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.’

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