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. 

No comments: