Resurfacing

I’m just writing to be back in this blogging space that I miss right now. It’s been so long that I feel like Tom Hanks on the island that is my blog.

It’s been so long that wordpress has gone and changed it’s interface which I’m now having trouble with.

My 2 year Fellowship is nearly at its end. I’ve got to say these 2 years have been pretty pivotal and life-defining. It’s not just my experiences in the classroom, it’s also everything else thrown into the crockpot of life in Mumbai.

I’m up past 4am writing cover letters for jobs I’m applying to, but if I could write a cover letter for a vacation that I really want it would be the most convincing. Because a vacation is what I really want. 2-3 months tops.

A vacation sans worries of student achievement (or lack thereof), sans worries of the clothes that are getting too tight for me and my diminishing bank balance, sans talk of marriage, sans career worries. A vacation to just be; to look back on these 2 years and who I’ve become and then dream a little before I throw myself into my next venture.

Here’s where some very well-intentioned close ones are going to ask me “What is that next venture??” Or they’ll tell me a weekend would be enough to do all that reflection, or that career opportunities aren’t waiting around for me to come back from a vacation.

Orrr they’ll tell me that my next venture should be marriage..and maybe a baby? “No. No beta, no vacation. Take husband, make baby. Settle down.”

What’s the hurry, world?

It’s funny that my biological clock ticks loudest in everybody else’s ears but mine.

And that’s all that I have to say tonight. I probably should sleep before I face my class of 45 energetic 8 year olds. The more tired I am, the more unpleasantly eventful the day tends to be. God has his ways of trying me. There are many things my mum says I’ll only understand when I have kids. But I think being a teacher has made me understand how tiring it is to stay cooped up in the house with kids all day.  Ha. It makes sense. That’s actually the reason why a lot of my stay-at-home mums send their kids to school. Free government school education and supplies. AND a free day-time baby-sitter..who stupidly stayed up all night before school.

 

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Awad – the prettiest boy, the shortest fuse

Awad and IHis milky skin, and light Persian eyes make him stand out from the rest. He isn’t vain about his looks though..not yet at least. Infact, at this stage, he’s teased by the girls..they call him Babitha, who’s a pretty girl in one of the Hindi TV serials. He doesn’t like it, but he’ll bashfully smile and try to make them stop..until a boy joins in the fun..oh.then he’ll explode. Awad won’t hit girls, but boys his age? He’ll go at them with the ferocity of a mad hungry tiger.

Awad wants the front seat.
Not because he wants to listen to my class or anything. He just wants it. It’s his seat.
He was labelled “Handle with care” when I took over from the previous Fellow who taught this class, and so there were some things I’d grant him in exchange for a manageable version of him. The front seat was one of those things.

From his front seat,
he pinches his lower lip and lets out a whistle when I’m teaching, and then pretends to be very absorbed in the lesson
I’m new to this, new to him. I don’t yet know he did it; that he triggered the whistles that soon erupt from all corners of the class during my lesson.
Sometime during the lesson,
he’s teased by some smart-mouth at the back of the class. I couldn’t hear that over the sound of my own voice.
Awad hurls something foul back
I choose to ignore this because I don’t know who the smart-mouth is and I don’t want to stop my class after all the trouble it took to get them to be attentive
Smart-mouth insults Awad again..and again, I hear nothing!
But,
Awad is up and out of his seat..stomping his way to the back
I give him a warning
But he’s deaf to me in his fury, and charges toward the anonymous-until-now smart-mouth
I give Awad a consequence as everyone looks on
The rims of his eyes pink with anger and fury bubbling over
He’s cursing loudly in his hoarse adolescent voice..Cursing at the smart-mouth and giving me a lesson in colourful Hindi Gaalis
while I try variations of firm tones to no avail.
Now the smart-mouth is being choked and the boys are cheering for a fight
5 minutes in and my fun lesson with cartoons and jokes comes to a halt
I tear the boys apart
Send Awad out to calm himself down
and resume my class after admonishing the smart-mouth and his cronies
I’m no longer in the mood for an entertaining lesson,
a couple more disruptions, some consequences and an angry disappointed lecture later
the bell goes
and I leave the class without having finished my very nice lesson.

And Awad? He’s roaming around the school, and will come back somewhere in the middle of the next period, hair wet and spiked up, feeling all studly. Smiling because his anger issues have entitled him to a free pass to roam the school.

There were many more episodes after this..featuring a slab of granite for a weapon, and on another day, a plank with nails.
He then entered a lewd phase where he’d unzip his pant and make lewd gestures to enrage another kid.
There were instances of him groping the boy who was his partner who was incidently the only kid who would happily be his partner and pass for a friend. I don’t understand if it’s forgiveness at play here, but I hope to God it is.
Another time he stood on that same boy’s desk and stomped on him like he was a cockroach.
He was usually the butt of the other kids’ jokes because of how angry he got so often.
He didn’t have any friends, but he did have a couple of classmates who’d take on the responsibility of calming him down and restraining him.

Why did I not report him, you wonder? I did report him whenever he endangered other students. And the Principal was up for kicking him out..and then on, that was my leverage to get him back in his seat.

I’ve lost my cool with him a couple of times. Vein-popping mad. I was quite the spectacle, and served to amuse him more than discipline him.
In those cases, do you know what this short-tempered volcano of a boy tells me in a very soft calm voice?

“Teacher, aap kyun chilla rahein ho? Pyaar se bolo na?” (Teacher, why are you screaming? Speak lovingly, no?)

 
And I’m like “PYAAR SE?? PYAAR SE???”  
Then I throw in the towel and just walk out.
I mean, seriously, is this child trained to drive his teacher crazy??
By the end of the year, he was much more docile. I don’t know if my methods succeeded, or if he was just done giving me a hard time.

The newbie-teacher resurfaces

After a very long hiatus, I’m back to my blog! Obviously, my life as a teacher didn’t leave me with much enthusiasm to pen down my thoughts. On most days, I just didn’t have the time or energy to blog. On other days, I didn’t think it fair to color my students in shades of unruly, incorrigible and undeserving – which is what went on in my frustrated head that was worn from using one classroom management technique after the other. That’s not to say they were all tiring bad days. There were good days- not days in which I had shiny happy perfect students, but days on which I wouldn’t judge them by their misbehavior alone.On those days, I’d be able to see hilarity, cuteness and wit in their disruptive fun and frolic, and begin to enjoy simply hanging out with them.

Now that my year with my 8th graders is over, I want to write about some the memories I have that will always remain with me. And through my posts, I hope you get a good look into the classroom of colourful characters that were my students.

The following posts will be published during the course of the next 2 months.
Happy reading! 🙂
(Names of my students have been changed)

Basheer – “I’m the teacher’s friend! Quit bugging her!” My dramaqueen
Naki – my lost cause (Good teachers shouldn’t say that..but with this one, I have no clue what can be done
Ali – his classroom is his vacation spot
Yasir – the one with his hand perpetually raised and the one with all the wrong answers
Abu – the cutest. the wittiest and the funniest – the one I haven’t been able to figure out
Salman – he’s got the hair, he’s got the looks, he’s got..swag.
Mission “Lets go get our teacher back”
The Hijab squad wants to pretty up their teacher
Teacher! Eyes on us!
The meanest I’ve been
Tauba Tauba
I see Red

So, what’s your class like?

That’s a question to which I’d have to bite back the answer that’s usually raging to burst forth in my frustration. Before I began teaching, I pictured all I’d do as a teacher. Writing about my students figures among the many things I still haven’t done yet. It’s been 3 months since I last posted here. It’s not that I didn’t have time or stories to put up here, it’s that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be voicing all I felt in the past 3 months.

 

The first month was ok. I was in ‘observer’ mode. Even if days at school were horrible, I’d cut myself slack because you know..”It’s only the beginning.”, “The kids are just testing you.”, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”, “It’ll get better.”

Pushed through to the second month and I realised that waking up in the morning to go to school is still not easy. Until I became a teacher, I had no idea that it’s not just students that try to avoid coming to school. Teachers with a class of seeming juvenile delinquents will find themselves hoping for floods, transport strikes or the apocalypse every morning before school.

Two months in, I hadn’t yet reached the point where my students became people I wanted to meet everyday. They seemed like a terrorist-training camp waiting for me in class 8-C so that they could unleash their evil on me. I hoped students would be absent. I hoped that school area would be flooded. And I’d thought it was only students that dreaded school-day mornings.

I’d also think a taser should be in the teacher kit handed out to teachers in my school. At least a pellet gun. Interrupting a nice lesson a zillion times to discipline a student had become a major piss-off – on some days, my tolerance levels would hit the floor and I’d go batshit crazy on them. At the end of a school-day, getting them to leave class in an orderly manner was the bane of my existence as a school teacher. Other fellows had told me to make them stay back and repeat exit procedures till they did it right..but OH GOD,on most days all I wanted was for them to LEAVE ALREADY! The nicer students, to make sure it’s ok to exit through the door which I guard like a mental dragon on PMS, would ask me very diminutively, “Didi, can I leave?” And then I have to topple many levels down to smile a ‘kind teacher’ smile when my head is screaming ‘PLEASE LEAVEE. LEAVE ME AND GOO! Go far faaar away.’

By this point I’d reached the point where I was very aware of how much my students would benefit from having books to read, trips to any place outside of their slum, a blackboard that didn’t reflect sunlight, a projector to view videos and pictures during lessons. Obviously, I had to reach out for aid. But, I was still so bummed- at their behaviour, at their community, at the school system. I realise now that I was wrong then, but on many of those days you’d find me saying “They don’t deserve anything.” because I was so tired and frustrated. A more-experienced Fellow would gently tell me I was wrong, and that tiny sensible voice in my head would agree but fail to be loud enough to drown out the exasperated voice. In my calmer moments, I’d plan on acquiring funds for my class, but there was never a window of calm wide enough that allowed me to objectively relate my classroom experiences, and act on any ambitious intent I had. So, I waited out that turbulent period and I’m here now.

 

I’ve now completed 3 months as their teacher, and just as they are not yet the students I wish they’d be, I’m still not the teacher I want to be to them. But, I know I’ll get there sooner than later. And now, three months in, a little worse for wear, but wiser nonetheless, I can tell you what my class is like –

They are not a bunch of small evil persons. They are a classroom of 12,13 year olds who can be incredibly funny, witty and even considerate.

They are not a pack of dogs attacking a wounded pigeon. They are just students who don’t know if a new teacher like me will care about them enough to stay with them.

They are students who like the little boy that pulls the little girl’s pigtails while wanting her affection,  rock the boat while waiting for the day when I manage to steady it. (They have very helpfully suggested throwing kids out of our boat. A very practical lot. 🙂 )

As much as my class with it’s fights and gaali-flinging can sometimes look like a zoo gone crazy, they are still only children, and not animals- impressionable children who can be guided down better paths.They are students who have physical and verbal abuse thrown at them and around them daily, and are then asked to choose values of non-violence and respect in the face of all that.

They are students who ask for extra-classes- post school and on weekends because their time in the classroom is better than time in their one-room house in the slum.

And lastly and most importantly, they are students who are certainly not undeserving. I had to try much, much lesser to access the education I was given. And at least my education amounted to something..what they’re offered is a sorry excuse for an education and yet, many of them are there every day grabbing at whatever is offered. If I were in their place, there’s no saying if I’d even have stuck it out till 8th standard. So, this class of mine- they deserve everything I can give them, and more.

IMAG1028

This was a chaotic class in progress. That big chart was transitioning from being used as a shelter for 3 students to being a cape. It later became a walking cone in the classroom and finally a floor mat for the cape-wearing, cone-boy who chose to be a homeless beggar in his last act.

At this point, I had the camera out and said I’d be showing the recording of their class behavior to both the principal and their parents. Not such a cool move, but 15 minutes later I had my class in place – as seen below.

IMAG1029

One day, this state of calm will last longer than 3 minutes. One day. Soon!

 

At the end of the day, I got my head in my hands and my halo at my feet.

Thanks to my uncle, my posts have been seeing the light of Facebook, and that’s brought me many words of encouragement now that I’ve begun the Teach for India Fellowship. Thank you so very much, everyone. And then there’s also been considerable praise that I feel very undeserving of. The Sara on Facebook seems to be developing a halo the same week that I’m seeing myself fail to be the teacher I want to be. In my 8 days of being in the classroom, I’ve gone from being kind and friendly as a teacher, to tired and weary, to frustrated and livid. This post is the first of many that’ll chronicle my journey as a teacher, and 2 years from now, I fervently hope it tells the story of how I grew to be the teacher my students need. 

As a Teach for India Fellow, I teach Grade 8 at Ja’fari English High School in Shivajinagar, Govandi.

After school, when I get off the autorickshaw and walk home, I feel like an abused slum-dweller- I’m sweaty, I feel contaminated by the germs that have gotten on me from my slum-dwelling students (yes, I’m not so MotherTeresa-ey yet), my hair, skin and clothes are covered in chalk-dust, the Mumbai sun continues to beat on me, I’m OVERWHELMED by all that happened in my classrooms, and by the enormity of the task before me, and I also wonder how much of a difference I’m capable of making.

All I want is to get home, take a shower, curl up and shovel in comfort food. And just as I wonder how idiotic this must seem to those who told me not to choose this life, I realise that at the end of this day at school, I am overwhelmed, yes, but not unhappy or dissatisfied – 2 feelings that were constant companions in the 2 years I spent as a IT cubicle-dweller. Right now, this is the job I choose to have.

Every classroom I enter makes me feel like I walked in on a perfect re-enactment of the civil unrest in Syria. It’s been almost 2 weeks now, and I feel completely unravelled. My week ended with me going ballistic on my seemingly incorrigible students, stomping out of the class and into the staff room. I walked past my co-fellows, plonked myself down on a bench,  flung my chalk at the floor and blurted, ‘This is a MADHOUSE.”

– so flustered, so overwhelmed.I know calling my school a madhouse sounds mean, but the level of frustration those crazy disruptive students can take me to? oh.my.God, help me PLEASE.

Oh, and my empathetic and amused co-fellows let me know that my reaction was justified, an indication that I’ve been properly initiated into Ja’fari English High School. :/ Even the one veteran staff-member of the school that overheard me beamed a very understanding smile at me.

 

So, a little background about the students, their community and this place I teach in-

The students come from a predominantly Muslim community in Shivajinagar, Govandi. This community is rife with violence, and so it isn’t surprising to find children resort to violence to settle their adolescent tiffs. There are some graphic details I’m not yet certain of, but you can be sure I’ll write about it when I do know more.

This community is just one among many in the Shivajinagar area. I hear this slum area has a population of 8 lakh people. My 2 flatmates teach in schools that cater to other communities of this area.  From them, I’ve heard of so many instances of deviant behaviour that I haven’t seen in my students..at least not yet :/

And finally- the landmark of my school- the Deonar dumping ground. The Deonar dumping ground is to Shivajinagar what the Eiffel tower is to Paris.

MOUNT DUMPMORE – Typically, landfills reach maximum capacity in about 30 years before they are closed. However, the Deonar Dumping ground, 87 years later, is still getting dumped on. Seriously, what the hell??

 

More than 35 m high, it snuggles up close to my school and the residences of my students. This dump is the oldest dumping ground of Mumbai, opened in 1927. I’ve been reading about it the past couple of days, and I’m shocked by the indifference of the government, and sickened, SO sickened, by the complete lack of hygiene in the area. It causes so many illnesses just because of the filth. Then there are toxic emissions that cause respiratory illnesses and even cancer :/ I’m aware of 2 of my students who have parents suffering from cancer, and I’m quite ready to blame it on that humungous dump.

 

So, that’s most of all I know after my first 2 weeks of teaching in my school. I have SO MUCH more to learn- about being a good teacher, about my students, their community, my school, and Mumbai too. But for now, I have to find someone to correctly translate what I want to tell my students’ parents at the PTA meet in school tomorrow. My Hindi serves to entertain more than communicate at this point. :/

 

 

The Story of Us – at TFI Institute 2014

Now that we’re in our 5th and final week of Institute, we were asked to present our “Story of Us” – that’s what it’s called. Basically, we present our journey here at Institute in any form of our choosing. I chose illustration. It’s not as tidy or finished as I would’ve liked it to be, but there’s just no time for that right now. Regardless, I think it still conveys most of what I felt Institute has been for me.

To give you some context before you go through the cartoons-

Institute is the 5 week training period before the 2014 cohort of Teach for India takes on their classes in the city.

There’s no non-vegetarian food served on campus.

The campus is on top of a pretty hill – which makes it hard for us to get to places with chicken.

1 title

2 intro 3 reaching-flame 4 registrstion 5 sessions

 

6 emoshunal

 

*these many times a day

7 1 miss-chicken

 

7 friens

8 commvisit 9 jk 10 dance-song 11dance-sara

 

12 1 chicken 12 summer-school 13 5am-sleep

 

14 morning 15 reaching-jaihind

 

16 staff-energy 17 jk energy

18 lp123 19 lp234

20 night-sleep

 

21 joy-of-rec

 

22 head-count

 

23 terrible-class 24 good-class 25 omb-learn 26 better-worse 27 learn-n-learn 28 hard-life 29 push-self 30 better-teacher 31 thank-you

I knew I loved you before I met you…

…is not something I can say to a child in my class. Or any child I intend to help as a teacher.

My biggest apprehension before coming here was if I’d love my students, or like hanging around them for so long. I’m someone who escapes to the closest mall if kids are coming home. I don’t like entertaining kids who have the unfortunate luck of accompanying their parents on house-visits. And so, I thought I’d be averse to handling kids all day. I care about them kids, but it’s easier from a distance, isn’t it?

So, that was one fear I wanted dispelled, and soon enough it was. In my first week, I met the MAYA kids. These are 30 under-privileged kids from TFI schools who’ve been selected to be a part of a musical this November and they’ve been undergoing training for the past year after school. These kids are wiser than I was at their age. Obviously, they’ve been through a hell lot more than I have at 24. C is one of these kids.

C began breaking through a wall I have up- not because I want to keep people out, but because I’m naturally reserved when it comes to being affectionate, at least in public. The other day she planted a big kiss on my face after dinner, and another day after that, over lunch, she sang a mushy song to me about missing me when I’m gone, ‘handprint on her heart’ etc, and the day she was leaving she gave me a note and teared up.  I have NO IDEA what I’ve done for her to deserve her love. But that happened. I guess I tend to underestimate the value of spending time with children. What might seem to be a conversation that takes effort (because the kid has a hard time understanding English), or a time of playing games that bore me, or simply listening to a kid like C ramble on and throw  pertinent questions at me- might actually mean a lot to the child. And when I do realise how much I matter to a kid, it makes me want to be all they deserve.

Summer school happens during our training time in Institute. I’ve got a 6th grade class that I teach with 3 other Fellows. In my short time with them, I’ve realised that there comes a point when I begin to see the kid as more than just a child in my class. I begin to see the kid that is so eager to learn and  carries on in class so cheerfully that you wouldn’t think she was raised by a single mum who’s mentally unstable; I admire the family that sends the kid to school in well-ironed clothes eventhough 4 of them live in a house that’s half the size of my bedroom; I see a little man inside the 12 year old boy whose dad’s dead, mum works 2 jobs, and it’s upto him to cook lunch for himself. When I actually see these children as more than just disruptive, slow or regular students, and instead see a bunch of hopeful kids or families looking to ME to show them doors to a better life, it’s then that my self-centred core cracks a little, and then I begin to love them.

I don’t know how good my love for them is, but I hope it grows and I hope it’s enough to make me work hard to always be what they need.

My summer school students locating France on the map

My summer school students locating France on the map