Archive for November, 2009

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Fresh out of college, I wanted to do something meaningful with my life, as does everyone; I just didn’t know what it was going to be. At this confused stage, I heard about TFI and knew that this was it! Their unwavering faith in education and their belief in how it could impact each child’s future echoed my sentiments exactly.

Our journey began in May…

I felt that now was my chance to do something for the less privileged part of society while receiving huge dividends in return, and TFI was the perfect means to achieve this end.

During Institute, we had an opportunity to interact with some of the best minds and hearts that anyone could offer. Their views gave me something to think over and accept or reject as I saw fit. This experience helped to broaden my outlook to a great extent.

Although some sessions at institute brought out the irate poet in me…

Sleeping at 2 and waking up at first light,

Devika and Vijay blurring out of sight:

Into our sessions wholeheartedly I have dived,

But now I am desperately sleep deprived.

Talking about geogo, civics and history,

To me it is an absolute mystery;

Explaining in greatest detail the mind maps,

All of my energy it totally saps.

The value of this session I can’t fathom,

Though for a moment there I thought I had ‘em;

Though I’m trying hard to keep my eyes open,

It feels like in the dark I am just gropin.

More than half the Pune team has bunked this class,

To me it seems like a great and complete farce;

The second hand on my watch just seems to creep,

Really, I wish I were in bed and sound asleep.

…By and large Institute was one of the most enriching experiences I have had the opportunity to go through. It equipped me with skills I would not only need in school but through life.

To be Patient: Teaching children who didn’t understand a word of English, I thought I knew what it meant to be patient… Till I realized how patiently those children were listening to me blabber in a language that was alien to them.

To Persevere: Teaching children who were more than 2 grade levels behind, I thought I knew what it meant to persevere… Till I realized how much those children must have persevered to cover a 2 month curriculum in 2 weeks.

To Love: Teaching children who were covered in snot and filth and who I still adored, I thought I knew what it meant to love… Till I realized how unconditionally those children loved a total stranger for no apparent reason whatsoever.

To have Humility: Teaching children innovatively and watching them make huge headway as a result and yet remaining grounded and modest, I thought I knew what it meant to have humility… Till I was truly humbled by an angelic smile and a shy ‘thank you didi.’

To be grateful: Teaching children who had 3 sets of clothes and no family, I was appreciative of what I had and I thought I knew what it meant to be grateful… Till I understood true gratitude when I saw it in the eyes of a child accepting 2 biscuits from me.

I realized I wasn’t a part of this movement because I wanted to make the world or our country a better place, but because I wanted to live in a better place.

All the lessons I learnt, the sense of possibility, but also the sense of urgency that was instilled, made me enter my new school thinking “How can I afford not to make this work??”

Five months into teaching at Rashmi English Medium School…

Throughout this period I have been making a constant effort to try and make my children more competent and less helpless. At the same time it was a struggle not to overestimate my students academically or underestimate them intellectually. All of this with the ultimate goal of not only allowing, but helping them to stand on my shoulders and look much farther and higher than I ever have.

While I’m reflecting about everything I’ve done and how much I am investing in the experience, I am reminded that time and time again, almost every single day, I am receiving from my peers, from the people around me and most importantly from my students, more than tenfold of what I am giving.

The journey so far has been very challenging and even more enriching and I am looking forward to a meaningful, fulfilling and fun-filled one and a half years.


Fellow, Teach For India.

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Much water has flown under the bridge, ever since the first article was written as a TFI fellow. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support in word and kind. Infact, I struggle on a daily basis to make the optimal use of resources I have amassed.


Quick facts: I have books still unutilized; I have teaching aids like abacus, globe, flash cards not being used to their potential; I have loads of CDs which haven’t come under my kids scanner; I have a resource centre space which is open and waiting for computers to come in. This is the inefficiency of a guy who works through the week with only single pursuit. I can only dare to multiply what it is like in those 10 million classrooms like mine around the country, in which teacher motivation is the first hurdle to cross.

In my struggle to make a meaningful difference, time and energy continue to be my foes. If I have to single out the biggest challenge, this is it. How do I democratize education in a classroom and yet provide Socratic education to each and every child at his readiness levels? When I see my mastery scores dip to 40% in Reading comprehension, when my kids score an average of 35% in Social Sciences just coz they can’t read English, when progress doesn’t have a direct correlation to your efforts – I sit and cringe. When I look at my despair in that moment, I can only laugh at myself for the moments I wrote essays from ivory towers about Indian education system and teacher apathy; I can ridicule myself for waxing eloquent about the “paradigm shift” that needs to happen in the education system. When I walked in the first day, I told myself this, “If my kids are 2.5 years behind, I will strive to be 2.5 times better than the best 3rd standard teacher in this country”. I manage to barely stand equivalent to the average private school teacher!!

Last week, when I came back from an Art fest on Saturday evening, managing to stay awake running on antibiotics for 24 hrs, I crashed head on for the next 13 hrs. I woke up and worked through the Sunday on a Unit assessment creation almost in a robotic fashion. I knew then that I hit my limits of physical, mental and spiritual capacities and yet there was so much more to be done for the classroom. What do I do for Ganesh, the dyslexic? What do I do for Saurabh and Vinay, who have an attention disability? What do I do for the kleptomaniac, Nirmala? What do I do for Poonam, who still believes in the dreams of running a kirana shop than a dream of higher education? What do I do for all my 10 lowest level kids who are falling even more behind? What do I do to Daniel and Swapnil who deserve a Socratic education? In all these permutations, how do I still pull off an Annual day English play? What about shaping the culture of the school? What about the research on the community development project? As my microness consumes me, I shudder to think how most of our people’s representatives catch a goodnight’s sleep.

When I saw this video of “Once upon a School” on TED, it gave me hope. Hope that there was an idea worth pursuing. Hope that things can be made more efficient. Hope in the message of the painting that stands right above my class board, “Every cloud has a silver lining”.

Think of the most memorable moments of your life. Was it the day you showed the Archimedes principle to your mom in the bathroom? Was it the day when you collected fruits with your dad for a solar system model? Or the day your sister from the neighborhood prepared you to intonate the Bruce and the Spider story? Or the day you won those gold medals? Or maybe the day you made your successful boardroom presentations? All of us know our answers even on the wrong side of the bed.

If you’ve read this far, please do read on for the next few lines. Here’s my proposal to adapt the TED idea. I am looking for mentors for my kids. A mentor per kid is my target. The expectations are simple. Give your mental and physical faculties to a child for at least a few hours a week. The structure of what’s and how’s to be done will be in place (I will ensure that). You will assist your kid as a mentor in reading, writing and Maths work apart from keeping him/her motivated for education. If you are the one who loves data to substantiate a point, take this. 45 hrs of one to one tutorship by a graduate in an year on an average improves the grade level of a kid by 1. In short, you are doing my job of providing a grade level excellent education to 34 kids at the same time in 1/6th the time with 1 kid.


100 years from now, it won’t matter how much money we made, how many cars we had owned, how many places we had visited, how many people we knew. But, it matters that you made a difference to a kid’s life. So, here’s asking you for 60 minutes of idealism. 60 minutes of being the change. 60 minutes of creation. 60 minutes to let yourself be changed by a 9 year old.

60 minutes to make a difference to the status quo. Period. The clock is ticking.

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It’s the little achievements that matter, say three Teach For India Fellows

It’s unusually quiet for a school, but then recess is still an hour away at Dadar’s Maharashtra High School 2, where Teach For India has a tie-up. The recruits or Fellows of this non-profit organisation teach at lower-economic schools for two years.
The students at Maharashtra High School are children of weavers, housekeepers, taxi drivers and milkmen and come from the single-room chawl system. In the last two classrooms, each with 30 students no more than three-feet high, everyone is talking at once. TFI Movement is supported by Amir Khan.

In one, Romana Shaikh, 21, patiently goes through subtraction sums. In the other, Ivan Dias, also in his 20s, is taking a class in punctuation. He addresses every child by name as he responds to queries in a heavy American accent. On spotting us, the students shriek in excitement. Dias starts a countdown from five to one and they settle somewhat. “Works every time,” he says with a smile.


Fellows with TFI
Sheikh and Dias have been Fellows with TFI since July. They’ve taken a month-long course and will be teachers here for two years. While Sheikh is a psychology graduate who dabbled in public relations, US-born Dias is living in India for the first time.

Both teach Class 2 students all subjects, except Hindi and Marathi. School is from 12.30 to 5.30 pm, but they spend the rest of their time with extra classes, planning lessons and community projects (TFI Fellows identify a problem in their community and figure out ways to solve it). And their faces break into sunny smiles as they talk of their students.

Ivan Dias and Romana Sheikh

Beyond duty

Kanika Saraf

For Kanika Saraf, another TFI Fellow at Jaafri’s School, Govandi, the day doesn’t end too. She’s on call for her students 24X7. “Once a child called me late at night to say she was being beaten up,” she says. The problem is that the parents don’t consider education to be of any value. “Parents believe that once they’ve sent kids to school, their responsibility ends,” says Saraf. But in the few months that she’s been there, the 21-year-old has managed to bring about a change in attitude among the staff and principal. “They’re more open to our methods of teaching which involve an incentive.” Saraf had promised that those who scored high marks in mathematics would be treated to pizzas at her home. “Ten students are coming over next week,” she says.

In the four months that Sheikh and Dias have been teaching, they’ve reduced the number of fights between students. In a bid to make ‘school’ a less daunting place, students are given more freedom. “We don’t carry threatening scales. We give them high-fives after school. Our students aren’t afraid of us,” explains Dias.

Life changing experience
Sheikh says that being a Fellow is a life-transforming experience: “Integrity matters a lot more. You can’t wake up one morning and say, I’m too lazy to go to work.” For Dias, it’s taxing, but very satisfying. Saraf says, “The way I live, think, the way I perceive life, even money, has changed. It felt like an Utopian concept initially, this whole education equity, but it’s possible. We are addressing a real issue here.”

Class 2 students from Maharashtra High School 2
pics/Nimesh Dave

Back in Maharashtra High School, it’s finally recess time and we’re in the corridor, the children going shutter-crazy with the photographer. One girl, spectacles sliding off her nose, skips up to Sheikh with a vague complaint: “Didi, he is beating him in the eye.” Sheikh turns to beam proudly at me: “That she can frame that sentence is a big deal, a really big deal.”

Romana Shaikh,  Ivan Dias, Kanika Saraf

All the three are Teach For India Fellows, placed in Mumbai.


By: Janaki Viswanathan Date: 2009-11-15 Place: Mumbai


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5332_109942603491_658898491_2295215_360136_nIf I think back on my decision to join Teach For India, I would say that it’s the wisest decision of my life. I think that I am at the right place at right time. I feel myself to be privileged to get an opportunity to feel such wonderful experience at a mere age of 24, working with such dedicated and highly professional group is a respect for me.

I feel a great change in my mindset, skills, personality etc. during past 5 months. Now I dare to think large and work on it to execute it. It  feels amazing when you can see measurable growth for what you have been working 24*7 i.e. the kids with whom you are working. Now my life revolves between the 50 kids of my class, my all lows & highs are part of my class. I would like to describe the two scenes of my class now and then:

15 June 2009 : My first day in Class

I entered the class, a bit tensed, a bit excited, it was my first day in class. As the strength was low so, I shared my class with my fellow teacher Aniket, both of us were excited. It gave us a clear picture of what we are into. The kids were violent, abusing, fighting, playing here and there and not at all listening to us. So, the challenge was clear. The first thing that came to my mind was how to make them a better human being and make my class a group of civilized students. Academically they were years back of their grade level. For the first few days I tried to figure out the different groups in my class, like the violent kids, academically sound kids etc. then decided to focus on them. I tried to make a bond with them loved them, played with them tried to know them better, consulted about their background from different teachers and it helped. After a struggle of few weeks things were changing in the class.

Now, 31 October 2009

Today my kids consider me as a guide, as a elder brother, as an friend, as role model, as a mentor and I try to appear in front of them in the way they want me to. I am happy to switch my roles if they are comfortable with me in any of the roles at different times. My class, which I consider to be a class of gentlemen, is a team of SUPERSTARS. They have changed drastically since June, now they remain quiet and do their work even if I am not in class.

Keertana who has never spelled a word for months now tries to speak in English, she talks to me like a friend. Sandesh’s mother complains me about the fact that he writes diary at home for hours and has filled two copies writing dairy. Now he has the confidence to speak in front of anyone without hesitation. Saniya wants to come to school even if she is sick. Shahid who was considered to be mentally retarded by the school administration spells the longest word of English language before anyone in the class. There are many more such incidences. But the challenges are not over, we have to travel a long way. Imtiyaaz is still violent, Hitesh never opens the book at home, Sonali keeps smiling but never studies. So, challenges are still there but we will overcome all as the time passes.

I consider these small happiness’s as a landmark and enjoy them all. At times I get very upset and it becomes very difficult to bear the pressure and I am thankful to everyone around me for supporting me during these lows. It was not possible to come so far without the support of my principal, teachers at school,  Aniket( other fellow from TFI in my school), Sapan (my Program Manager) & staff from TFI, other fellows at TFI, my friend who always support me from outside, my family and always being with me my 50 kids.

I have to go a long way with my kids and want to see each of my kid at the top. Sometimes I feel that I am not teaching them but they are teaching me different ways of life and I feel that it’s true in a sense because they have seen a lot more than me, the struggle that they face in their daily life has made them stronger than me. The way I used to think about different issues has changed a lot. When I go to a kids house and see the conditions in which he is living, I feel as if its not his fault if he is scoring less or is abusing or is violent and its true. After seeing all this I have to change my way of talking to kids, now I treat them differently, I apply differentiation even in the way I talk to my kids during 1 -1 conversation and it is helpful.

It’s an incredible journey.

“Service before Self”

– Love Prakhar Bhartiya

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Individual and group attention- catering to different learning styles

“What can we take on trust in this uncertain life? Happiness, greatness, pride – nothing is secure, nothing keeps. “ Since Euripides said that some two and a half millennia ago, much water has run under the bridge! I wonder which way would Euripides tweak it had he lived long enough to witness the Dark Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution , the age of Colonialism and nuclear bombs, the www boom and the current Recession !Poor guy would be left with such a sense of exaggeration. Really, too much change has happened to this world in too less time. But the question that looms large is, Is this change for free? Or does it come with its own price? If it does, who is paying for it?

I personally hate using numbers but when they tell you a story, I prefer putting my ears onto the ground for a moment. I came across this beautiful video some time back called The Miniature Earth. It has a unique point to make. It says, if we could turn the population of the earth into a small village of 100 people, keeping the same proportions we have today, it would look something like this…there are 50 men, 50 women,.. 9 are disabled,…43 live without basic sanitation,18 live without an improved water source,6 people own 59% of the entire wealth of the community,13 are hungry or malnourished,14 cant read, only 7 are educated in the secondary level, only 12 have a computer, only 3 have an internet connection, If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in your closet, if you have a bed to sleep in, and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the entire population,…If you have a bank account, you are one of the 30 wealthiest people in the world,..and so on. And the thought that they leave you with is, Appreciate what you have and do your best for a better world.


Some days just go into your personal history. That same day, I had watched the movie” The Motorcycle Diaries” and was seething with an urge to make my own world with my own rules. And this video happened. It served me as something more than just an amusing data interpretation exercise. On reflection , I found a great connection between the Great Wall of China and poverty, between the Pyramids and educational inequity, and it is that, all of them are man made. And yes, to make it sound a little truer, this “man” is made of you and I !And we made it.Period. But if theres something to look up to, its this.. if all these injustices, inequities are made made, wouldn’t its mitigation just be a case of another concerted human effort? It looked like a quasi inspirational moment . So if I am the reason why 1 in 3 children who begin primary school will drop out before reaching 5th grade, if more than half of us would lull our kids to sleep with just hungry stomachs , I are sure kidding myself with all the advertisement of an Incredible India or that the world is flat. I realised something needs to be done.

But What?


And then one day, good luck struck noble intentions.I came across this advertisement in the Times of India about a certain movement which is to start in India by the name , Teach for India. Drawing its inspiration from the hugely successful program Teach for America in the US, which was started by a 21 year old Princeton graduate called Wendy Kopp some 20 years back, Teach for India promised to put India’s most outstanding college grads and young professionals as leaders and change makers in the low income and governmental schools and in the communites there in with the vision that, one day every child will have an excellent education. That one square foot of advertisement looked like a lot of what I was always wanting , a space for idealism fuelled by a paradigm of service and that one magic chance to change the world. It doesn’t need any explaining that the little extra between the ordinary and the extra ordinary is one’s education. I cant imagine my childhood without books, fairies, summer vacations, my loving teachers, and those letters from hostel to Ma. And I cant imagine that for any child. With the fond view of a world where every child could get back his childhood, where every child is an owner of his dreams, where every child has a sentimental convocation photo on his dashboard, where every child feels that he/she is born to make manifest the glory of God in each one of them, I joined Teach for India. One step closer towards a really flattened world.

You be an engineer or a doctor, a travel guide or a businessman, a mathematician or a musician , if you think of each and every profession in the paradigm of service, as a thankful way of giving back to the part we owe to our existence in this world, we would be a better place. With around 600 million young people waiting for change to happen in India today, what more beautiful a concept can there be, than to fillip this completely renewable and assumingly inexhaustible source of youthful energy to create millions of nodes of changes in every
gully, nukkad and crossroad of India.Just imagine. One Gandhi, multiplied six hundred million times. Crazy mathematics. That, is the power of “Be”ing the change. And that is the space where wonderful organisations like Teach for India aspire to work.

And lastly, I would leave you with a thought to reflect on. Someone once said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves – who am I to be brilliant, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world…”

For change to happen, you either wait to see, or you choose to Be! Take your pick.



(It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. Join the movement. Be the voice.For applying for the two year, full-time paid fellowship program with Teach For India log on tohttp://www.teachforindia.org/applynow.php )

Surya Pratap Deka,

Teach for India Fellow 2009.–
People make fortunes. I make a difference.


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They trained me on how to teach, while I thought I was teaching them!profile

I graduated from an elite engineering college around 15 months ago, oozing with confidence. Having been the President of the Students’ Council, having conceived and organized a massive National Technical and Cultural Fest, having sound academic grades and a hefty paying job in a reputed Fortune-500 company, I had lived up to all the expectations I had from myself over the 4 years of life at NIT, Bhopal. I joined Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. immediately and right after 2 months of induction, I was posted in my hometown. I was flourishing at BPCL in every sense – within 3 months I was selected as member of a CORE group on Mentoring of fresh recruits, within 5 months I entered the organization’s Tennis team and represented BPCL at an inter-PSU event, in addition to routine job proficiency. At 22 years of age, I believed my life to be anybody’s envy – living comfortably with my family, with a thick paycheck, closest friends around and a bright career in a prestigious organization.
That is when I came across this advertisement in the Times of India, which sought the best and brightest minds in the country to solve the problem of Educational Inequity in India. ‘Teach. Lead. Transform’ it said. It was really intriguing but on reading further I realized they were asking for a bit too much. I decided not to sacrifice my comfortable life for a noble but apparently psychic commitment like Teach for India. In the days that followed I could not erase the thought of TFI from my mind. The whole taking up a challenge concept was really provoking, more so because, I didn’t quite understand what could be so tough about teaching a bunch of 6-7 year olds. The only challenge I saw was giving up a blooming career for an extremely satisfying “non-profit” social issue.

I couldn’t resist applying though and finally joined Teach for India. I was finally doing “the satisfying job” and was even granted a furlough by Bharat Petroleum, for the same. I wondered, however, what would require me to Lead and Transform. What is so challenging about it now? And surprisingly, only three months down the line, I have no doubts about it, just like 87 other Teach for India Fellows, who are teaching full-time in low-income schools in Mumbai and Pune.

It is not just about teaching 45 kids their curriculum in a classroom for 3-4 hours. It is about teaching them how to dream, to want to achieve that dream, to believe in their capability to achieve, to love and not fear education, to work hard for it despite all odds, to question, to understand what they are learning, to use their knowledge for their lifetime, to think, to have opinions and to become better individuals. It requires handling situations that many of us have seldom imagined, let alone witness. It requires you to lead by example, to be a role model for kids who have never had role models, so they can believe that dreams are not impossible. It requires you to transform, in big ways that – to change innate habits, to get out of your comfort zones, wake up early, sleep late, sleep with thoughts of your students, wake up with ideas, talk politely to a drunk parent who does not see any sense in what you are doing with his child, to talk even more politely to the misbehaving child you feel like whacking for disturbing the other 44 during class, to respect him and trust that he is doing so for a reason, to persist despite repeated such behaviors, to show him that you love him and believe in him and to finally transform his behavior. It requires you to transform mindsets of parents, of schoolteachers, of siblings, of neighbors and of the students themselves. It demands selling yourself brilliantly to them and their families, gaining their trust, becoming a part of their lives and then pushing yourself to live up to this trust and belief that you have sparked in them.

By night you’ll be exhausted, but deeply satisfied and overjoyed about the little victories you have won today – the child who stuttered her first English sentence, the victorious look on the face of the boy who just figured his first addition problem, the parent who cried before you on being told about his daughter topping the weekly test – the same daughter who had failed the last two years and was a good-for-nothing until then, the girl who has witnessed her elder brother commit suicide and wants to study and do her mother proud, the little one who beamed proudly for doing her homework despite the fact that her house – a shanty as big as your washroom, was washed away by rains or yet another child, whose father has quit on him and his mother, but dreams of becoming a scientist and taking care for his mother? These are snippets of my students’ lives…students who are brilliant like I’ve never seen a 7 year old before, students who clearly have the potential, but will end up nowhere for want of opportunity and guidance. You too could touch a few such lives.

But what is in it for you?

Every aspect of your personality and professional life is under the scanner by 7-8 year olds. They are ruthless with their feedback, they tear you apart for not being planned, they simply wont buy whatever you speak unless you can sell it innovatively, they push you to stretch yourself to limits you never thought you could reach, and what’s more is that, unless you improve yourself, these two scores of kids are headed into an eternal abyss of darkness. If you are a working professional, there is a lot of your Corporate skill-set, that this impending problem of Educational Inequity could use and sharpen. If you are planning to enter the corporate world, then I doubt there is a better way to hone your skills. This work literally requires you to throw in the kitchen sink but it teaches you a whole lot more.

Everyone curses the state of affairs, many yearn to change them, some contribute occasionally and very few are lucky to have such an opportunity to BE THE CHANGE. You think you are good, you doubt there exists a better? This seemingly impossible challenge of educational inequity needs the best to solve it. The question remains “Do you have it in you?”

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