Archive for December, 2009

Shaheen Mistry is the CEO of Teach for India and the Founder of Akanksha Foundation. Shaheen founded Akanksha Foundation in 1989 with the vision to provide children from all strata of society with the education, the skills, and most importantly, the character that they would need to lead empowered lives.

About TEDx, x=independently organize event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event.

The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.*

(*Subject to certain rules and regulations)


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Talking to kids can unravel some of the best kept mysteries of human existence and also lead to peace in the world.  It being a Saturday, I was talking to my IInd graders about the imminent Christmas holidays and about Jesus Christ and Santa Claus and gifts and reindeers and sleigh (reinforcing phonics at the same time), and about the fun time that we can have on 24th of December if they are at their best of behaviour and are not late to school and what not !!!

Suddenly the topic took a turn to whether their is God or not and whether he is in temples or churches.  I had this enlightenment somehow and I asked them a question: why we close our eyes when we pray..instantly a hand pops up and replies in broken English..that God lives in our heart and so we close our eyes to see Him inside.

End of session and beginning of my englitenment and reinforcement of my belief that we need to build up on kids pure minds and not let them be adulterated by someone telling them to hate their fellow being for him following some other religion.


-Amit Arora

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Around a time like this, some months back, it was foggy. Both within, and without. Nine pm, atop a mountain which overlooks the city, with two friends, all tenacious in their lack of directions, but raring to change the world, is the kind of stuff postcard moments are made of. All three of us, on the way to an Ivy League MBA degree, were intoxicated by the soon to catch escape velocity of our lives. Until, one point in the evening when I stood up and told them my plans to become a teacher in a low income municipal school in Pune. Thud! And in just one moment, I realized bad brakes in high speed.

Things got lonelier. Friends became few. But within, it still felt nice. I was sure I would miss 100 % of the shots I would not take. So, I went ahead to my new world of three feet tall friends.

It is said that when you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood, like a house in a whirlwind, crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you are telling it to yourself, or to somebody else.

Yet in this midlength of my experience, there are some realizations, a few light bulb moments and many confessions that are worth the dashboard space. Here they are:

On relationships and emotions:

Strangers are friends that you have yet to meet. So now I reach out every time I can. Earlier my experiences with people were mostly transactional and some lone Saturday night, it all felt like a mass of dots. But more and more these days, I feel like we’re all connected. Earlier, I was like an idiot searching for the perfect hand when each genuine grasp was worth the time. Life’s too short and I want to add beautiful people in my life each day.

Second, on a seeming surface level contradiction to my first point, I have realized some of the essence of non attachment. Looking life from a distance is my personal distillation of the tenet. Its only when we distance ourselves from some things, do they actually whisper a meaning to us. When someone once asked Sunita Williams, the NASA astronaut of Indian origins as to how does the world look like from 100 miles above when you can see the curvature of our planet? She said, “You feel so far but so close, like you can’t come home, disconnected from the hustle and bustle of Earth. There is a spiritual feeling: You’re privileged just to have this view. You see the planet differently, as a whole, the amazing colors, the animals and plants and people not separated by anything.” It’s only in this ideological wilderness that I am in these days, away from my friends, away from those mindless trips to the mall, that unnecessary phone call, and that thoughtless rush of a diehard capitalist, that I feel that 100 mile indescribable feeling for life.

On change:

The size of the endeavor doesn’t matter as much as how meaningful it means to you. You just can’t compare providing excellent education to 400 million children in your country to putting up a man in the moon or absorbing the colors of the sunset through the hills. And that’s the beauty of the theory of change. Everything counts. Nothing is irrelevant, nothing small. Everything connects back to something bigger. A huge portion of my life was spent thinking I wasn’t capable of being the change. And the later part was wasted in thinking whether the change I was trying to make was Big enough. So after more than a quarter of my life wasted on that experiment, I now believe that you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. And like Steve Jobs says, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

Imagine the 600 million young Indians thinking that way.Thats one Gandhi, multiplied six hundred million times. Crazy mathematics. That’s the power of being the change.

On leadership and personal transformation:

After reading a lot of leadership literature in my life, I often wondered, whats the best definition I wanted to pin down on leadership? I journeyed a lot. But each time, I returned with that unreachable feeling of a giant trophy up on a mountain. Its then that in Teach for India, I met Shaheen and serendipity together by virtue of this poem by Lao Tsu,a Chinese philosopher and Bang! I got my definition of leadership.

“Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them,
Love them.
Serve them.
Start with what they know,
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
the task is accomplished
The people will say,
‘We have done this ourselves.’

Doesn’t it sound like leadership door delivered? In fact it’s the easiest or the only way to the “trophy”. Leadership through service. 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 and Leadership will be unto you.

Coming back to where I started, when you are in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all. Its only later that it becomes anything like a story. With disconnected jigsaw pieces in my hand, I am walking around looking for the right metaphor piece to complete the perception of this experience.

The roller coaster is just about to free fall. And I am hung at the topmost point. That precise moment is now.

Surya Pratap Deka

Fellow, Teach for India.

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Below is a typical day of one of Teach For India’s phenomenal Fellows. We hope it gives you a preview of the successes and challenges our current fellows face and helps you envision yourself in their shoes even a few months from now!

Name Saahil Sood
Age 27
College Engineering at Thapur University, Delhi
Previous Career Area Manager, India Bulls Housing Finance, LTD
School Babu Jag Jivanram English Medim School, 3rd Grade, Pune


Teach For India

“Saahil wake up!” This urgent directive from my flat-mate and Teach For India Fellow, Gaurav, is usually my second alarm clock each morning. The day starts in a whirlwind of breakfast and last minute lesson plan editions. I head out on my bike at about 6:30 am to pick up Sanjay, another Fellow who teaches second grade in the classroom next to mine.   We arrive at Gandhi Nagar, school keys in hand, because as usual Sanjay and I are the first ones to arrive!

It is 7 am, and school starts in 20 minutes; my thoughts hop between all of the things to remember and prepare before my students arrive. However, I take a moment to just to soak in my classroom and am amazed to see how far we’ve come. I remember the first glimpse of my classroom–students running amuck, walls bare and floors gritty. Today, each wall of my classroom reflects the achievements and aspirations of my kids. On the right hand side is our classroom pledge  “I promise that I will do my best at all times. I am here to learn, work hard, and get smart. I will always be respectful, responsible and ready to learn”. A poster in the back proclaims each student’s dream career, and on the left is a huge chart showing how many words per minute each student can read. As soon as my first student starts to walk in, I greet him and get caught up in the day—dramatizing a story with my students, assessing how well they understood addition, a lesson on grammar and bathroom breaks.

At the end of the day, I teach seasons using props such as umbrellas and sweaters (because my students are still learning English, and it helps to have as many actions and examples as possible!). During the lesson, one of my students, Omkar, raises his hand and when I walk over to answer his question, he says with a half smile on his face, “Bhaiyya, I will do the actions.” Confused at first, I didn’t understand, and then it hit me – he wanted to take over and teach the class! As I watched Omkar confidently running around the class with an umbrella twice his height teaching his fellow students, all these months of planning, stressing and hard work seemed more than worthwhile.

My school day ends with the extra class from 12 to 2 and a smile lights up my face as one student, Sapna exclaims “Bhaiyya, extra class today? YAY!” Two hours whiz by, and afterwards I walk Dinesh back to his home, which is in a gulley across the school.

Dinesh used to be one of the most attentive students in class and recently he’s been  disruptive, and there’s been a dip in his performance. I know that I need to learn about his situation from his family. His two cousin sisters, little sister, Dinesh and I crowd inside their one-room home. They tell me that Dinesh’s parents have temporarily split, and that his behavior at home is worse than in school. From my seat on the floor, I look at Dinesh, who is curled up on a corner of the bed, straight in the eye. Slowly but sternly I lay out a time table for him, which includes play, study, and sleep times and ask his cousin sisters to call me if he does not follow these. As I walk away from their home, I think to myself “One child at a time, and I know changes can be made”.

I grab a quick lunch and head to Teach For India’s office to attend a training session on math techniques led by a Kevin, a Teach For America alumnus. He gives us simple and proven strategies to improve student achievement in math. My last stop of the day is Café Coffee Day- I lay down my backpack and take a few minutes to myself to enjoy my cappuccino before pulling out my school’s curriculum and Teach For India guides to plan for the next week. I anticipated going home at 8, but a quick look at my phone and I realize I’ve just been invited to a dinner out with a few of the Fellows. I head out, looking forward to getting advice on how to better support Dinesh, and of course to hear about the miracles they worked in their own classrooms that day!

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Admissions process

We will choose Fellows based on a multi-phase admissions process, including an online application, a phone interview, and a full-day, in-person Assessment Centre. Additionally, we will ask references to send us recommendation forms by e-mail. The online application has opened

in August 2009, and applicants can continue to apply to the program until 17 January, 2010. We will conduct phone interviews and Assessment Centres for applicants who pass the application stage on a rolling basis until late-January, 2010.

Please feel free to contact admissions@teachforindia.org with any questions about the admission process.
In case of any technical problem while filling up the Application Form please contactsupport@teachforindia.org.

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Teach For India Fellows are set to meet Gurchuran Das on Saturday, Dec 12th in Pune . Mr. Das will interact with  Fellows  for an hour, and then has invited them  for the launch of his new book  “The Difficulty of Being Good” .

Gurcharan Das is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of dharma which interrogates the epic, Mahabharata, in order to answer the question, ‘why be good?’ His international bestseller, India Unbound, is a narrative account of India from Independence to the global information age, and has been published in 17 languages and filmed by BBC. He writes a regular column on Sundays for the Times of India, Dainik Bhaskar, Eenadu, Sakal and other papers and periodic guest columns for the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and Newsweek. Gurcharan Das graduated with honors from Harvard University in Philosophy and Sanskrit. He later attended Harvard Business School (AMP)He was CEO of Procter & Gamble India and later Managing Director, Procter & Gamble Worldwide (Strategic Planning). In 1995, he took early retirement to become a full time writer. He is currently on the boards of a number of companies and is a regular speaker to the top managements of the world’s largest corporations. His other literary works include a novel, India Unbound, A Fine Family, a book of essays, The Elephant Paradigm, and an anthology, Three English Plays.

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