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. :/

 

 

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

 

 

Institute – where I begin learning to be a teacher

Disclaimer: All posts under ‘Teach for India’ are published rough drafts, cos I have ZERO time for editing considering how hectic life is. Once that changes, this disclaimer’ll go.

Its been over a month since I got to Pune and time has simple FLOWN. There’s just SO MUCH happening that every day feels like a week in my pre-TFI life.
Institute is the 5 week training program every cohort of Teach for India Fellows go through before we go into our city schools.
There are 270 of us here right nowand I’ve loved meeting almost everybody I’ve met so far.

The place we’re at is simply superb. We’re in a university campus on top of a hill (FLAME, Lavale) , quite cut off from the rest of Pune.It’s green and pretty and oh.so.peaceful. All my dust and pollen allergy is completely gone here. I don’t remember the last time I sneezed! Makes me hate city air so much.

Training has been SO SO HECTIC that it’s very surprising if I get 15 minutes of quiet time to myself in a day. We end up working about 16-18 hours a day..initially I thought that was an exagerration, but soon enough it isn’t. Still, I’ve managed to squeeze in a run at least 4-5 times a week. And it’s the best thing I’ve got to keep me going here. When things are this hectic, one has to stop to prioritize health and well being over work. There are people all around me dropping out of exhaustion and sickness.

The good thing is when my head hits the pillow, I’m knocked out before I can complete a thought.
And some days it isn’t just physical exhaustion, it’s mental. The amount of information and feelings that seems to have infused its way into my every cell makes me feel like I’ve been hit by a train, and swollen like the next bit of emotion might just cause me to burst.

And then there’s planning for your 40 minute lesson in summer school. We do that almost every day, and until you get the hang of it, it’s frustrating and tedious especially when you’re new to it and sleep deprived. The silver lining- it brings all of us together in our sleep deprived misery. At 11 pm you’ll find about 30 of us at work in a lecture hall on campus- in our day clothes, pajamas, running gear. We’re powering through. Not just on caffeine, but with an amazing support system that comprises of our staff, 1 year fellows and the rest like me who are are part of the Mumbai cohort. Sometimes it does feel like we’ve got a super high concentration of good-hearted wonderful people in TFI. There’s appreciation being voiced, notes of love and gratitude being passed around, Secret Santa being played in May, and hugs. It’s hard to get away from love here. And that’s good, cos some days love is all you need.

On that cheesy note, I end this post. Bits and pieces that will elaborate on my experience during Institute will follow.