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.

 

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