Every time I have been asked to explain TFI and what I think about it my views have been slightly different. I would like to believe they are evolving. From raw idealism to passionate focus to aware beliefs my views have been going a metamorphosis. But now having completed one term in class if someone would ask me to explain my experience at TFI in one line I would say:
“The most exquisite symphony of failures that I have ever created”
Yes, I do mean failures. For never have I failed as much in my life as I have at TFI.
My class is a testament to this.
My kids are a testament to this.
Ashish, a kid in my class, more so than most.
My under-resourced and over-crowded class of 50 students had kids with many challenges. Learning, behavior, parent, home, finance and even belief challenges. Almost all of them were rowdy, violent, abusive and had absolutely no interest in studies.
But, Ashish had his own story.
In a second standard class with ages from 7 to 12 and a half he was barely 6. Like most of them the English medium school he was in, in 3 years of schooling had taught him a little more than half of the alphabets and nos. which barely got him a 6% on the math diagnostic.
But the thing that worried me the most was a scene in my first week at school. When I came to the class in the morning I saw six kids trying to pin him down and Ashish kicking, punching and biting all of them. I somehow dragged him out of the class and for the next 15 minutes all he did was shout in an insane voice “main sabko mar dalunga, choo mat mujhe koi”(I will kill everyone, don’t touch me). This was violence that does not come naturally to kids. You have to see it somewhere to learn it.
The days went on, I tried to teach with everything from passion to exasperation but I kept failing. But very slowly and very painfully I started to get a grip on the class. They started to listen, fights started to reduce, studies started to pick up.
But, Ashish didn’t budge.
For every step I took with the class I failed even more with him. For every time they listened, he blanked out even more. For every time they didn’t fight he gave me another reason to use the Dettol bottle I had in class. For every time they studied he tore up the books.
I set big goals, they failed.
I tried to invest him and his parents, that failed.
I planned and planned and I failed and I failed.
I tried every execution technique I could and I failed with each one of them.
I tried to increase my effectiveness in every way and I failed in every way.
After three months, the hardest three months of my life, one day, for the first time he completed his homework. I gave him a celebration that even a Miss Universe does not get.
I showered praise, I made him an example, I had every kid congratulate him and somehow something changed.
The kid started to discover his belief and I started to re discover mine.
He has been a different child since then. Academically, he is still among the weakest kids in my class. But he tries hard, as hard as any of them. He struggles with problems that his peers finish in a jiffy but he rarely gives up these days. He has stopped fighting, stopped abusing, does shout but occasionally. And that day when I was using Dettol on one of the kids who fell while playing, he came in saw the familiar bottle and said D,E,T,T,O,L Dettol. I don’t think hearing any antiseptic’s name has given me that much joy as Dettol did that day.
This kid and his friends who a few months among couldn’t read the word ‘cat’ have taught me more about leadership than anyone in my life.
At Teach for India we believe teaching and leadership require the same skills and qualities and that is why our frame of reference is a document called Teaching as Leadership which outlines 6 principles which are needed by both teachers and leaders.
1. Set big goals
2. Invest stake holders
3. Plan purposefully
4. Execute effectively
5. Continuously increase effectiveness.
But the 6 year old taught me that it is perhaps the 6th principle which holds the key.
6. Work Relentlessly.
For, it is only when you create that exquisite symphony of failures will you discover that small note of success at its end. Small, but satiatingly sweet.
More than I have taught these kids they have taught me.
More than I have changed these kids they have changed me.
They have given me the belief if I can do it with 1 Ashish I can probably do it with 2.
If we can do it in a class of 50 then we can probably do it in a nation of a billion.