Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Mid Term Report Card

Dear Kapil,
You have completed one and a half month in your class now. You have had long and arduous days. Some days have brought joy and some have brought disappointments. No one said it was going to be easy to be a teacher. Everyone said it would be satisfying - that it has been!

Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to zoom out from the details and look at the wider picture. Here are some of my observations that may help you!!
  • You have just seen the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the magnitude of work that lies ahead of you. Your kids have an incredibly long way to go till you can be sure they are on a purposeful and different life path. Change will be slow. Change will be painful. However, change is inevitable if you believe and act as per those beliefs. Change will also catch pace once you have mastered a few teacher tricks and techniques. Be gentle on yourself.
  • There will be things within your control and things outside your control. You have always been good at being able to identify the two buckets. In the last few weeks, I have seen that you have let that line blur. Remember, you are not as busy as you think you are. Remember, you are not as tired as you think you are. You are either effective or ineffective. You are either efficient or inefficient. Be true to yourself when you measure your effort. But be gentle. 
  • You are restless and impatient when it comes to work. Not everyone is. Respect that. Put effort in making working styles meet. Everyone is in this movement for the right reasons. Share openly. Learn. Co-create magic!
  • Don't lose your temper on your kids. If you do, don't let the kids know!! Self control and self discipline are indispensable. The kids are smart and they will know. They will learn to show control too.
  • Balance your personal and professional well being. While work is exciting, it is important that it doesn't entirely define who you are. Remember you love travelling. Remember you love writing. Remember you love photography. Do spend time on them. You are not running a sprint but a marathon. Sustain yourself.

Friday, September 06, 2013

What will become of Ahmed Abbas?

Ahmed is a student in my class. He is a tiny kid with an infectious smile. He has a penchant for getting into trouble and hurting himself. Being hyperactive doesn't help his cause. As much as he is a distraction while teaching, I have not lowered my expectations of him in the class when it comes to behaviour. I have invested a lot of time in talking to him and his mother to build a connect. This Wednesday was the first day he showed a strong improvement in his task adherence in class and I was happy that something was finally working.

Having met his mother a few times, I know he comes from the lowest of the the low income households that my students belong to. He lives in a small rented temporary accommodation with his parents and two sisters - one elder and one younger. His father makes hats for a living. His father's income is not regular and strictly governed by the off take in shops. His mother helps his father when demand peaks so that they can maximize their income. My guess is their household must be earning around Rs.40000 per year. His sisters go to an Urdu medium school. His elder sister is bright in studies and is hoping to pass her 10th grade exams. She is aspiring to go to college, for which her mother has requested a special fee concession from the Principal. I have assured Ahmed's mother that I will guide her daughter through her college admissions.

On teachers' day, I was looking forward to meeting Ahmed. I wanted to see if he makes something for one of his teachers on his own accord. I wanted to see what it would be, considering his literacy is at a kindergarten level. However, Ahmed did not turn up.

I called his mother. She told me she could not send Ahmed to school that day because she had to go to the hospital. On further inquiry, I found out his father had been hit by a bus and had fractured his skull. He was on life support in a government hospital. The doctors had given him a poor prognosis and told her that surgery was not an option. She was going to find out in another hour if he would live. She spoke with a sense of calm that was both praiseworthy and shocking.

Ahmed came to school later in the day. I asked him why he was away from home. He said he was bored of sitting at home. His mother had taken his father to the doctor and asked his sister to look after him. I realized he did not know the complete story. I asked him to go home and help his sister manage the home so that his mother is not troubled further. I made him promise he would not go anywhere else that day until his mother returned home. He nodded, gave me the smile and left.

Seeing him leave, a train of thoughts ran through my head.

What if his father lives?
Will he get the right care in a municipal hospital? How long will he take to return home? Will the environment of Shivaji Nagar's slum be conducive for his recovery? Will he be able to return to his work again? Will he live in a vegetative state? Will his family be able to support him then? Who will bear the burden with the mother?

What if his father doesn't live?
Will his mother be able to feed the family? Will his sister have to drop out of school and start working to help her mother? Will the family have to move to a far flung 'affordable' locality? Will Ahmed drop out of school? What will happen of the family then? Will another generation be caught in the vicious circle of poverty?

I have been speaking to Ahmed's mother once in a day. His father still lives on. His condition hasn't improved though. I hope and pray it does. For Ahmed's sake.