I still remember the first day I met my kids, the day schools reopened…..14 June 2010. I reached the school half an hour early with colourful “Welcome to class 2 charts!”, little stick-on stars for encouragement, a big hat for introduction….a small animated clip on my laptop showcasing ‘respect’ as a value and most importantly truck loads of enthusiasm. As those twenty odd pairs of little eyes looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and confusion, I got a small glimpse of a flaw…. a lil’ loophole in my plan for that day…… all these exotic plans that I had made, had one medium of instruction/ communication…..English. This was the flaw in the plan…the flaw that I will work towards turning into, hopefully their strength over the next two years.
To my children, I could have been speaking in any language…Spanish, Greek or English….It was just a medium of instruction they didn’t respond to….As weeks passed, I started administering the diagnostic tests for English, Maths and Grammar and alongside taking the reading fluency samples. Reading Fluency is the number of words a child can read in one minute. The expected words count per minute (wpcm) for a child in grade 2 is 40. After a week of taking these samples, about 5 kids per day, I went into a low of sorts. All my kids were clocking in an average of 0 wpcm. They couldn’t read a single word of English and I had huge lessons in English and EVS to do with them. I stopped taking the tests for almost a week. It was scary….. the prospect of teaching these kids English, EVS and Maths…. kids who could not read simple words like…..in, is, an…at grade 2 level. But the partly to meet the deadlines and partly to make my peace with the truth, I started the testing process again. The overall diagnostics results were alarming and the reading fluency reached a maximum of 12 wpcm for only one kid in my class of 37 students. If all this was overwhelming, the writing samples were the last straw for my already dwindling enthusiasm. I had given them a topic in the class : ‘My school’ and most of the children had written gibberish….. not even words that made sense. Forget about sentence formation and punctuation…….these kids could not even ideate on the topic assigned. In totality, these kids in grade 2 were at least 1 to 1.5 grade levels behind.
And these were just the academic issues…… issues I could hope to improve through my continued planning and effective execution over the academic year. But the backgrounds these children came from, behavioural issues were also aplenty. That is far more challenging to mend coz there is no definite lesson plan for it. It’s like a new problem solving session everyday where the only tool you have is your discretion. The environment in the first three weeks of the school was something like this; spitting on each other or each other’s notebook was the considered a rightful settlement to any argument. Every fight between students was garnished with high profile abuses…..MC, BC and some others that I don’t even recognize. Yes, second graders saying these things. The first time I heard one of my lil’ kids say this stuff….I was disturbed and disturbed would be putting it very mildly. Hitting and kicking each other is the mildest form of violence in my class. It’s not that in regular schools kids don’t hit and push, they do and it is very natural for tiny kids to squabble but here it’s about the mindset. These kids believe that violence is the only way to tackle any situation and very often this violence surpasses civilized boundaries. For instance, very recently a 4th grade student took a leak on a bunch of my students (literally spraying it over….) and also pelted stones at them. When I asked him why he did so, he had no answer and still worse he had no remorse whatsoever. There is so much that happens back home with these kids, that their anger erupts in daunting ways at school.
When I filled in the application, or when I was going through the training at the Institute…..I knew that the task ahead was going to be pretty challenging. I was aware that I will be dealing with kids from low-income communities, but that was the extent of my awareness. And I thought I knew it all, that I prepared for everything. But this is where I started to really believe in the TFI ideology, that to make an extrinsic change, an individual had to start transformation process intrinsically. So like the TFI 2009 fellow teaching grade 4 in my school put it beautifully, “So you say their behaviour is violent and their reading fluency levels are zero?…Ok….Great then, You should be happy that it can’t get any worse. It can only and only get better”. This is that intrinsic change….. There is no room for anything but faith, perseverance and hard work here…..
It’s about putting on that yellow hat every morning and going in with a high degree of enthusiasm to that classroom.
It’s about very deeply believing as a teacher that every child can….and he will progress to reach his potential.
It’s about seeing a vision for you class that seems too ambitious at the moment yet firmly believing that it will come true and you will give it all you have and more……to make it happen.
It’s about giving your faith a fighting chance….:)
It’s been exactly two months since I’ve started my journey as the class teacher for grade 2 and despite all that has been written about the academic levels and behavioural issues of my kids. I’ve had more highs than lows in that little classroom of mine. That’s the best part about being a teacher….. you will always have things to smile about each and every day. How can you not?….You’re spending your day with tiny chubby lil 6-7 year olds…..(well even 10 year olds in my case).
Someone I knew very beautifully put it, “You know, even though you’ll have many upsetting moments and many such exhausting days, you’d rather be in that classroom with those 37 lil monsters than anywhere else in the world”. Looking ahead at the myriad rainbow of possibilities in that classroom, I’m glad that I took this decision to be a part of Teach For India.
Here are the top five moments from my classroom (just as I wrote this so many others flooded into my mind.. J, but I’ll stick to these for now…)
1. From energetically running towards the blackboard when asked to make a line for lunch break to this……me and my kids have come a long way…..this procedure is the pride of my 2 months as a novice teacher. :)
2. Last period of the day, my Principal walks into the class, casually peeps into my class and says “How are you children?”….My kids are copying down words for dictation next day, from the blackboard, when they hear her, they all stand up and each one shoots back in instinctively in unison, “I am fine. Thank you for asking!”. And the Principal stands there bemused and very pleasantly taken aback. This was just something I’d taught them for a few days in our morning meeting, and forgotten about it. But amazing it was that they hadn’t. :)
3. It is a rule in my class, ‘Always Try. Be Brave’. I always tell them that each one of us has to try and only then we can be the best class in our school. So one day the children are particularly restless, and hence noisy and I’m trying to teach them a pretty complex topic (Place Values). And suddenly (seeing Didi getting disturbed) lil’ Salman stands up asks all his classmates to be quiet and says “Didi, Hum TRY kar rahe hai……Hum Koshish kar rahe hai best class ban ne ke liye”. That felt like wow! :)
4. Pooja, for the first two weeks the only thing I knew about this girl was that she made this really weird face and wanted to go the toilet once in every period. And while I’m trying to teach, she would run out of her seat and ask for permission to go to the toilet. When I would refuse, it would invariably be followed by the very annoying phrase “Zor se aaraha hai Didi”. Add incomplete homework and untidy class work to that, and she had the perfect recipe for inviting my wrath. So that was Pooja two months ago, and she has magically taken the ramp curve to improvement. And this has to be my best wow moment in the class…..they day Pooja stood with Rachael tied for the spot of the Best Girl of the Week with 6 stars each in their notebooks…….I felt so proud of her that day…..I almost wanted to give it away to her, but unfortunately the tie breaker was the stars in their Marathi notebook and Rachael had one star more. Pooja didn’t make it, but for her to come to that point was my ultimate high moment in these two months.
5. This one’s actually funny….and this story came from a parent. There’s another class rule : “Always raise your hands to answer”. This is just to avoid all of them screaming out the answers together and also to encourage a sense of respect for anyone speaking in the class. So only after raising their hands when they’re called out by the teacher,only then can they speak. One parent came in and was telling me how the class rules are being followed at home also. Apparently, one day at home lil Kartik raised his hand with his other hand on his mouth after completing his HW and his father happened to be watching TV and wasn’t looking in his direction. This kid stayed that way for almost 10 minutes until his father happened to glance in his direction during a commercial break. His parents were greatly amused by their son’s heightened sense of discipline. :)
So those were my two months….. and a brief summation has to led my longest blog ever…..:)
Just one lil quote comes to my mind now….
“Strangely enough, this is the past that somebody in the future is longing to go back to”