Teach for India fellow stories

In which Soumyaparna Samanta says, “Oh didiiiiiiiiiii, suno na!”, my journey of learning and unlearning

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 already started beating each other. That moment I  held one kid and before the other kid could understand that I already held him he moved his hand mistakenly hit my hand. The moment he realized 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 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 apologizing, 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 every day. 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 visits, Socratic seminars and consistent re-iteration there was a significant drop in physical and abusive. A growing sense of sensitivity. Even when the students do abuse they have internalized the habit of self-correction. Sometimes with teacher reinforcement but sometimes, independently as well.

Story 2:  “ I can want to speak confidently in class, but didi I have a problem in reading English”

Imagine being suddenly admitted to a school where Arabic is both the medium of instruction and all textbooks 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 even work 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 she suddenly asked Amina, a kid of mine asked – “ didi I have 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 realize 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 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 every day starting from family to field. They time and again strongly stood together as a team. Given the community, most girls are shunned from all so-called “public spaces”. I saw my girl’s 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 the Ideal EMS, the girl’s team won the Championship at the 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.

For the first time in the history of the Ideal EMS, the girl’s team won the Championship at the Regional Level 

 

Soumyaparna is a social worker and a Teach for India fellow by profession, she is an M.A in Public Policy and Governance. After delving into various research and Projects led by UNHCR, Save the Children, and Farmer suicide reports in Yevatmal, Maharastra she worked with the West Bengal State Aids Control Commission on Elimination of Pediatric HIV. Currently, she is a Teach for India Fellow teaching in a low-income private school in Sayyed Nagar area in Pune.

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.

 

 

 

In which Levin Stamm talks about his volunteer experience in a government school in Pune

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Hundreds of children in uniform stand on a gravel field in front of a dreary concrete block and sing the Indian national anthem. They are pupils of a public school in the midst of the 7 million metropolia of Pune, three hours’ drive from Mumbai. The morning ritual’s peaceful atmosphere is deceptive. As soon as the students enter the building, loud chaos arises. Despite being named after Maharashtrian resistance fighters, things at the schools rarely go heroically. And the addition of the name “E-learning” refers to some malfunctioning computers and televisions that stand here and there in the classrooms. This is where I spend my days as an overwhelmed teaching assistant.

Meanwhile, inside the building, the daily struggle for attention is raging. Teachers and students seem to bring the chaos from outside into the classrooms. Some teachers speak with threatening voices to their protégés, others have already given up and left the students to their fate. Productive work happens, but productivity is subjective. The reasons are numerous – and run deeper than the dilapidated infrastructure. 

India is young. More than half of the inhabitants of the world’s second-most populous country are under 25 years of age, more than a quarter 14. Of the more than 170 million school-children, more than a third attend a private school, usually the ones who can afford it. A veritable industry has emerged, which sells access to quality education, for a high price. The children at the end of the socio-economic ladder are left behind in a hopelessly underfunded public education system that is still based on the colonial heritage of the British.

 

English mastery is a prerequisite for professional success in India – the well-paid jobs are only to be found in international corporations. Thus, the public school system is also completely geared to the colonial language: Language of instruction, textbooks, examinations; everything is in English. And yet: the majority of pupils will only have beginner’s knowledge by the end of their compulsory schooling. Half of the fifth graders can’t understand a text for second graders nor are they able to solve a simple subtraction calculation. A look at a typical lesson shows why. The teacher, often only possessing limited English knowledge himself, writes on the blackboard, the pupils copy into their notebooks without understanding the material, let alone analyzing it.

But the state prefers to look away. A teacher recounts how she regularly forges the results of state examinations in order to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Education. She has no other choice – the school would lose its fundings otherwise. And: Due to the focus on English, most students have only a limited command of their own writing system, Devanagari, and thus of India’s official language, Hindi, which means that a large part of India’s cultural heritage is in danger of being forgotten, while the children exit the school system, not properly knowing English or their own language.

If you leave the school area and walk for a few minutes along the main street and its never-ending traffic, you will notice the numerous poor barracks that stand next to luxurious buildings of western corporations. A short distance away is one of the largest high-security prisons in South Asia, whose “shadow casts a gloomy atmosphere over the entire district”, as a teacher at the school says. Most of the students live in this environment of stark contrasts. Most of them live with numerous members of the extended family in the smallest of spaces, without any privacy. No place to study. They look after their younger siblings, while the parents slave away in the wealthy neighborhoods for a pittance. Homework is no longer a priority. 

They talk about violent fathers in a drunken frenzy, the parents’ financial ruin, the death of family members. The family problems weigh heavily on the children’s narrow shoulders, making learning difficult. Faced with the hopelessness of their homes, they often lack confidence in their own abilities and the belief in a better future.

Reflecting on my six months as a teaching assistant in an Indian government school, I believe that my students have actually taught me more than vice versa. Deeply impressed by the enthusiasm of those bright girls and boys – against the odds that make their lives look like an insurmountable mountain of challenges – I have had the opportunity to see the immense latent potential of each of them. Having experienced the amazing work of my Teach For India colleagues, I am inspired to believe that a brighter future for these students is indeed possible. Enabling a system in which this potential can be fostered will take time and hard work – a long struggle, but definitely a worthwhile one.

In which Sakshi Sohoni is enabling her class visualise Women Empowerment

Gender inequality is perhaps the oldest problem faced by humankind.  The majority of my students come from an environment where women hold a secondary position and lack autonomy. There are hardly any women who have shattered the glass ceiling and have an individual voice. The idea of inequality is so internalised in minds, that it becomes difficult to unlearn it. My belief that women can achieve everything they set their minds to, is shaped through observing several role models around me. I’ve been lucky perhaps, to have seen so many superwomen make their way into the world. My conviction for gender equality was developed through these experiences. I realised that if I wished to build the same values in my students, I need to curate that experience for them – so that they may be able to visualise women empowerment. Thus began “Mission Women’s Day 2020”. The idea was to invite certain exceptional women role models to the classroom and conduct a Townhall style interview session with them. My hope was to make the class aware of the diverse roles played by women in the 21st century and learn from their life experiences.

 

 

To make sure that this would become a learning opportunity, we created an 8 member organizing team of Grade 6 Girls. While I was in charge of getting the speakers, the organizing committee took care of planning the schedule, making the invites, designing the questionnaire, and conducting the interview with our speakers. I was fortunate enough to get four extraordinary, highly enthusiastic speakers who were more than happy to come and interact with the class. Our speakers represented four fields – Entrepreneurship, Academia, Leadership, and Sciences. The organizing team worked diligently throughout February, to make sure every detail of the program was perfect.

 

As the day of our first session dawned, excitement levels were at an all-time high! Grade 6 was determined to put their best behavior on display. We had Ms. Sayalee Marathe, Founder and Creative Director at Aadyaa, a jewelry start-up, as our first speaker. From what it takes to start a business to ensure it thrives, we truly had an opportunity to hear from the best. The discussion ranged from dealing with a competitive market to understanding the important character traits required to become a successful entrepreneur. The girls and boys were wonderstruck as she explained the intricacies of jewelry designing, choosing different materials, and making unique handmade pieces. The creative dimension associated with the profession resonated with several students and several boys from the class expressed an interest in becoming jewelry designers in the future!

What would it feel like to learn a college-level subject from a college professor (who also happens to be Didi’s teacher) as a Grade Six student? Day two, gave Grade Six an opportunity to find out. Our second speaker, was Ms. Saylee Jog, an Economics Professor at Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics, Pune.

The class explored the ideas of consumer behavior, producer behavior, demand prediction, and more. The interaction greatly motivated the class to develop an economic lens of looking at everything around them. Post the session, my co-Fellow and I were inundated with questions about getting into college and pursuing Economics!

Teach For India Didis and Bhaiyas are an integral part of our school. Day three, gave Grade Six a chance to immerse themselves in the world of Teach For India Pune, with Deepika Didi. Our third speaker, was Ms. Deepika Guleria, Senior Manager for Partnerships, at Teach For India, Pune. A former Teach For India Fellow herself, Deepika was able to introduce the development sector to the class, which was a completely new and fascinating concept for them. The session opened new doors for imagination, as the kids enjoyed learning about the different aspects of Fundraising and Development.

With most of the class aspiring to become a doctor in the future, our fourth and final session with  Dr. Meenal Sohani was a huge success. A renowned Pune based doctor and counselor, Dr. Sohani helped the kids understand medicine as a career and introduced them to the importance of mental wellbeing. Hearing from a doctor and learning from her experiences was a hugely motivating experience for Grade Six.

 

 

Once our sessions were done, it was important to help the class synthesize their understanding. I gave them a few personal response reflection questions, to encourage them to think and articulate their learnings. I was amazed as I read their submissions – every student had perceived each session in a very different way. Students who generally took little interest in writing and expressing themselves had taken a lot of effort to submit their work. A lot of responses also spoke about how a certain speaker had inspired them to pursue a similar career. Most importantly, however, my students realised the importance of making opportunities available to every person, irrespective of their gender. Understanding the lives of these four speakers helped them visualize the idea of empowerment and how it might look like in real life. We also tried to collectively build an understanding of the importance of gender equality for everyone through classroom discussions and learning circles. We explored the idea of gender roles and how they set us all up with unfair, discriminatory expectations. Several students shared their experiences of gender roles and prejudices. Boys spoke at length about not being allowed to express themselves creatively while girls spoke about the unreasonable expectations put on them.

The sharing happened in a very organic way – every student in the room was respectful of the other. The question they were trying to grapple with, was far from simple. Yet, each one of them articulated with the conviction that this unfair system needs to change for it benefitted no one. The class values for my class are Liberty and Equality. A lot of their answers and opinions were shaped on these lines, and the sixth graders came to terms with the fact that the world outside doesn’t necessarily uphold these values. While the realisation can be daunting for a person (especially a twelve-year-old), my students chose to take it with a pinch of optimism. Their resolve to change things for themselves and those around them gave me hope that the status quo can change. These kids will go on to become citizens of this country and contribute to developing the societal conscience further.

 

As Educators, all we can do, therefore, is to expose them to realities and nurture the moral compass within them.

 

In which Ananya Mazumder talks about The Teach for India Fellowship as “A year of self discovery”

My name is Ananya Mazumder, and I taught a class of rambunctious tenth standard kids in a low-income private school in Pune for the first year of my Teach for India fellowship. I joined the fellowship for a multitude of reasons- one of which being that I genuinely had no idea what I really wanted to do with my degree. I knew that a corporate job wasn’t the job for me, and I wasn’t really keen on continuing my education. And the reason I wasn’t so keen on that was that my educational experience in college had been pretty disappointing. Everything was about memorization and very little about understanding and application. I felt frustrated. When I saw the type of work Teach for India does, it was sort of a “Eureka!” moment for me, and I felt like I really had the chance to do something about the total lack of actual learning in schools. I was really excited to finally be able to, cliché as it sounds, make a difference. And I joined with the highest of expectations- for myself, for the organisation, and for the impact, I would make.

Getting selected to teach 10th standard was a bit of a curveball for me, I really wasn’t expecting to teach a class of kids only a few years younger than me. I had very little knowledge about how the state board syllabus works, and I didn’t really understand the context of the classroom I was going to be working in either. And I struggled. I really, really struggled. The struggle was of course, due to all the reasons I have already outlined, but a lot of it was due to my own perception that I had to be perfect.

I had this vision in my head of what my classroom would be like, and it took a very difficult conversation with my children and my co-fellows to realise that maybe the vision of the teacher I wanted to be really didn’t align with the type of teacher that was required to teach a class of 16-year-olds, months away from sitting for the first standardised board exam of their lives. Also, this notion that I had to be some sort of superhuman was really getting in the way of my interaction with the kids. I was too busy focusing on the classes and their outcomes, and not enough time getting to know the kids. Part of that was because my co-fellow and I had to finish our syllabus in time for the pre-board exams, and due to all the time I spent in the beginning just figuring stuff out, I only really hit my stride in October. The syllabus had to be completed by the second week of December.

Help is always there for those who ask for it

I sat down with a planner and all the lessons I hadn’t finished, and I made a schedule for myself and decided that enough was enough. I was going to make this work but I wasn’t going to do it alone. I started relying upon the students more. “Guys, can you read this before class?” “Hey guys, do this work before the next class.” “Hey guys, let’s all stay back for an hour today?” “Hey, I think this student didn’t understand the topic today. Could you explain it to them?”

Once the pre-boards started, my co-fellow and I completely shifted our focus to training the kids for exams. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t creative work but it was engaging and it took a lot of commitment. I showed the kids each set of pre-board papers they sat for— 5 exams in total for the two subjects I taught, for 37 students—and asked them the same questions, “Where are you struggling? Pick out those questions, pick out those chapters. Work on them.” I made some students re-write their entire exams. And while all of this was happening at school, my co-fellow and I were making home visits to find out how our kids were preparing at home and what our kids would be doing after the 10th. We found out that so many of our kids really had no idea of what they wanted to do and very little idea of the streams and options available to them. That’s when we started working with the Student Alumni Wing of iTeach, which works with kids from lower-income schools on post 10th opportunities.

Our kids started their board exams on the 4th of March. They were supposed to end them on the 23rd but due to the coronavirus pandemic, they weren’t able to do so. The pandemic forced is to shift priorities and find out what the situation was for our community and families, most of them daily wage workers, and then reach out and fundraise to be able to support them during these times. Thankfully most parents are returning to work now, and the students, my co-fellow and I are just anticipating their results, coming out sometime in June, and I just got the good news that three of our girls were shortlisted for the Mahindra International School scholarship. Maybe they get in, maybe they don’t. But they tried anyway, and that’s what counts.

So really, if there’s anything that I learned it’s definitely this: teaching kids isn’t just about class. It’s about all the relationships you form outside that classroom-with kids, co-teachers, and co-fellows. Those relationships and the support you receive from them are the only things that get you through the dark days, the days you feel nobody has your back.

Because help is always there for those who ask for it.

 

In which Trupz explores the IDEEP of the Teach for India fellowship 

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As RC teachers, we learned the IDEEP practice for teaching kids how to get started with writing. By far this was the toughest ask of being a language teacher. It took a while to get used to the English my kids knew and for me to figure out what needs to be worked on to help us both get started. My kids were innocent little 5th graders studying in a government school in Yerwada, who would just as easily make a mistake between “it” and “eat”, “this” and “these” as well as “sit” and “seat”. We had a long way to go! 

IDEATE

After 10 years of working, in 2018, I had a feeling that I’m not investing in my efforts in the right place. Working in the managing committee of an international digital marketing company, a partner of the company on paper, managing three different teams just didn’t feel good enough. It took a while to come to terms with the fact that I can take a risk and steer my life in another direction. While exploring other alternatives, I was kindly reminded of the Teach for India fellowship, by a dear friend (also known as my husband :-)) and I dove right in. Although my heart was in the right place, landing the fellowship meant I had to do a ton of reflection even before I made an application. This not only helped me answer the questions in the application form but also gave me the clarity to pressing the submit button. A vague IDEA to do something for society, leverage my potential to uplift those around me found my way to the sector I care about the most, education.

DRAFT

I love to learn, given an opportunity, I don’t think I would want to stop, ever! So when fellowship offered a chance to be back at a college campus for a whole 5 weeks, I was excited and petrified. The classrooms and sessions were super fun, but I ached to sleep in my bed. The first few days were tough, early mornings, long hours, learning concepts you’ve never heard before, teaching in summer school, and failing miserably. But the toughest part of it all was, keeping a straight face through it all, continuing to learn. Institute challenged me to explore all dimensions of my emotional and mental strength. It helped me unlearn my biases and become more accepting of myself and others. Of course, it’s not an overnight process and I don’t always get it right, but today I accept myself with my flaws. As we concluded five weeks of Institute, singing, “We are the ones, we are waiting for”, each one of us knew somewhere in our hearts of hearts, a new ‘YOU’ was taking shape.

EDIT

Equipped with pedagogy, methodology, and the newly acquired title of “didi”, I made my way to my school. There is no training in the world that teaches you to deal with hostility. There is no secret super-power that helps you cope with the feeling of alienation except for the power of love and the power of reason. As a woman, it will be fair to say that I have had to work my way up the ladder to find my place and my voice in life, I had to deal with something similar in the school system. My kids were more considerate than the system. Coming face to face with some of the flaws in the Educational system and feeling completely helpless. I realized that I can’t fight them but only try to fix them with patience and virtue. So I started working on my fellowship, bringing in a more productive line of thought, focussing on things I can change and that led to two memorable events

The Student Council

The Republic Day

ENHANCE

Immersing myself into the unpredictability and uncertainty of the outcome was a very conscious choice. In such situations, there is no way to know, just how much is enough. Most of the days, anything I did, didn’t work, sometimes I surprise myself with the most unexpected results. I struggled to find a normal, till I realized there isn’t supposed to be one. I found myself within the most extraordinary situation and if I choose to keep my lens focussed on the ordinary I would learn nothing from the Fellowship. When I was in school, I learned most from being in the student council and participating in sport. If I have to attribute the never give up attitude to anything, it has to be to sports. Teaching as leadership is an important aspect of the Fellowship, it presents you with a unique challenge of being competitive and fair at the same time. It’s a fine balance of biases and beliefs.

We held the investiture ceremony for the student council and a sense of achievement came over me like never before. A realization that it is these small victories that will eventually win us the war. With a house system in place after the student council invested, the school team got the much-needed ecosystem to execute other plans. The whole month of January planned as a culture month on the theme of patriotism leading up to the Republic Day. Every Saturday we held house competitions for poetry recitation, speech, singing, and dancing. It was decided that the winners of each will be performing on Republic Day. PMC teachers paired up with TFI fellows were the house mentors and it was the student leaders who got their teams together, practiced, participated, and led with a sense of belonging and accountability. Competitiveness was in the air and every house gave it their best to win at everything. The school team put their back into making this successful and the result was a student performance to remember. I think we all felt our purpose complete.

PUBLISH 

Every fellowship story is incomplete without its characters! The school team played a huge role in all aspects of my story. From handling complex emotions to understanding each other’s problems. The weirdest of conversations at tapri, some unforgettable night-outs and birthday celebrations, the joy of finding Delhi-wale Chhole and pani-puri in Pune, and spending 12 hours at TOIT, we did it all. Of course, occasionally, we took the kids for a climate protest march, talked to them about fundamental rights, explained the pre-amble, introduced them to rock music, Winnie the Pooh, The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate factory and Chak De India and even attended the sit-in protest at Pune’s Shaheen Baug. I don’t know if it was the distance or the seriousness of the situation that got to us, but we became closer than ever before during the lockdown. I miss these crazy, funny, determined friends. Each with their own qualities and with a special place in my story.

Ohh yes! The kids, of course. We started with story-writing Fridays and worked in groups. We had fairy tales, jungles, dinosaurs, a village that had to be saved, friends who went on an adventure (inspired by Oz). We even wrote heartfelt letters to friends and parents, expressing gratefulness and love. We even tried our hand at poetry, working on a very simple rhyme scheme. We are not nearly there, where we would like to be, but then we’ve only begun writing our stories!

What this one year of fellowship made me realize that once you‘ve seen the Educational gap, you cannot unsee it. The transformation has humbled me and I am even more grateful for the privileged life I live. When you realize that just your presence can make a difference to someone’s day, you will learn to smile a lot.

When little hands write big words like, “You are the best teacher in the world!”, it makes you try harder and do even better. It changes you as a person forever. 

In which Arunima shares a journey of performance over victory, progress over excellence and perseverance over comfort

“If you get, give.If you learn, teach.If you have power, empower.”
-Maya Angelou 

This quote often reminds me of how far I have come in this journey. I entered my class with this thought in mind and made conscious efforts to build it in the minds of my students. I always told them that opportunities will be provided, but making the best out of it is your choice and if you make that choice or not, make an effort to make that opportunity available for someone else who values it. Throughout the past year, I have been working with the module of independent learners and collaborative effort ie learning through self-awareness for self-transformation and growth and supporting each other to achieve that. This quote has come to life in the four walls of my class in various contexts.

My name is Arunima Sengupta and I am a proud Teach For India fellow. I am a didi to 66 loving 7th graders at Dixit Road MPS, Vile Parle East, Mumbai. From the starting of the year, I have been focusing on extra-curricular to fuel student growth and development. I have tried to expose my students to the best possible ways to gather knowledge and develop their skills and interests.
It has been my dream to make the best out of my capabilities and interests from the time I have begun my journey as a Fellow. A year into my classroom and I find myself discovering and merging my colors with the bounty of talents of my students.

When I entered my classroom in June I had realized that there was a considerably large amount of work to be done to channelize the varied energies I saw and felt in those four walls. I had made up my mind to look at the all-round development of my class as a whole. So I started with what has required the most ie discipline in these students and regard for each other. I then introduced them to social sciences which were not taught to them before in order to inculcate the values of curiosity and interest in learning and researching. As my classes went on from being disruptive to a class where time flew and students were waiting back from their break time, I knew I could take the next step.

I started a drama club (The Drama Llamas) in August 2019. I chose to start a drama club as I realized that these students struggled with expressing themselves and thus faced confidence and adjustment issues. With a group of 12 students, I started off by taking sessions thrice a week after school and realized that the students started enjoying it. I taught them the 9 emotions in acting and set 4 short plays. This is where I made use of my direction skills as I once directed plays in my school and college days. In the process of teaching, I was in turn learning and polishing my skill sets.


As these students gained confidence over talking on stage, an opportunity came up. Without thinking, we took it up. It was the Brihanmumbai Street Play Inter-school Competition. My 12 students participated and represented the school with 8 more students from our school. I got the chance of directing this play and we won the first prize for the regional and zonal levels for our play “Khoya Khoya Chand” based on digital India. We qualified for the all-Mumbai finals and stood 2nd. We were also featured in an Urdu newspaper on winning the zonal level. We also won the first prize in Play competition for our play “Darwaza” based on religious intolerance at Sangam 2019, a Teach For India inter-school cultural competition. We also won the first prize for the best science project working model at Sangam 2019. In addition to that, we won the first prize at BalJallosh 2019 for our drama “Sochna Zaroori hai” based on the topic: Save Earth. Five students from our drama club also participated in the essay writing competition on the topic: Nature awareness at BalJallosh and out of 343 entries, we bagged all the three prizes. The three students out of the five from our school stood 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. We were also invited to the KE Ward office to perform our play “Darwaza” at their Diwali celebrations. We also won 1st prize for best cultural drama for our play “Diya” based on culture, superstitious beliefs, and devotion through humanity at Balakotsav 2019.

Since January 2020, I have been consistent to provide these opportunities through dramatics, financial literacy workshops, and other opportunities to perform and to showcase their talents. The Drama Llamas, my drama club was invited to three separate events to perform: Rotary Club of Parleshwar’s event Kaladarpan where they performed “Darwaza”; at the Kids Education Revolution 2020 where they performed “Padhe ho? Yaa Badhe ho?”, a play based on the difference between knowledge and studying; and at Dramebaaz Chapter IV where they performed “Diya”. I have also been successful in establishing a girl’s football team and a boy’s cricket team recently giving importance to sports as a medium of instilling values like self-confidence, team-work, punctuality, etc with the help of Lantern Edusports. My co-fellows also started an art club (smART) and a literature club (Saug’s Totts) to facilitate learning through art and expression. 6 of our students put a craft stall at Kaladarpan. Two students have bagged the best actress award for their roles in two different events. One student has got the opportunity to go on a radio show for bagging the best actress award for her role in the play “Main Maut Bol Rahi Hu” based on tobacco awareness at Salaam Bombay’s all Mumbai drama competition.

As a school team, we started noticing considerable changes in these students. These extra-curricular have immensely helped students to focus on academics, gain confidence, present their views, and showed overall development in class. Many of them missed school regularly. But, the discipline that was created through these extra-curricular, especially through the Drama club which was carried on to class. We used to practice from 1 pm to 8 pm after school and noticed that these students who once used to miss school, came to school at sharp 7:30 am and attended school, paid attention, completed notes, and cheerfully and passionately pursued dramatics as their field of interest. We noticed a great shift in their behavior as well. They are well-mannered, show values of respect and empathy, show leadership qualities while working with teamwork as their core value. Their focus has increased and confidence has risen to achieve greater things in life. These extra-curricular have shown a boost in achieving academic excellence and increased participation in class.

I have always been determined to make learning possible through expression. It has shown great results in academics as well, in the answers I check and when my students go on platforms to perform and speak. They have a deepened understanding of their community and the world now. They can differentiate between what is wrong and right behavior. They prefer collaborative learning and understand the values of team-work and hard-work. The students themselves have come up with a lot of project ideas related to the context taught in class to present their learnings creatively. As for student behavior, I have noticed a considerable change in the students, the once rival students have started helping each other to solve doubts and worksheets. Some students who struggled with basics have started seeking help from other students who are good at the subject and they willingly give up their break-time and help too. They have started developing the regard for each other which will grow and strengthen with time.

As a class, we have promised ourselves the following guidelines or principles that we continue to strive for:
“As a class, we have and will always promise for performance over victory because our performance will determine how we see ourselves and how we want to see ourselves (a value of self-awareness).”
“As a class, we have and will always promise for progress over excellence because our growth determines how we excel (a value of self-worth).”
“As a class, we have and will always promise for perseverance over comfort because our grit and determination will pave the way for our dreams (a value of self-confidence).”

With the current Covid-19 lockdown situation, students have been actively responsive in terms of learning and sharing their artwork and extra-curricular activities through WhatsApp. We have been successful in helping their families with groceries and they have been supporting us with co-ordinating. Their grit, sense of possibility, and optimism in this situation inspire me every single day. This makes me realize that Maya Angelou’s words have successfully come alive beyond the four walls of my classroom.

After a year, I can say with pride that their ‘I WANT’, ‘I CAN’ AND ‘I WILL’ attitude has been built. As their didi, this makes me believe in the thought I entered my fellowship with and continue to believe in: ‘I WANT’, ‘I CAN’ and ‘I WILL TEACH FOR INDIA.’