On Teachers Day earlier this month, I got a text from the fellow who is currently teaching my class. My class, the kids I began my journey in education with, six years ago. It said,
‘Hey Chaitra, the kids have been asking me to arrange a visit with you. Would it be possible for us to come down to your office someday?’
As soon as I read it, I hit the keypad with enthusiasm. “Yes. Of course …yes!!”
I quickly scanned my outlook calendar to see which day seemed less complicated i.e. relatively meetings-free and got back to him with 16th September (Friday). And fortunately that seemed to agree with the class and their teacher.
My mom was just as excited as me when she heard that the kids are coming to visit. After all, she was also their ‘Turtle Club’ teacher helping my struggling readers with ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’. My dad was excited too. He asked me several times before the D-day if he should get some cake and chocolates for the kids. I said they are eighth graders now; they definitely don’t want me handing out candies and chocolates. 8th grade! Can you believe it?
These were tiny little kids when they walked into my 2nd grade classroom in 2010 and now they are adolescent teenagers. :) I was trying incredibly hard to be cool about the whole visit thing but I think on that day, it was just beyond me to not come across as insanely excited. Because I just was so happy, curious, eager, thrilled and so many more things as I set out for work that day.
I made a couple of stops. I did buy cakes…lots of cupcakes. They are kids after all and they did love cupcakes when they were in Grade 2. :) I reached the office and from the reception desk, to my lunch gang, to absolutely anyone who would listen, I told them my kids are coming to see me today. The question could be anything that day, my response would invariably work in the information that my children were coming to meet me today :) After I got the food arrangements and security clearance stuff in place, I started to meet my friends and acquaintances from various departments within the company to request them to address my class about their job, what they did at Thermax and what educational background was. In two years, they will be making choices for colleges; I wanted them to understand few of the different career options available to them.
I was going to see them after such a long time. All week long I kept thinking of what I want to say to them, should I do the high-five or are they too old for it?, definitely not the chicken dance – they would die of embarrassment, what would I want to give them, what would we talk about? I thought of a bunch of things and settled on one idea for what I would give them. In the morning, I bought what was needed to execute that idea and had help from all my wonderful colleagues in putting it all together. At 2:15 PM, I got a call from security that they’d arrived at the gate. I quickly came down to cafeteria to keep all the stuff and then go receive them. I had just gotten out of the cafeteria and I see a neat line of boys in uniform I felt I recognized but they all looked tall and so different (of course there were some new faces too). I was just about opening my mouth to say something to them but by then they all screamed out ‘Chaitra didi’. Before I could respond to that, there came the girls – about eight of them – and hugged from every direction possible. It was the best feeling in the whole wide world. There is nothing and I mean nothing at all, that comes even remotely close to this joy. :) I paused for a while to look them, say their names and just register their faces. This moment was more special than I could ever articulate in words.
We went in, sat down and first thing Saurabh did was to pull out his copy of the good bye card that Anushri and I had made each child back in April 2012. It had our Grade 3 class photograph and two photographs of each child from the musical and a small good bye note from me. He put it on the table and said – “Didi, do you have a pen right now? You hadn’t signed this! I smiled and signed it. And out came other picture cards too, Best Boy/Best Girl certificates, pat on the back notes – back from Grade 2 and 3 and I signed them all. I was surprised that so many of them had kept it. Saurabh said, ‘Didi, I have kept everything you have given me”
And I was nervous about what the conversation would be like; I kept thinking if would they remember their Grade 2 and 3 years. I didn’t have to worry or even think for a minute because as soon we sat down and the signing session was over, in came a barrage of questions. Didi, remember the dance practice? Didi, we used to play dog and the bone – you remember that? Didi, do you remember all the children in our class? Say the names (Pointing to the class picture), Didi, why didn’t you come to meet us?, Didi, let us do Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again! Didi, where do you live? What do you do now in this company? How is Rekha Miss (my mother)? and a million other questions. There was no need to wonder at all as to what we would talk about. :)
Before we went into a snack break, they were addressed by my colleagues from various departments and I was amazed to see my children pose questions so confidently. Their new Bhaiya (first in the string of many didi’s they have had) is doing a wonderful job with them. I could see that. They have participated in Model United Nations, some of them have been to Bishops, Pune for a debate competition, they play football, kabbadi, cricket, kho-kho and best of all they are confident and funny. Really, funny in a very cool way!
How those four hours flew by, I have no clue. In the last hour, we did a small session on ‘Gratitude’ at the end of which I would give them the gift I had planned for them. We began by asking ourselves what ‘success’ means to us. We imagined ourselves 10 years later (age 24 for them, my age then is something I’d rather not think of) and how we would decide if we have been successful. They were pretty interesting answers.
If my parents are proud of me, then I would feel successful.
The dreams that my parents, teachers and family have for me, if I make them come true I will feel successful.
When I live a luxurious life and have someone special to share it with, I will feel successful. (This mention of ‘someone special’ was received with a lot of giggling and smiles amongst the 14-year old lot)
If you are rich and have money to buy everything you need, then you are successful.
If we are happy, then we are successful.
When I can create something to help others, I will be successful. [This boy wants to be a scientist]
Profound, right? :) They have it all figured out already.
Right, so that was their definition of ‘success’ and then we spoke of what failure looks like. There were many answers – not being able to complete one’s education, doing something that would make our parents ashamed of us, having no friends etc.
So I asked them who all wanted to be successful. All hands went up. Obviously, there were no takers for failure. And that was at the heart of this session with my children. Of course, no one wants to fail in life but some form of failure is inevitable and it will be a part of our lives. They didn’t like the sound of it, the certainty with which I was predicting failure in some form, in all their lives. I spoke to them about some of my failures – in academics, at work and in friendships. I told them that I didn’t desire for any of these. No one does. But they come anyway, and when these failures/losses come to you, you will have only yourself to rely on. You parents, friends, family, teachers – all of them can advise you, offer you support, share your anxiety/sorrow but the end of the day, you have to find the strength from deep within yourself to stand up and fight. It’s the kind of strength you can’t draw from outside world – it has to come from inside.
With me, until now? (thankfully they were)
So, failures will come whether we want it or not. And when they come we need a reservoir of strength –that has to be manufactured inside us. So how do we do it? How do we build resilience, a reservoir of strength within us to keep standing tall in the face of adversity?
This was the secret to be unveiled today. Did they want to know how to build strength from within? (again, thankfully they did. I was pitching way out of my comfort zone here :))
I put a blank journal in front of each one of them and we spoke about ‘Gratitude’. I’d put a post-it on each journal that asked ‘What are you grateful for today?’ We spoke about gratitude as a tool to build that immense strength from within. I told them about my ‘Gratitude Journal’ that I started writing in May 2015 in which I wrote ‘3 beautiful things’ each day. I wrote about the three things that made me happy that day, things I appreciated in the day and things/people/opportunities I’m grateful for every day. Doing this everyday makes your realize that even on the worst possible days, you can find something to be grateful about. In fact, on the days when you think you’ll probably not have much to write about, it is on those days that writing is most the powerful aid. ‘Aid’ because on these kinds of days, it is determination to find gratitude, find the good in the world – that keeps you from crumbling. And I can go on record to say that being thankful every day, counting your blessings – is the most potent tool to build resilience. If I had another opportunity to teach, I would do this every day with my children. If they could learn and practice gratitude every day, they are a little more prepared to meet the challenges of the world outside.
So we put down the date on page 1 of our new journals and each person in the room wrote of their ‘3 beautiful things’, the three things they are thankful for today. Some took to it like fish to water. Others struggled to string sentences together. But they all wrote and the best part was that they wrote honestly. I know that because they didn’t want to share their diaries with anyone. It was personal. To me, that was a good beginning. I told them that this was their personal diary and I hope they continue to write three beautiful things each day. I really hope they do. As I finished with that session, I was overcome with a desire to teach. They are at such a wonderful age right now. You can actually talk to them; have a well-reasoned debate/a passionate argument/ a fun conversation with them. It would be so much fun to go back to teaching English or History maybe.
I’m hoping to go back soon to meet with rest of the class. It was a beautiful day. I shared this with all my friends – from school, college, from hostel, with colleagues and ex- colleagues and everyone who has been a part of my life was just so thrilled to see the kids. Best September EVER! Period.
No points for guessing what occupied the first slot in my list of three beautiful things for that day. This entire post is an expanded version of that. The second beautiful thing was how many friends at work just came together to make the day so amazing for my children. They all took time out of their busy schedules to meet my kids. The Admin team so graciously organized the snacks. And Natasha, made these beautiful bookmarks to go with their Gratitude Journals and behind each bookmark, we wrote a quote.
It’s such a blessing to be surrounded by lovely people like this. :) And the last beautiful thing for the day was the immense gratitude I feel towards Arpan for making this visit happen, for reaching out to me and bring my kids to the office.