Saturday, April 09, 2016

There is no blame

Yasmeen was neither the star or the struggler in the classroom. She liked learning but would rarely participate in any after school activity. She grew by 1.3 years in the span of a year with Pritish and me (between two MYs). Her participation in the class had increased significantly too. 

 The situation at home however was different. Her parents had been meaning to withdraw her from school for a long time. They would show little interest in her education. Adolescent had hit her hard - attraction and crushes were a part of her life.They wouldn't acknowledge her changing moods and interest and often beat her up at any expressed emotions of adolescence she would show. They would draw her into family politics, that was especially complicated with their extended family. Emotional or mood contagion (which we read about this week) was a reality for Yasmeen and would play out frequently in the classroom in the form of elaborate story telling about fictitious incidents of her life to lies in small things around day to day work in class. 

Yasmeen wanted to create an imagined reality where she was living the life she wanted to, which was far from the one she had. I was not in touch with her after I left school. I am unsure of what circumstances led to her alleged suicide last evening. 

 Here, I want to take a step back and think about the link between the concept of dynamic emotional resonance (again from the article we read) and teaching. In an environment where moods are often not homogeneous, Rahul, who took over Yasmeen's classroom from Pritish, could have at maximum catered his resonant response to the average of a classroom. Given how complex the situation in the community is, being able to get to the stage of an average response itself is big progress to make in the first year. 

 However, Rahul is not an average fellow. He knew what was going on in Yasmeen's life. He understood the risks that were involved, but Yasmeen's story was not the only story in class. There is Ahmed's story of the constant threat of near homelessness. There is Takee's story of participation in local gangs. There is Shorabh's story of a learning disability. There is a story behind every child. Which child's story could a first year teacher have prioritized? How could he have catered to individual needs? 

I further step back and think of Angie. Given how wicked the problem is in M-Ward, how could a PM no matter how experienced, have guided Rahul on which kid to prioritize in addition to working with him on his teaching skills, his reflective practice, his collaboration within the school, his development leader? For Angie, there isn't just Rahul, there are 22 other teachers and 600 students whose stories remain to be surfaced in conversations. 

 Stepping into Venil shoes, I know she acknowledges that it has to be a well thought through collective effort. We don't know what kind of forces do we need to activate to bring about a change that will empower the fellows, the parents and the students themselves to be able to make these hard choices and seek out the right support. It's a social experiment that will take time. While we figure the right course of action out, we will still not be able to identify the time bombs that are waiting to explode in the form of the risk to another child. 

 At the same time, I think of what would become of these children if they did not have a Rahul, an Angie or a Venil working relentlessly towards improving their lives. Things seem bad but they could be far worse. They are doing what they have planned with full vigour so that we all can learn. The cost of our ineffective support, lowered expectations of our people or missed learning is too high for our children. I know each of them and each of us is cognizant of it. 

 Lastly, I am thinking of the days when I went back to school after the death or near death in school. Those were the hardest days. The community (including the students) is so used to it that they would move on quickly as if not much had happened. However, being a fellow, it was never easy. I knew that every life is precious and every act of forgetting is a set back in the movement of change. I remember stepping out of class during the IP and just letting the tear roll off my cheek because I couldn't forget as quickly. 

Nonetheless, I would go back into the classroom because I knew our work can't wait for our motivation and moods. Every minute in the movement is precious. All I would do was read my reflection to the children at the start of the day. I would receive a letter from Mehak or Aliya and a card from Madiha, Firdos and the others. I would hear a joke from Farzan and Faizan to cheer me up. I would see the class being a lot more independent, them knowing that I was having a difficult day. I knew that seeds of change and the seeds of empathy were gradually getting planted.