Archive for the ‘Challenges in the Classroom’ Category

Milind, a 2009 TFI Fellow writes about Teach For India’s efforts to transform education in MCGM schools.

Today the dialog in India’s focus on primary education has moved from enrollment to quality. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai schools have close to 98% primary enrollment with an average student to teacher ratio of ~35. 85% of the classrooms are in “good condition” and the basic infrastructure is in place. There have been several initiatives including the Maharashtra Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Mid-day meal program to improve the quality of school education and student experience.

Yet, there are severe need to manage the several challenges — at the core of all the challenges, there exists tremendous scope to improve student learning outcomes. The quality of education remains poor, substantiated by the fact that any family who can afford to pay for the child’s education prefers to move the child out of the public schooling system. The foundational language and maths skills are found to be poor, which lead to high drop-out rates especially in higher classes. In-service training for teachers is limited and field coaching is non-existent.

1400 schools. 14000 teachers. 450000 children. 8 mediums of education. The system is yearning for change! MCGM and Teach For India has launched an initiative to transform the student learning outcomes of our schools with a vision “One day all MCGM teachers will want to send their own kids to the schools they teach in”.

Teach For India will start by placing approximately 50 Fellows to teach in 15 Municipal Schools. These Fellows will work indefatigably to make their classes a “model” class in these schools. We hope to cause ripples of “change ” by bringing their knowledge, skills and mindsets into the school staff rooms.

You can stand on the side and watch us. Or you would much rather support us. Let the transformation begin. Now!

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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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Daily Drama- Srini

I quit watching soaps and megaserials yugas ago. Not even micro or mini serials for me. I love my ‘The Office’ and ‘CSI’s though. All online. I quit TV long ago. Where is the patience? And, yeah, where is the TV ? :) I have lived without a TV for many many years now. Good ? Bad ? Not sure but I know I am not missing much as my laptop + internet seem to deliver it all to me. On demand.

Did I already digress ? I am getting there. Today, while almost hanging out of the train compartment (Sion to Kurla, Central Line, Mumbai for those attention to detail seekers) I was recollecting the day at School (as usual). ‘Are there any patterns to my class hours ? Who is doing what in class ? Who are the kids coming to School early ? Who loves to take initiatives ? Who is always the first to listen to me? Who is eager? Who is lazy ? Who complains ? Who forgives? Who helps ? Who beats up? Who seeks revenge?Who doesn’t ?’

So many questions. I know. Thing is, it is not easy to know in the first few months. Kids are wonderfully honest. Kids are also fantastic actors. Kids are transparent. Kids also hide. But, the beauty is, for every kid who is an actor, there are many others who’d want to impress the Teacher by telling the truth ! Every day, there is so much drama at School. Drama = Happiness + Anger + Revenge + Despair + Frustration + Ecstasy + Tears + Pain + Disappointment + Turn arounds + Miracles

For someone who has never raised kids (or had. I am single !), handling 40+ kids and the accompanying drama is a tough task. But, it is very interesting. Over these months, I have learned quite a bit about handling the emotions of kids (Someone remarked that I’ll be a fantastic father. God bless you !). The one thing that is not easy is when to take them seriously and when not to. How much of what they say is truth and how much is exaggeration ? You never know initially. But, over a period of time, you begin to see patterns. You know who and what to take seriously. You begin to understand the kids and their personality. Yet, being fair and democratic in the classroom is a big challenge that has defeated me at times. However fair I have been, I am sure some kids think of me as Severus Snape and some as Dumbledore ! Though I don’t have Malfoys in the class, I am beginning to see Malfoyian characteristics slowly emerge in some kids and that’s ringing the alarm bells. More on this in another post (Is someone keeping track of my ‘another post’ promises?)

So, speaking of drama. As the day progresses, so much happens in the classroom. Enemies become friends. Friends become enemies. In micro seconds. Even while you are reaching out to the marble jar. Or the Star sticker chart. Kids cry like there is no tomorrow and the smiles return as soon as I offer a fragrant wet tissue. They fall with a loud thud, get up and run around as if nothing happened but cry non stop when a friend hits them or breaks their pencil. As a teacher, it is important to resolve these and move on because they eat into precious learning time. How a teacher handles such classroom dramas can determine how the kids will behave when such things happen again. “I know Bhaiya will take this seriously. But, not that. So, don’t complain.” To change this, there needs to be a strong “Find the positive” culture in the classroom. We are trying to build that by having ‘Shout-out’ time outs, ‘Shout-out’ charts where kids write good things about their buddies, ‘Champion Helper of the day’ and so on. Abundant use of ‘Please’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank you’ in and out of the classroom. But, most important of them all – how does a Teacher behave ? Does he/she say these often? How does the Teacher treat the Mousi, the cleaners, the sweepers, the tea boy, the peon, the painters and other casual labourers in School ? Kids observe. Kids pick up a lot by seeing what elders do. (Some of my kids already say ‘Shut up’. I never use that. Wonder where they got it from !)

Often, I go through all the drama in my mind. All in one day. When School ends, and the kids have gone home, I sit in the last bench (Why? Good view) and enjoy the feeling that one goes through when the roller coaster comes to a final full stop. It is not relief. It’s something else.

Pic: ‘Bring your favorite toy to school and talk about it’ day. Kirti brought this baby doll and surprised me. The doll was a hit with the girls. The boys didn’t even go close to it.They made paper guns and played cop and thief.

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Sleep at 3.Enter test paper data. Correct test papers. Reach home at 10 PM after being in a overcrowded bus/train for 1 hour. Buy food to eat later in the room. Enjoy the few minutes of silence while having a post-school tea. Retreat into the Tea Shop Cave. Teach/laugh/jump/act/put up a hand puppet show/skit/deal with staff/Principal/rains/non stop high decibel noise/open manholes/wandering cows – for 5 hours. Eat Parle G for lunch. Drink tea for lunch.Rush to School to be on time.Drenched in Sweat.Dead tired.Catch the train, switch to bus/auto to School.Carry one backpack and another bag full of teaching aids, stationery, charts. Brave the merciless elements. Eat vada pav for breakfast cum lunch. Wake up with pain in every bone and muscle because of insomnia. Go to Sleep at 3 AM.

Teaching is austerity.


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Srini Swaminathan is the TFI blogger of the month! He gets our very special

Seal of approval!!

Seal of approval

Having spent a few months in the classroom (and TeachForIndia) now, I can conveniently classify my life as BTFI/ATFI (before joining TFI and after joining TFI). ATFI could also mean After the Fellowship at TFI, but then, I’ll write about this in 2012. Right now, it is too early to say anything about my post-fellowship plans !

So, BTFI, I used to work in the Oilfield , where most workers are on call 24 X 7. I often spent more time traveling to the wellsites than the actual work. Once I got to the rigs, depending on the work, I could be awake anywhere from a few hours to days. The longest has been 2 weeks of intermittent sleep. SO much loss of sleep and hardwork. But, more than the fat invoice and bonus, it was the satisfaction of completing a really challenging job that often brought a smile when we “rigged down” and went to sleep, sometimes even without eating anything. Sleep was more important than anything else.

BTFI, I used to think that the fellowship might not keep me as busy as before and I ll be able to spend a lot of time in doing things that aren’t related to work. And I must admit that I was way off the reality !  I could start rattling off the oh-so-many things to do as a Teacher and a TFI Fellow but then I don’t really want to bore you with all that right now. It is 1:31 AM now and all I want to write here is the sudden thought that struck me when I was in the train today – I am often spending more than 13 hours out of my apartment. In Mumbai, where traveling takes up most of one’s time, this just means School + a meeting + dinner + back home. Nothing fancy.

At TeachForIndia, there are regular training sessions, meetings, leadership forums, sharing sessions and debriefs. I had a debrief today. About yesterday’s class that was quite a disaster (oh well, that is another story !Will write about it soon). After that, I traveled all the way from Parel to Parle (Just one shuffle of alphabet but so much of travel !) to pick up digital cameras for my class kids. An acquaintance was giving them to the kids for them to take home and shoot their home, family, friends and surroundings and give it back to us to see what the kids liked to click. Today was the cameras. On other days, it is something else.

Amidst all this, it is quite a challenge to try and maintain even a semblance of your life BTFI. Meeting friends, catching up a movie, going for a run or a swim or whatever that you love to do and need time might actually become a challenge if not impossible. I love running and cycling and still find time to do these in this crazy maximum city.I find time to get that coffee at a CCD, watch a movie, go to the beach or just relax at home listening to music. I even managed to go home twice !

Yet, this life is not for the weak hearted or those who easily give up. A Teacher is a juggler. A master juggler. With the To-do s constantly hovering over one; head, a Teacher needs to prioritise everything, manage time effectively and maintain a balance between strengthening what is already going well in the classroom while thinking/researching for ways and ideas to implement that would accelerate learning. But, as I can tell you now, it is the end of a really long, tiring day. I am going to sleep with a smile. I am hungry though! 😀

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Here are a few links to some blogs by TFI fellows from the 2009 and 2010 cohort and TFI staff members.

  • TFI Journey: Srini, a 2010 Teach For India Fellow, writes about his journey with Teach for India and  his stories of change both inside and outside his classroom in Dharavi, Mumbai.
  • It’s Political Motivational and…: Prakhar is a 2009 Teach for India Fellow. He has been teaching for a year now and his blog is an amazing repository of stories about his time as a teacher in a school called Sant Gadge Maharaj in Kondhwa, Pune. Do check out the “Letters to my friends” section on his blog for some great snippets of his life as a TFI fellow.
  • Teaching as Leadership (Astitva): Another 2009 Teach for India Fellow, Dhiren teaches in K.C. Thackrey Vidya Niketan school in Pune. Besides his refelctions on his two year stint with Teach For India, a strongly recommended section on his blog would be his strategies to teach mathematics to children.
  • Belief: Ritika is a Teach for India fellow from the 2010 cohort. She teaches in a school in Mumbai and the blog is her diary about the TFI experience. Keep an eye out for some great pictures.
  • Mahesh Prajapati: Mahesh is also a 2010 Teach for India fellow. He teaches in Mumbai and writes about his experiences on the blog. He also writes lovely poetry in Hindi!
  • My White Lotus: My White Lotus is Tarun’s exhaustive and wonderfully written description of his journey as a Teach for India fellow since the past year and a half in Pune. Do read his recollections from his recent trip to visit charter schools in NY as a Teach for India fellow.
  • One in billion: Taylor is a staff member at Teach for India and has helped launch the Teach for India movement. His blog, as the introduction says, is about five things “- experiences related to living and working in India, happenings at Teach For India (my employer), development and fundraising-related, career-building, and entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, smart business ideas. “
  • I Teach for India: With a very appropriately named blog, Divesh is a 201o Teach for India fellow. Read about his journey and “Why” he chooses to Teach for India.
  • Reflections of my mind: Aritra is a part of the 2010 batch Teach for India fellows and the blog is his reflection as a Teach for India fellow in a school in Pune.
  • Walking in their shoes: Raisa is also a 2010 batch Teach for India fellow or a “tenner” as they are called. She teaches in Mumbai and her blog is peppered with some great pics displaying her immense creativity.
  • Insane Inanities: A 2010 Teach for India fellow, Anurag seeks to write about his journey to Teach from India from his college. He teaches in Mumbai.
  • Frogs in my class: Meera is a 2010 Teach for India fellow. The curious title of the blog alludes to some real frogs who share Meera and her students’ class with them. Her blog is filled with her experiences as a teacher in a school in Pune and sometimes even a humourous take on them as the title of the blog suggests.
  • With the Left and the Right: Srikanth, also a tenner, teaches in Pune and the blog is a mix of his experiences in the classroom as a Teach for India fellow and all that he gets to do in his spare time (whenever he might find it).
  • Edoocation: Milind is a 2009 fellow and has been teaching in Mumbai since the past year and a half. On his blog, he speaks about his views on Education policy and issues as seen through his experience as a Teach for India fellow. He also came up with the wonderful idea of listing down the dreams/aspirations/ideas of all the 2009 fellows post their two year fellowship. Read about them on his blog.
  • Words Raining: Dhanya is a 2010 Teach for India fellow teaching in Mumbai. On her blog, she writes about her experiences as class teacher in a school in Mumbai as a tenner.
  • They Teach; I Learn: Subhadra is from the 2009 cohort of Teach for India fellows. She teaches the 5th standard in Mumbai. They Teach; I Learn, a blog title which speaks volumes, is a rich and often moving record of her experience as a teacher in Mumbai.
  • Be the Change: Be the Change, which is also the Teach for India motto, is Rahul’s blog. He is a 2009 Teach for India fellow and teaches in Mumbai. His blog not only contains his experiences as a TFI fellow since the past one and a half year but also his opinions and ideas drawn from his work as a Teach for India fellow, on how to improve the state of education in India.
  • Delusions, allusions, illusions, visions: Meenakshi is a 2010 Teach for India fellow teaching in a school in Pune. She muses, alludes, talks about her life as a teacher in Pune and the delusions, illusions and visions therein.
  • The classroom for learning: Manu is a 2009 Teach for India fellow and has been teaching in a chool in Pune since the past year and a half. As a part of his summer internship, which he did as a part of his Teach for India fellowship, he interned at the Druk White Lotus Shey in Ladakh. He has posted a video of his experiences there. Also read about his experiences as a TFI fellow accompanied with some great videos and pictures.
  • Conviction in Your Thoughts: “Conviction in Your Thoughts” is the title of Ritesh’s accounts of his two year stint with Teach for India. He is a fellow from the 2009 Teach for India cohort and teaches in Pune. On his blog, he reflects as an individual and as a teacher about his experiences during this fellowship. Read his post on “The challenges of being Abu“, which is his chronicle of his student, Abu’s, life with him.
  • in on under above : Neha is a 2010 batch fellow. She writes about funny incidents and sometimes revelations in her classroom. Currently she is a grade 2 teacher in Worli Seaface BMC School in Mumbai.
  • Gunvant Jain : Blog by 2010 Fellow and IIT-Madras graduate Gunvant. Some excellent articles on skill-based learning.

The opinions or column written by these fellows or staff are their  own personal experiences.

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Our Fellows manage a class of 40 – 60 students and need your help in Classroom management, Small-group remediation,Grading papers/entering marks, Creating teaching aids, Helping with field trips or special projects, Teaching special subjects (music, art, etc.) and anything else you can help with!

We need a commitment of minimum 3 months for at least 2 hrs a week. Mail mumbaivolunteer@teachforindia.org if in Mumbai and punevolunteer@teachforindia.org if in Pune. Fill out the application form and register!

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