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!