“You will be a different person by the end of the fellowship”- this is what my interviewer for Teach for India told me when I asked him what would be the personal development I can envision for myself. I do not know whether I am a different person but I am sure I will become a better person. My journey, my mentors, kids right from Institute to my kids in my classroom they have taught me to be kind and share gratitude.
I want to share my story through 3 stories of my kids, stories that spoke to me and stories that will hopefully speak to all of you.
STORY 1: “ Our Culture will not change in one day, but we will keep trying, together”
Fights would break out very frequently and in the moment of rage the kids would abuse each other, the meaning of these abuses they would not even know. In their break and free time I would overhear them talking about girls and referring to them as “item”, engaging in various “locker-room talks”, without even knowing what they were unconsciously doing and the culture that they were setting. One day, as I was teaching, two boys in my class started some altercation. By the time I turned and started addressing it they were already abusing each other. I remember continuously saying “STOP” but the situation escalated more rapidly than I imagined and by the time I could reach them they had already started beating each other.
That moment, I held one kid and before the other kid could understand that I was already holding him, he moved his hand mistakenly and hit my hand. The moment he realised he moved away and the entire class was quiet. That was the first day I broke down, I started howling in class and shouting “Why would you not listen? Why do you fight? Why do you guys always abuse?” and stormed out. After some time, both the kids who had engaged in the fight, came inside the classroom and the conversation that followed was one of the best learnings I have had till now in my fellowship journey. They started apologising. I somehow held myself together and asked why do you abuse so much? Why did you fight? Am I not teaching you guys the right values?
They paused and answered - didi it's not your fault, but this is the only way we have learned to react when someone gets angry. We know these abuses because we hear it all the time in our community and in our families. We are in school only for 5 hours but we go back there everyday. But we promise that we will try better next time. One of my kids said and I quote ” Our Culture will not change in one day, but we will keep trying, together. With building relations, sharing personal stories, 80% community visit, socratic seminars and consistent re-iteration there was a significant drop in physical and abusive behavior. Growing sense of sensitivity. Even when the students do abuse they have internalised the habit of self correction. Sometimes, with teacher reinforcement but sometimes, independently as well.
STORY 2: “I want to speak confidently in class, but didi I have problem in reading English”
Imagine being suddenly admitted in a school where Arabic is both the medium of instruction and all text book are also written in the same language. How would you cope up? Will you be able to perform? How will you make sense of any other subject? The same was the situation for a few kids in my class. I will share one particular story of a student whose undying efforts and strong will forced me to work even harder.
My classroom for the longest time was divided into two groups- one called the high achievers and the other called low achievers. The low achieving students were rarely pushed for excellence. This had not only affected their morale but it also gave a serious blow to their confidence. So one of the steps I took was to divide the classroom into two heterogeneous groups.
One day, as I was working, a kid of mine asked - “didi have I improved from before?”. To which i instantly answered “yes of course you have”. She looked at me and said “I want to speak confidently in class, but didi I have problems reading English”. That moment made me realise that there are more students like her who faced the same problem and I was not cognitive about that. Her cry out for help was the voice of many others in the classroom who had not been able to speak out in front of me. Now Amina’s(the girl who had asked me) RC level is 3.5 and their performance has improved in the class. Their transition to blended learning has not stopped their growth.
STORY 3: “ Its a boy sports”
Ideal English Medium School is one of the oldest interventions of Teach For India, Pune and Just For Kicks as well. Every time, I see these kids and see such strong growing individuals, fighting battles everyday starting from family to field. They time and again strongly stand together as a team. Given the community, most girls are shunned from all so called "public spaces". I saw my girls team standing their ground, going against all odds and I am the luckiest to have them as my kids.
Taking up the responsibility for Just For Kicks is one of the best decisions I took in my Fellowships. They no longer saw me as an outsider. I was one of them- trying, struggling, failing, but never losing hope. For the first time in the history of Ideal EMS girls team, they won Championship in Regional Level. U16 Boys were runners up in the National Championship. By the end of this season I saw leaders emerging in the field. Taking responsibility, ownership, planning, coordinating everything they did themselves. It taught them values of care, compassion and collaboration, they have grown up to be strong individuals, with strong voices.
The start of blended learning and online teaching are unraveling new challenges but still opening so many possibilities. I am not just a Teacher, I am a Life teacher. When uncertainties like the present covid time hit, well being, mental health and availability of basic needs has become the first prerequisite to our vision of excellent education. I pivot, strategize, innovate and continue in my quest everyday.