in spite of everything they see around them. Their environment cannot and will not become a decider of who they become in life.

TFI does not joke when it says "Are you ready for the challenge?" in their recruitment campaigns. Clearly, the road ahead is going to be arduous and long. There are no short cuts to this goal. Isn't that why most of us came here in the first place - to challenge ourselves in a meaningful and unprecedented way?

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