Archive for December, 2010

Like it is for most fellows, the roads leading to my School are very crowded, chaotic and noisy (Let’s call this the CCN Road instead of the usual, Mahatma Gandhi road) Oh, and they make me sneeze all the time. There is an alternative road through Sion but I don’t prefer that because of one reason – on the CCN road, I see kids coming back from School or on the way to School. On weekdays, there are plenty of school kids and on Saturdays or ‘lafda’ holidays (!) there aren’t many. Often, I bump into my class kids. The glee and joy on their face when they see me at a distance is worth a million. Add to that, a screaming “BHAIYA !” that makes many heads turn. And before I know, there are 5 or 6 tiny hands holding me and animatedly talking while walking to School. On some rare days, I see only one kid, walking slowly, eyes meandering over the colourful trinkets and candies on display in the shops, or stopping by to take a peek into a game of marbles. Holding the hand of a child and walking slowly to School, while talking to him/her is sheer happiness. It is different than the classroom because, here there are no rules, no sense of urgency or panic. Just the Bhaiya and the Child. Such walks give me a good insight into what he thinks about School and also how he feels in general. Most importantly. it is such a great bonding exercise and bestows immediate peace.

The other day, I got late. I slept late, as usual and woke up late. I was sitting in front of the computer, working on something and realised it’s going to be a mad rush to School. Tension X 10. By the time the auto reached Dharavi, I was just irritated at the noise, crowds and sneezing. And, when I was about to pay, the auto driver didn’t have change. Damn. So, here I was sitting in the auto in a not so calm situation. Suddenly, I heard a “Bhaiyaaa” and little Sajid peeped into the auto with a cute smile. He is usually very quiet and introvert. But today, he just showed so much expression that I immediately calmed down, somehow paid and got down. He immediately grasped my hand and started walking towards School. Tiny, sweaty fingers. He talked about the breakfast, his wounds, the school and how he liked our ‘colourful and beautiful” class. On the way, we stopped by the Sugarcane juice stall to drink some juice. In a few minutes, I experienced so much peace.

When was the last time you took a walk with a child ?



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“The stages new teachers move through during their first year  –Anticipation, the short period that usually begins during training, comes first. The beginning teacher looks forward to the new career with a mix of excitement and anxiety. Survival follows close on its heals, soon after school starts. The overwhelmed teacher struggles to stay afloat. This period normally lasts six to eight weeks but can go on indefinitely. Then there is Disillusionment, a phase of profound disenchantment when new teachers question both their commitment and their competence.Rejuvenation, eventually follows. For the lucky ones, it begins after winter break and continues well into spring. For the not-so-lucky, it can take weeks, if not months to kick in. Finally, as the school year winds down, there is Reflection, the final phase of the cycle, in which the teacher begins to envision what the second year in the classroom will look like.”

– From Relentless Pursuit, Donna Foote

I have always wondered why people take on impossible tasks and keep at them, even when things look hopeless. What motivates them? Especially when tangibles like money, ambition, fame, recognition etc. are not involved?

Perhaps this was one of the reasons for signing up for the TFI fellowship. To figure things out.  But I am far from it. In fact, things are more baffling now, than before. After a 5 week boot camp training and 8 weeks into the classroom, I am confronted by questions every second of the day and I have no answers. Is this a mere masochistic experiment? Why do I do what I do? And more importantly,why should I keep at it?

Two weeks back, during a group debrief, my Program Manager* talked of the 2-month low. Having been a Teach First Fellow herself a few years back, she knew what she was talking about. Two months into the classroom is usually the time around which the fellow hits the lowest point. (This is not to mean that the lowest low cannot hit one at other times.) She recalled her own experience saying that during her stint, schools in UK started in September and the 2-month low hit around November, coinciding with bitter dreary dark winters, which certainly did not help her cause.

I can understand this two month thing. The novelty (beginner’s enthusiasm) of teaching in a low income school slowly wears off only leave one with a certain hopelessness. One balks at the enormity of the task ahead. Move the class ahead by 1.5 years? A 7th grader that cannot write his name in English? Oh my God, but he does not know his alphabets!  Add to the mix – violence, arrogance, rebellion, malnutrition, dire poverty, dysfunctional families and self destructive attitude, adolescent confusions (if teaching a higher grade). You have one depressive cocktail. Gulp. And it is bound to hit one hard.

At the two month point, one begins to take stock differently. These things existed before, but earlier there were excuses.  One could always tell oneself, ‘But I am new, I don’t know my class, I haven’t established rapport with the parents etc.’ But what if, after two months, things are still quite bad? There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, nothing to do except to confront one’s demons.

There are some hard questions to face. Let me keep aside the Whys for just an instant. Things are tough, as they are. Am I doing everything (and I mean, absolutely everything) I can, to push my class ahead? Can I keep doing this in the face of absolutely no progress? Then of course, the most baffling (to me) of them all – Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just quit and leave?

The truth is I sit in my classroom today confronting a low point. I sit where Priyanka usually sits –  near the  window and I can feel the drizzle on my back.

I am not ready to talk about specifics. Yet. What happened? What triggered it?Details don’t matter. While not a great proponent (personally) of sharing feelings, somehow I am more comfortable sharing it here, on the blog. It is like a message in a bottle thrown into the sea, hoping someone would read it.

I sobbed like one of the children in my class, felt instantly better and looked around my classroom. Enclosed by plastered walls, and a barely-there roof and window shutters that don’t close, this classroom is where I do my daily Dandi March, 5 hours a day – round and round. Without the children, it is quiet and non nondescript. Benches strewn around, light streaming in through crevices. A sea change from the air conditioned conference rooms and cubicles. Sometimes I feel a strange ownership towards it – something that I haven’t felt towards any of the houses I have lived in.

Down and out. On a day like today.

And then, there is always a to-do list. It seems to miraculously grow longer, even after a 12 hour work day. I flip through it and my first thought is – Wait, I cannot sit here and ruminate. I have to visit two families of my class today! So, here I am, a limited being, trying to work my way down a never ending to-do list. Perhaps I should add to the list – “Take time to think why you are doing this.” Is this how life is?

It is not time management that bothers me. Its the lack of progress. Not the progress of the students – but the progress of me, as their teacher. I am beginning to think that the achievement of my class is limited most of all by my inadequacies. Sometimes, just barely, I notice that the more structured my life is (which it seldom is), the more structured my class is. But it is hard to achieve a structured life when most questions are unanswered.

The only thing I am aware of is a strange instinct to keep at this even though its difficult, and put my students ahead of everything else. It is not because of some weird brainwashing or auto suggestion. It is not conscious at all but I realise its presence on hindsight.  Especially in situations where choices have to be made. I don’t understand the cause or the nature of this instinct. Perhaps that is all that is required.

But the truth is, I need a sign. From the heavens. Like now.

(Great! All I can hear is the rain on the leaking roof.)

Ah well, this post is all over the place, just like me. One thing is for sure – I’ll be back tomorrow even though I don’t know why. Praise the lord and pass the ammunition. That sort of thing.

* for the uninitiated, Program Manager aka PM manages a group of Fellows, mentoring them during the fellowship.

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