In which Ankit Negi shares his Teach for India fellowship experience

We have entered the 21st-century world where globalization, liberalization, and industrialization are at their zenith’s height, Globalization and technological advancements are delivering and increasing access to the world but still, the truth is that today, more than 50% of students in Grade 5 cannot read a Grade 2 text or solve a simple subtraction problem.  The development of technology is facilitating the transition from an industrial-based society to an information-based one. It is a fact that the world is moving fast in technological developments and subsequently, there is much advancement and reforms in teaching methodology and the contest of courses in developed countries but still, the truth is that today at the root of this crisis in education lies a crisis of leadership.

 

My name is Ankit Negi, and I teach Mathematics and Science to 102 VIth graders (Class of Magicians) in a Government school in Pune, Maharashtra for my two years Teach For India Fellowship, to become the leaders of the future. I am inspired and motivated by the work I do every day to develop values & bring about a change in the mindsets of the students and their community along with helping them excel in academics.

The desire and passion to Teach were always there right from the time when I came across this beautiful and meaningful ‘Sloka’ while studying Sanskrit during my 8th standard.

अपूर्वः कोऽपि कोशोड्यं विद्यते तव भारति
व्ययतो वृद्धि मायाति क्षयमायाति सञ्चयात्

अर्थात:- हे सरस्वती! तेरा खज़ाना सचमुच अदुभत है; जो खर्च करने से बढ़ता है, और जमा करने से कम होता है|

Meaning:- Ohh Goddess Saraswati (bhaarati), your repository is like none other! Upon spending, it extends the intellect; upon gathering, it shrinks!!

Deeply motivated by this Sloka I embarked upon this journey of teaching and helping individuals develop better than they were initially, I began my career as an Educator teaching Civil Engineering Graduates in the year 2017.

I joined the Teach For India Fellowship for a multitude of reasons- one of which being that I enjoy teaching and the other being that I genuinely want to provide my support in extending primary, elementary and secondary school education to the common people, especially in the lagging hilly regions of Uttarakhand.

One day while browsing through my Facebook posts I came across an opportunity of teaching students and then I got to know the work Teach For India does and the vision and mission of the organization seemed to align with the vision that I have for the children of the hilly terrains of Uttarakhand. I started surfing the internet to know about the What, Why and How of Teach For India, I watched most of the videos available online. Finally all these resources available online helped me to get a clear insight of the work organization does and it helped me to make the life-changing decision of joining the organization and serving my country to eradicate the educational inequity that exists in our country & fill the deficit of leadership in education.

“If not me, Who? And if not now, When?”

I have always believed in creating a positive environment in my classroom be it during my tenure as a Lecturer or as a ‘TFI wale bhaiya’ to these amazing kids. It helps me in getting to know my students in the best possible way so that they feel comfortable in sharing almost anything & everything with me and are able to express themselves. My vision for my students is

“To develop a well-formed mind in students in addition to a well-educated mind thereby making them problem solvers and self-learners.”

In the era of the internet, we don’t need a well-filled mind- heads full of facts and information, textbook material, and teachers’ lectures. For that perhaps we need Google- to find anything with just two clicks of the mouse, what we need is a well-formed mind-a mind that reacts to unfamiliar facts and details, that can actually synthesize information that it hasn’t studied before, a mind in other words that can react to bigger examination called life which doesn’t actually give you the thing you prepare for and for that we need to develop a mind that is shaped by original thinking, a mind that doesn’t just ask the teacher why? but why not? – Shashi Tharoor

 

 

When I entered the class in July 2019 the first thing I noticed was that the kids were eager to know who their teacher was going to be.  I guess it was the eagerness to learn that transformed itself into academic growth. When I entered, the basics of Math were not clear, the Mathematics class average was 20.03% and the daily average attendance was only 50-60%. Though the kids were able to understand some of the concepts in concrete, most of them were not able to convert this into abstract knowledge or solutions in tests.

But what really defined their lives was the informal education or influences happening at home. Therefore, I had made up my mind that I am going to look after the all-round development of these students. First and foremost thing that I identified in the first few weeks was that these kids really need to learn discipline and I guess even the stars of these students were in the correct alignment as it was the month of August- 15th August and India’s Independence day-I thought it was the perfect time to teach them discipline, pride for the nation, service & honor. With whatever knowledge I had of drill and with the help of Internet I began working with these and other students of our school along with Trupti Di (My school Team Member) each and every day.

With their chin up and chest high, they matched their steps with each other on the eve of Independence Day. The drumbeat rolls, the band strikes up and a high pitched voice issues a command “KLVS E-LEARNING SCHOOL BY THE LEFT FORWARD MARCH” The synchronized swing of arms and the sound of thudding feet stir something within me, it was the proudest moment of my first month of fellowship, believe me, I still get goosebumps when thinking about it. Besides being spectacular, there was something inexplicably inspiring about March past perhaps, it was the sense of dignity and pride the marching contingent brought into it.

Secondly, I focused on making them learn about the real meaning of being a learner-as I had learned from one of my friend Ajay Bisht :

काक चेष्टा, बको ध्यानं,
स्वान निद्रा तथैव च ।
अल्पहारी, गृहत्यागी,
विद्यार्थी पंच लक्षणं ॥

Meaning: A student should be alert like a crow, have concentration like that of a Crane and sleep like that of a dog that wakes up even at the slightest of the noise. The student should eat scantily to suffice his energy needs and neither less not more. Also, he should stay away from the chores of daily household stuff and emotional attachment.

When I entered the class they were dependent on me. I was the leader and my students. But as they honed their own leaderships, the class grew into independent creative units that produced wonders. The gradual release of responsibility began with first dividing the entire class into four groups & making cleanliness monitors, class monitors, and group leaders.

Why should a boy feel embarrassed to cry?

Now, the class of magicians is always questioning like “Why is life not possible in space and other planets?” but also questions like “Should the children stand in latecomer line when so many teachers are late too?”, “Why should a boy feel embarrassed to cry?”, mention a few. I have tried my level best to ensure that all the students get equal opportunity in extra-curricular activities as these activities really help in building the morale of the student and sometimes helps the student to perform well in academics too. During the first month of my fellowship when my co-fellow used to give me the context of each student in our class there was a moment when she mentioned that only one student last year qualified Avasara Examination & got admission into Avasara academy and that the students in the school have never participated in any cricket tournament.

As soon as I got to know that only a few girls could apply for the exam who have a certain RC level from that moment itself I had decided that I will help all the girls in the class to be able to achieve the grade level by the end of my fellowship and will make sure that girls who are applying for this exam will clear the exam and learn from their actions. This year when three of our girls cleared the first round of exam and 2 of them cleared the next round I felt hopeful that the efforts of our students and both us fellows will have ignited a fire in the minds of other students in the class as well.

 

Since our school had never been to any major cricket tournament and as soon as I got to know about the Swings and shots tournament I asked HM ma’am for permission regarding the same. Ma’am permitted us to participate in the tournament and one of the interesting challenges of this tournament was that you need to have 5 girls in the 15 members squad and 2 girls in the playing 11 which meant that we were able to teach both girls and boys. Although we lost all the three matches the way these guys played & learned from the matches as the tournament progressed was enough to make me feel proud of their efforts. Our cricket team was even praised for the way they played, grit & determination they displayed, and the way they improved over the course of three matches by the Umpires, organizers, and even the opposition team.

Community Learning Center: We needed it for the following reasons:

  • We were not getting enough instructional hours at school.
  • To get more time to spend in community with students so as to know exactly what our students have to go through.
  • Freedom of expression: To work in an environment where we are free to do anything that we want to do with kids so that they learn in a fun environment.

I remember when I and my co-fellow ‘Mitaali’ took this decision of teaching students in the community we knew that it is going to be extremely difficult as you are teaching for long hours, you have to go home and plan for school as well as for your community center. It was very difficult for us to find a place for teaching students in the community but when we got one we made sure to take good care of the center as somebody else has given us a space with trust and care. We made a rule that we will not touch anything in the center and that we will keep it clean. Our community center is basically in a “Baalwadi Kendra” and a “Krishna Temple”.

There were times when I saw that these students are learning the entire day, I am teaching the entire day, but still I’m not getting the required results in the weekly assessments and community tests and I became frustrated & extremely harsh on myself. I went back home, thought of taking a learning circle for the student’s the next day as to what issues they are having and then I came to know some of them are facing certain issues that we need to ensure are taken care of and that is when the need for taking Congloms arose.

Congloms are learning circles wherein students sit together and talk first with their gender groups and then with everyone else about the issues they face every day out there in the community from abuse to violence to people checking out girls inappropriately, they talk about puberty and other mental and emotional thoughts. These spaces have really worked beautifully for as now most of the students are confident in sharing their thoughts with us.

My Fellowship Story will always be incomplete without my school team which comprises individuals from varied backgrounds and if you are a good observer then you can always learn different qualities from them that add up to your strength. I feel privileged to be a part of such a big school team wherein you get to learn about leadership traits, to learn how to utilize everyone’s energy in creating a beautiful ecosystem of learning, to multiply the impact that you are having in your classroom and possibly learn from each other’s experiences. All of this was only possible because of the entire school team working together, because of the people who were dedicated towards one common goal, because of people who made sure that you are taking care of not only students and other stakeholders but self as well and because of people who had the vision to eradicate ed-inequity. I feel privileged to have known these happy, energetic, and amazing people who have made this journey look so easy.

The Present:

The current global pandemic has hit the humans hard It’s been a reality check for humans to learn to co-exist with other creatures on this planet. The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide, leading to the widespread closures of schools and universities.

As of 10th June 2020, over 1.7 billion learners were out of school due to school closures in response to COVID-19. According to UNESCO monitoring, over 180 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting about 97% of the world’s student population. We are ensuring that we are always with the community helping them with relief work by providing ration packets and making sure that each and every student is learning through Whatsapp groups by active participation and coordination with parents and children. We have made sure that learning doesn’t stop and for that we have started online classes for students.

 

What Lies Ahead:

Student Leadership: If the teacher expects teamwork from the kids the teacher will have explained exactly what teamwork looks like in terms of actions inside and outside class and once the first actions have been achieved the teacher will raise the bar and develop on what teamwork will then look like. In short just as the rigor is to be kept at a high level, breaking every concept down and making it age-appropriate and then working towards achieving a high rigor is what teaching like a leader looks like. We expect leadership qualities and traits from students when we don’t explain the true meaning of leadership. Most of the students have a vague idea of what student leadership is all about, they don’t have any clue about how leadership actually looks like in action and for me, I think this is what I am going to try and make sure in the 2nd year of my Fellowship: If I want my students to be Future leaders it is my responsibility to help them understand what it’s all about and to define how leadership looks like in action.

Most importantly teaching like a leader is building the capacity of leadership in kids and of providing a welcoming, encouraging, and motivating culture filled with compassion and care and maintained with discipline.  In the end, I just want these kids to be compassionate leaders of the future who not only respect & understand the thoughts and emotions of other individuals but also their thoughts and emotions and then make a responsible decision while collaborating with different stakeholders.

 

 

 

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