a furry frenzy

The more time I spend with the children, both inside and outside the classroom, the more daunting a task writing this blog becomes. How can I ever expect to do justice to the hundreds of things that happen in a day, all of which, in their own way, are remarkable enough to communicate to the world?

If you remember, just a few weeks ago, I had said that the day-to-day of this life wouldn’t seem too exciting to an outside observer. Now it’s almost as if I’ve flipped 180 degrees. How come? Simple. I’ve fallen in love with my kids.

For those of you who know me well, you know it’s rather unexpected. And yet, I know, it will help me be more effective as a teacher in the long run. It will push me to do more and be better. Because that’s the thing – I’m scared I’m not doing enough. I know that this is a sentiment I’ve expressed time and time again, but even if my whole life becomes the children (and it almost has), it won’t feel like enough.

And although people say “you’re halfway through your first year” (I mean, it’s really not true mathematically even though I know we’re at Mid-Year), I still definitely have more questions than answers. But today, I do want to start with some of the answers I’ve found.

Reading

 

Luckily, the kids love to read! Perhaps the scarcity of books in their homes drives this love. Whatever the reason is, this fact has made me incredibly happy. I’ve started using the library as an incentive for them during history classes. (Oh yeah, I’ve set up a pseudo-library thanks to my grandmother’s generosity. I went to the Books by the Kilo book fair and bought about 30-40 books for them, which are kept on a shelf in the classroom). The two “best” students (rather arbitrarily defined by me, to be honest) get to take home a book from the library. As I implement this in better ways, I hope to develop more structures around it and create an increased investment in books and reading.

Emergent Readers

 

There are a few kids in fifth grade who can hardly read and understands words like “white”, “there”, and “what.” They are called emergent readers. The other TFI teachers in our school team put together a workbook particularly for these readers. I modified it and distributed it to my entire classroom. Many of my students can read, but they are not fluent. There is also a big gap between fluency and comprehension. I’m hoping this workbook will help in addressing both the issues to some extent. I honestly believe if we use it consistently and enough (and of course supplement it with other necessary materials), these kids will be able to read sentences and even paragraphs fluently in a few months.

Structures, Procedures, & Culture

 

The point of school is academics.

Throughout the course of my education, I’ve lost complete faith in this statement. What’s the point of being able to read Shakespeare if you can’t appreciate the beauty of the words beyond their academic value? What’s the point of becoming an excellent orator if you have nothing of value to say? What’s the point of being the world’s most eloquent writer if you have nothing of interest to pen? What’s the point of becoming a learned person if you haven’t discovered your passion?

I really don’t think there is one.

Rather, school is meant to equip a generation of critical thinkers and enthusiastic learners with the tools they need to succeed in life. Schooling isn’t training for jobs, although that has in its way become the natural consequence. And while a part of teaching does include basic skills and knowledge, the critical importance of values and mindsets as well as exposure and access cannot be overlooked. TFI as an organization completely acknowledges this and even trains us on how to integrate these things into our daily curriculum. Unfortunately, I have been lacking on the implementation. Translating intention into action is harder than anticipated with all the constraints placed by the school schedule, as well as the demands of other facets of this Fellowship. However, making excuses is not what I’m here to do, so I’ll just leave it at this: I will do it, and I will do it soon.

The Other Side

 

Remember the grueling anxiety before exam period? Remember spending nights cramming, drinking coffee to stay awake through lectures, skipping meals, and seeking respite in stolen conversations with friends? To my fellow Brown students, remember how packed the SciLi would be at 3 AM during finals period? Remember how much we cursed our teachers for setting ridiculous exams?

Now I’m on the other side, and let me tell you this: it’s no cakewalk.

When you’re invested in your students, their performance on tests is basically a measure of your teaching ability. And spending six hours a day with them, we have identified who needs help with what. So we spend extra time preparing and drilling them. Right now, my entire school team is holding extra classes on a daily basis, staying after school between 1-2 hours to help struggling students catch up.

What surprises me most is how much the kids want to attend extra class. For some reason, they love getting more time in school. I’m not sure exactly why, but again, I’m not going to question my good fortune on this. It’s a boon and for that I’m extremely grateful.

The thing that has been frustrating is that we are more invested in some students than they are in their own academics. Beyond just not doing their homework and goofing off in class, there are kids who cannot articulate why their disrespectful behavior is wrong. I’m afraid they don’t even understand how rude they are being when they say some things to others.

While there are hundreds of other questions haunting me, I think I’ll save that for later. After all, exams are approaching!

 

muddy fixes

This post is long overdue, so without making any flimsy excuses, here it is. It was actually written a couple of weeks ago, so it should be dated August 21, 2014.

 

Each day could be its own chronicle. The past two weeks have involved unit tests, my parents visiting, and lots and lots of good food.

 

Invigilating (i.e. proctoring) unit exams was not what I had expected. I thought I would just chill for an hour while they silently took the exams, peppering the silence with an occasional “eyes on your own paper” and that would be that. I did not realize that they would zip through most of the papers and finish with half the time to spare. And despite teaching them for almost a month now (Wow! It sometimes really surprises me how quickly time flies by!)…I still didn’t anticipate the degree of their restlessness. If they were not asking “Didi, bathroom” or “Didi, water” then they were busy arguing over which book to read after they were done. Which brings me to my next point…

 

The Library Question 

 

My school is lucky in that the previous fellows have started a library here, so there are books available within the school. The problem is that the librarian quit, so the books kind of just sit in a pile on the table in the library. The school doesn’t want us to lend them out because there is no way of tracking them. Which makes this entire effort that the previous fellows put in into collecting the books useless to some extent.

For me, reading is critically important. I credit my vocabulary and my grasp over English in large part to how much my teachers always motivated me to read. To me, the measly six hours of English instruction they get in school needs to be complemented with more exposure to the language at home, otherwise we are not doing nearly as much as we can.

Now here are the potential solutions, some combination of which I want to implement:

 

  1. Create my own library: ask for books and donations and keep the books separate from the library books, at least for the next couple of years. Lend them out to students and create incentives around reading them!
  2. Make time for reading in school. As I have previously mentioned, sometimes the Hindi or Marathi teacher does not show up, or we just gain some extra time. That can become a reading period for them – because in school they are allowed to read library books.
  3. Encourage their parents to buy books for them. Many of these parents are not as badly off as others and can certainly buy a few books for them, especially the cheap used ones. The students can then exchange books amongst each other.

 

I will certainly enact these, and will probably ask for your help soon, so please keep an eye out for that if you’re interested in lending a hand!

 

Moments

 

Like we all know, it’s sometimes the little things that you remember. After one of the exams, I asked them to sit quietly and not disturb the others who were still working. Durgesh, a bright boy in the class, started entertaining himself. His hands would follow each other across the table, and then he would make “woosh” sounds of things blowing up – all accompanied by illustrative hand motions. I couldn’t control my laughter as I watched him amuse himself; sometimes it helps to be reminded that these kids from whom I have such high expectations are really just that at the end of the day: kids!

 

The next moment is not so positive. A couple of days ago, a rat ran across my foot, and I freaked in the middle of a history lesson. But literally, it ran over my foot! I felt a furry thing on skin as I was talking about how Vasco De Gama discovered the first sea route to India, and I couldn’t control a tiny yelp. The kids reacted by either laughing or freaking out themselves as the rat quickly scuttled under their benches.

 

Travel

 

Hopefully, I’ll get to write a lot more under this section in the months to come. Since my parents were here over a (kind of) long weekend, we took the opportunity to escape from Mumbai for a bit.

 

Unfortunately, half of the city had the same idea.

 

We couldn’t even get a proper hotel in Lonavla, so ended up staying at one in Pune. On Sunday morning, we went to Lonavla. After all I’ve heard about the place, I expected it to be more than it was. Honestly, other than beautiful sights (see the photos) and the most number of chikki shops in the world, I’m not sure what the attraction is. Perhaps people in Mumbai are just so starved of greenery that any respite becomes a haven.

 

We did have an adventure of getting soaked in the monsoon rain as we stood at Table Land, overlooking a beautiful sight. And while I would have loved it no matter who I was with, there was definitely a special kind of joy being with my fifty plus parents to enjoy the feeling of cold rain on a muggy day.