This is what I wrote answering a question in a recent survey:
What do you most enjoy about the (Teach For India) Fellowship experience?
1. The intensity of the experience
2. What it teaches me about the most important challenge facing India – educational inequity. I am fighting this challenge every single day.
3. The children, their innocent, unconditional love and the progress (often inch by inch) that I see them make.
5. The wonderful people who I got to know through the fellowship and the continued association with them.
6. The transformation that I have undergone since May and the constant reflection and questioning of myself. What mattered so much earlier does not matter anymore to me and what never mattered is ALL that matters to me now and I often am astonished at myself for that.
7. That I am able to contribute to building the movement in ways beyond the classroom, while maintaining my work in the classroom as a foundational center point.
8. How the fellowship has enabled me to continuously seek excellence in everything I do.
9. Beginning to understand the immensely interesting, complex, creative and important role of teaching and how gradually ‘Teaching as Leadership’ starts making sense.
10. How I am able to better appreciate and celebrate what my mother did for me and brother. Every single struggle and failure reminds me of her own when she tried to give us the education that would break the cycle of poverty.
Today, I walked into School a bit earlier than usual and I noticed my class kid Kajal going towards the classroom with her Grandma. Seeing me, Kajal came running with a big grin, shouting ‘Bhaiya !’. Holding her little fingers, I climbed up the stairs to reach the classroom. Since the morning shift was going on, we decided to sit in the Staff room for a while going through her file which has a stack of homework sheets and test papers.
Later, when we went into the classroom, Kajal took out a paper (ripped off her English notebook) and handed it over to me with pride and shyness painted on her gleaming face. At first, I thought it is the usual letter my kids write to drop into the Class Letter Box but on reading it, I turned ecstatic. She had written about her Picnic experience without even me asking anyone to ! Exactly 4 months ago, Kajal could not even write her name properly or any words on her own. But now, she felt motivated enough to write so many sentences on her own and nothing more could bring joy to me than this. Here is what she wrote (the numbering and brackets are her writing as well !)
1) I can go to the Picnic
2) 4 boy and 7 girl
3) 10 stars and more go to the Picnic
4) Muskan is no go to the Picnic
5) 2:30 go to the Picnic
6) 8:30 come to the School
7) I can go got he Picnic very happy
8) I like my Bhaiya very must
9) Bhaiya is nose big
10) Bhaiya is very said
Yesterday, Gaurav Singh, a Teach For India 2009 fellow gave an interesting presentation at TEDxChembur. Being the first of the 3 speakers, he spoke about 3 things – One need, one solution and one question. His entire speech was built around these 3 points, which made it easy to understand and takeaway. Delivered in chaste Hindi, Gaurav blended his pre TeachForIndia life, decision to join TeachForIndia, the needs of India, his class children (in particular, the story of Ashish) and what each one of us can do.
Describing his TeachForIndia experience as the most exquisite symphony of failures that he has ever created in his life, he talked about encountering failures in the classroom. As a Teacher, I could identify with his points because I face very similar challenges every day. But, what left me inspired was this – “What is failure for me means the LIFE for a kid. What is success for me means a NEW LIFE for a kid”. I have been mulling over this line since yesterday. it is so profound. If a child is not behaving well in the class, not paying attention and just not interested in studying, I could just focus on other kids and not spend a lot of time and effort on him OR take him up as a challenge and invest in him without giving up. Because, if I don’t do this, it could mean that the chances of failure in life is high for that child. Just by persevering with that child, I could be showing him that “one glimpse of absolute quality (one solution)” that is needed to get him to be invested. Just by trying harder, I could be ensuring that the child will someday get hooked and start learning.
The one question: “What will I do about it?” Gaurav has been teaching his kids to ask this question when they see a problem. Rather than just talking or criticizing someone else, you ask yourself – Ok, this is the problem. I see it. It exists and needs a solution. What will I do about it? Gaurav showed pictures of his class kids living this question and reaching out to other classes, teachers, strangers, MCGM officials.TEDxChembur happened right in the middle of a slum community in Chembur-Govandi area. So, most participants were from the community.Gaurav’s speech will soon be available online. I’ll share the video here when it is available.
TEDx Organisers are planning for a TEDxDharavi next year and I hope it is as inspiring as this one was.
All these days I have had this feeling that I am doing a lot for the kids; that I am giving them a lot. While going through the day-to-day austerity of living a Teacher’s life in Mumbai, I begin to think that I am ‘giving’. To the children. To society. But, gradually, I have begun seeing a change in the way I think. I now understand that I have been receiving a lot. From the community. From the city and most importantly, from the children.
Within a week of starting to teach, the children have been bringing something for their “Bhaiya”. It started with lunchtime sharing of their biscuits, candies, cakes, kichdi or pretty much all types of food. Then, they started bringing stuff from home -things that they considered special and fancy – like fake pearls, chamkis, beads and so on. I accepted them all with love and grace. I showed them how to accept gifts and thank. I kept reminding them that the best gift they can give me is – following the class rules, studying well and being good to each other.
As weeks went by, I saw this ‘giving’ develop into something really astonishing. They started bringing very thoughtful things for me. One day it would be small magnets collected from radio sets or discarded speakers and the other day, it would be marker pens. Then, they would draw and color something really nice just for me. (Today, one kid brought a full bar of Dairy Milk to give me. It was her birthday) The most common gift has to be red pens ! (though I hardly use red…I prefer green color to correct/check).
But, the one that really surprised me was from Roshan. He is a very quiet kid. Almost no one would notice him in class. He is very well behaved in class, naturally shy and quiet. He looks straight out of a playschool. The other day, he silently walked up to me during lunch and gave me a beautiful whistle ! This is special because I take their PT Games period as well and I was struggling without a whistle. Roshan had observed it and got me a whistle. Everytime I look at this whistle, it reminds me that I have 43 giving trees in my class !
Challenges. Questions. Tiring commutes. Crushing crowds in trains and buses. Sweat. Headache. Fever. Noise. Pollution. Ankle deep sewage water. Hunger. Insomnia. Austerity. Constant struggle with myself and the outside world. Euphoria one day. Dejection the next. Pat in the back one day. Biting the dust the next. Still, I come to School to see your smiles. To see your eyes light up at my sight. To see you running down the stairs to call me when I have not reached School by 12 30. To see you start using words in English; words that slowly string together into sentences. To see the pride in your faces when you get the answers right. To see that confidence taking shape. I don’t need to look anywhere else for one. YOU are my Yellow Hat.
Sleep at 3.Enter test paper data. Correct test papers. Reach home at 10 PM after being in a overcrowded bus/train for 1 hour. Buy food to eat later in the room. Enjoy the few minutes of silence while having a post-school tea. Retreat into the Tea Shop Cave. Teach/laugh/jump/act/put up a hand puppet show/skit/deal with staff/Principal/rains/non stop high decibel noise/open manholes/wandering cows – for 5 hours. Eat Parle G for lunch. Drink tea for lunch.Rush to School to be on time.Drenched in Sweat.Dead tired.Catch the train, switch to bus/auto to School.Carry one backpack and another bag full of teaching aids, stationery, charts. Brave the merciless elements. Eat vada pav for breakfast cum lunch. Wake up with pain in every bone and muscle because of insomnia. Go to Sleep at 3 AM.
Teaching is austerity.