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.
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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. :/