Sunday, February 16, 2014

All you need is love

I had taken some of my kids who had received the Avasara Scholarship to the American School of Bombay for the award ceremony. There were seven of my students, their mothers and some of their siblings.

One of my students Amrita was accompanied by her mother and two siblings - Jyoti who was four and Gayatri who was less than two years old. Jyoti was not supposed to be attending the event, but had to join her mother at the last minute due to her dad not being at home (which is also their vegetable shop) to attend to her. I thought what could go wrong with having an additional kid as long as their mother was accompanying them. However, meeting Jyoti was quite an eye-opener for me in understanding what some of my kids may have faced as they grow up at home.

Since her mother was busy attending to the youngest daughter, Jyoti's care was left to Amrita. Amrita being a child herself and having no experience in handling kids did exactly what she saw her parents do at home - asking Jyoti to follow or else get beaten. Jyoti, who was agitated at being dragged along, would start crying every few minutes.

I couldn't see the child being treated in the brute manner so I asked Amrita to leave her to me - and she did. In her time with me, there were three instances that I clearly remember.

The photographs of the winners were being flashed on the big screen. I asked Jyoti to clap when she sees her sister. She clapped with me for all winners. When her sisters photo came up on the screen, she screamed loudly "Isko maaro. (Hit her!)" I was shocked at the reaction. How could a child so young know violence and that too for her own sibling? What could have provoked her to dislike her sister and express it in a explicit way?

I did not have to wait much to get the answer. It had been two hours into the event and I was getting tired of baby sitting Jyoti. After the event was over, I let Jyoti walk around freely while I spent some time engaging with others at the event. I heard Amrita screaming at Jyoti and in return Jyoti was screaming back at her - shouting "Maa ki ch**t" repeatedly. Amrita's mom slapped her to shut her up - so now instead she started wailing  I did not interfere. I was appalled that a four year old child was using an invective for its intended purpose, without knowing the meaning of the word. The only place where she could have learnt this was at home, where it was being used with regularity for her to have picked it up. How then can I teach my kids to use kind words and show respect when they don't see their role models do it for three quarters of every day?

On our way back, Jyoti started crying because she did not want to go back to her mother or sister - she only wanted to be with me. I personally was exhausted after a tiring week and did not have any more energy to entertain her. I did not give in to her protest. She lay on the road and refused to move. Another girl's mother convinced her to walk with her and she unwillingly agreed.

In a matter of two hours, she had bonded with me more than she had with her mother. Even a young child can sense compassion and love and reciprocate it. I was worried my students get so little of both when they are growing up, especially considering they are replaced by another child younger than them within 2-3 years.

Our challenge as teachers is more fundamental in nature - it is not academic growth but making our kids humane! We need to spend more time at their homes than just in the classroom - knowing them and their families and investing them in the importance of education.

We had shining examples in front of us - mothers of Shofiya and Mallika, whose daughters reflect maturity and wisdom that is far above what you see in the community; parents of Aliya, who have taught all their three daughters English and send two of them to college; Ufera's mother, who teaches kids (without corporal punishment) in her neighbourhood so that they can do well at school.

Regardless of any of them going to college, I at least see Shofiya, Mallika, Aliya and Ufera becoming loving and compassionate mothers, learning from what they have seen their mothers do for them - every single day of their life. I see their children learning from them and certainly going to college. We ourselves have a lot to learn from these student's mothers - because while we are here for two years to make a difference, they have been making a difference all their lives!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Ultimate Goal - Independence

I was happy after school yesterday.  Mahek and Aliya were conducting extra classes for kids. They were helping people learn math and complete their homework.  Despite there being no teacher in class, the kids continued working independently following all the rules.  No other students from 6th or 7th who stayed back showed such self control.  It was the first sign of my  Metamorphians being the best class in not only the grade but the whole school. Studness is happening.  I can't wait to see them grow and learn next year.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Whatever doesn't kill you, simply makes you stronger

Without wanting to sound boastful, I must say I am proud of my mental toughness. I am. Rarely in life there has been a situation where I have felt I can't overcome a hurdle. I have always achieved what I wanted by being planned, focused and tenacious. However, I think in the fellowship, I have met my match. The first six months were difficult but manageable, but the last two months, when my stamina has reached its fag end, have been incredibly challenging.

It is not that I am working lesser than earlier. I just have an increased cognizance of the effectiveness of what I am doing now. Many inputs are working for a majority of my students. My class has come a long way in terms of investment. There is a sense of oneness in the team. There is pride in belonging to the class. My students are working towards protect the class culture. I have a strong set of class leaders, who are learning to act with ethics, fairness and compassion. They have started sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other through our journals. They have had new experiences in the form of field trips and interactions with the world outside through the pen pal initiative. They have learnt art, craft, debating and dancing through the Jafari Artists Project. They have indeed come a long way.

However, the challenge is not in the majority. It is in the student who when asked what is 5+3 goes "5 ones a 5, 5 twos a fifteen, ..." It is in the student who when asked to recognize the letter "d" says "b". It is in the student who will count four objects as four, but change the answer to three the moment your teacher eyes show the slightest of doubt. It is in the student who will copy their homework or independent work every single day, thus not learning. It is in the student who will refuse to give the correct answer despite knowing what it is for the sake of maintaining his reputation. It is in the student who will not come to school every other day because his parents don't want to go that extra mile in helping him go to bed early. It is in the student who will beat his classmate because he doesn't know any other way of communicating or resolving issues.

The 80:20 rules applies beautifully - 80% of our energy is spent on 20% of our kids. This 20% requires such specialized attention that it becomes difficult to plan for considering the time and energy constraints. Their literacy and numeracy levels are extremely poor, their parents are non-cooperative, their willingness to learn is low. As teachers, we cannot be okay with any of this but as beginning teachers, we don't have all the answers. We will find the answers and they will learn. We will make it amply clearly that there is no escaping change. We need to bide our time.

Outside the classroom, what makes the job more difficult is the amount of you it takes away from you.

Firstly, it is not a job where you can go home and cut yourself off from work - you can't when you are so emotionally involved with the lives of your kids. It is hard to isolate your personal interactions with your friends and family from the effects of the classroom. You can't vent out on your kids, but you do end up showing some of your frustration to your loved ones, who have done nothing to earn it.

Secondly, you also spend less time on them and yourself, making things harder. You don't do this intentionally but its effects show gradually on the quality of time you spend on your social life as well as hobbies. The drop in quality again leads to further wear and tear.

Thirdly, you have a team of amazingly driven people who want to make a difference, who are each facing their own set of challenges. You want to have their back all the time, because without them, your work load will multiply. However, you can't have their back all the time, because you yourself are stretched. All you can do is appear strong - and that is not easy all the time.

Despite the personal struggles and the classroom challenges, I know I am growing tremendously. I will make choices to sustain myself without compromising significantly on the kids. Next year, I am going to change the equation from "I will survive" to "I will thrive". All I ask for from everyone, a little more patience till I figure out how!!

All said and done, I may be losing the old me, but I am rediscovering my strengths. Metamorphosis is not easy. You have to shed your old self to make way for a improved one. It is the period of transition that is the hardest. If I see this through, I will emerge much stronger.

On a lighter closing note, whoever put the line "Are you ready for the challenge?" in the fellowship recruitment communication was clearly not joking.