“Bhaiyya I want to become a pilot!” shouted Ameya—an 8 year old boy, bubbling with energy and confidence in my Superstars class. “But Bhaiyya, how do I write Pilot? See na Bhaiyya—P—I—L—E—T? Correct?” followed his impatient question. As I turned to Ameya to help him with his spelling, 33 other equally enthusiastic young minds were scrambling for my attention—“Bhaiyya, I want to be a dancer…teacher…doctor…cricketer…I want to help people…”
I had asked them to write about their ‘Dream Job’—even as I had found mine in teaching a class of Grade 3 children at Epiphany High School—a low income private school in Pune. Everyday, as I step in my classroom, I can see the dreams in my kids’ eyes and feel the eagerness in their hearts to learn new things. Ameya came in as a so called ‘failed’ student in my class. When the school started, his parents came to me, visibly very worried about their child’s future. They even had to carry out a psychometric analysis test—the results of which suggested a low level of IQ and the suggestion that the kid should be moved to a Marathi school.
I pleaded for time. Seven months have passed and Ameya, today, is one of the finest students in my class. He does his homework regularly, he wrote one of the most beautiful letters to his pen-pal in a school in England (through an international link-up). His parents don’t beat him as often as they used to and are happy with his progress.
The journey for Ameya and his classmates is nowhere as smooth and promising as their counterparts in well-off schools. As statistics reveal, as many as 50% of India’s kids drop-out of school by the time they reach Grade 5. Not because their parents don’t want to send their kids to school, but simply because kids are not keeping up with the system of rote learning and poor quality of our education. With no support system and exposure at home for learning, the potential in these kids remains unexplored and even suppressed. Their dreams and ambitions in life fall victim to their circumstances –never to be remembered by anyone.
This reality keeps me driving everyday to work even harder for my class, so that the Ameyas in my class can go on to give wings to their dreams. When I first accepted my two year teaching assignment with Teach for India in April 2009, little did I know that I am about to set off on a most challenging journey in life. The job demanded from me not merely an effective teacher in the classroom but an effective human being at every moment of my existence. Soon it was clear to me that unless I transform myself, I cannot hope to transform the lives of these beautiful young minds in my class.
‘Teaching As Leadership’ as defined by Teach for India, began to assume meaning even as I struggled to keep up with the challenge in its initial phase. I realize that over the months kids have taught me how to be more patient, more forgiving and more cheerful. Eight months into teaching and I truly feel that I have come a long way from the first day when my world was oceans apart from the mysterious little world of children. I can relate with them better now. So much so that, they have become an inseparable part of my life—even in my dreams at night my students do not seem to leave me! I find myself more and more engaged with the mission that ‘One Day All Children Will Attain an Excellent Ed ucation’.
The truth, however, is that I find myself greatly limited in my capacity to bring about a drastic change. Often I wonder to myself after school, whether the kids learnt anything today? Am I making any difference to their lives? How do I reach out to their parents and communities who have a larger influence on them? How do we tackle issues like mal-nourishment, domestic violence, alcoholism, corporal punishment and child abuse which threaten a child’s healthy growth? I do not have clear answers. My belief comes from an inner hope that I am shaping creative thinking minds as they gear up to face their own challenges in life. It is secondary to me whether or not they will remember what an Adjective or a Noun is. As of now, the only real thing that keeps me going is the unconditional love I receive from my kids. The purity of smile on their faces and their anticipating sunshine eyes shall keep me going. The journey has just really begun…
By Vipul Shaha,
Fellow, Teach for India