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