Day 11: Teaching good

Lunch chats: Girls seem more interested in connecting with you as a person than boys. Not to say the boys don’t come around, but they definitely don’t seem to be as comfortable as the girls are. Pre-lunch conversations have been interesting, so far, and have helped me a great deal in connecting with the kids better. Between reading my tattoo, and complimenting the earring of the day, they’ve told me stories of how they pranked their English teacher last year, accepted that they wouldn’t do it with me and complained about the latest groups in class. They’ve crivved about the canteen food, and the short games periods. Through it all, the bundles of energy jumped around, never standing still, and not pausing even to catch a breath.

The girls from the chaotic 6th grade have been very empathetic. Every time they see me, they appease me, reminding me that their class wasn’t all that bad. They apologise for their classmates’ tantrums and promise to address the problem soon enough.

Structure much?: We’re doing comprehension questions and answers with the 5th graders in English and I’m very uncomfortable with some of the instructions given to the children. While I understand the level of conditioning that the RTE kids need, I’m surprised that other children are out through a similar structure too. Today, for questions that test reference to context, where they havr to identify who said a dialogue and to whom, and in what circumstance, the instructions where to phrase the answer so that they always go from who to whom to when. And to never mix them up. When I started dictation in 6, the kids reminded me that they shouldn’t be starting the words with a capital since it was dictation.

I’m taking them all with an open mind right now, hoping that somene thought through these instructions and their impact on the children. The last thing we need is to be creating another batch of mug-bots who’ve lost all their innate creativity.

Aunty, my best friend and I were talking about how you are a great teacher.

Me? But my classes are so chaotic that I’m not sure I’m any good.

No aunty, the chaos is because we all want to tell you something and that is a good thing.

Can we please switch seats today, aunty? The bus is anyway very empty.

If you can convince me with your reason to shift, I will let you.

Hmm. There is no reason at all. OK! I get it.

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Day 10: Creative kids

Two buffaloes: I’ve gone through my first batch of corrections and it was a fun trip down some creative minds. The 6th graders had to write a picture composition based on a picture with two buffaloes sitting by a shed, and there was everything from Share Khan to meat markets and one eyed bulls. The material was written in class, within 20 minutes, and that is another reason why I’m impressed. For ten and eleven year olds to focus their thoughts and to time the written work in parallel would be quite a task. This was evident in some notes where I was left guessing what the end was planned out to be because the child never got to finish it.

Plastic in space: We started doing the solar system for the 5th graders and boy did they have stories to tell! We went from talking about Pluto, to Keplar 360, Uranus’ Topsy orbit and space junk. It’s funny how, as stereotypical as it may sound, boys were more attracted to the topic and had more things to add about space. The girls listened in and pointed some obvious facts; but the imaginary contributions were highly limited.

Aunty passed out and graduated have very different meanings, no?

Yes, of course. Passed out is when you’ve had too much to drink and lie there.

Aunty, you’re not allowed to give such examples in school!

Day 9: Empathetic teachers

I shared my story about the chaotic grade 6ers from last week. With the lesson learnt from there, I’ve been taking a different attitude towards the classes this week. And I must say that it has worked so far. I went in helpless and asked the students for solutions to address my problem. I treated them as equal partners in the process. I made them aware that I m knew when I was being taken for a ride and it didn’t benefit either of us in the long run. What I got was a bunch of collaborators who worked within their groups to see me succeed. And through this, it became evident to them that they were going to succeed too.

This strategy worked the most with the two kirana kids in my class that are the notorious boys. After the class, I pulled them aside and told them how kuch it hurt me to scold them. When they began protesting I made it clear that I saw through their dramatics. I lay it out that I was there to help and they were the ones to decide their fate in class. We ended the day promising that they would behave better in class.

And not a single decibel raised.

But aunty, what if we get super excited and our volume automatically increases? We can’t be soft and excited, no?

Aunty, are you wearing Fogg?

No, why?

You’re smelling nice. Like Fogg on TV.

Day 8: Questions galore

While I was mentally prepared to answer tons of questions when working with ten year olds, I wasn’t quite aware of how much was ‘tons’ until I truly started with them. They’re at the age where speaking trumps listening. They also require personal attention, even if that means getting an answer to a question already answered. Moreover, they hate surprises. All that makes absolute theoretical sense until you’re flooded with the same question over and over again and after you’ve answered it for the fifth time in ten seconds, your face no longer holds the same bright smile.

I was very disappointed with myself for losing my cool today when the kids pestered me for a silly question, something that I was anyway going to get to, if only they’d all settle down.

That’s when I noticed another great quality in some of these kids. They immediately caught the change in my tone and the frustration from my face, and they quietly settled back in their seats. Some even pulled their friends back and agreed that we’ll wait for aunty to finish talking before asking questions. It was very impressive to see ten year olds cued in so deeply to human emotions already. Now who can be mad at these sweethearts for too long.

Mentor comments: I received my first batch of comments about my English class from my mentor. It was purely based on this chaotic 6th grade class that I spoke about. So I wasn’t sure with how big a spoon of salt to take them. She had no complaints about the content, or delivery, or the plan at all. The only comments she had were about my classroom management skills. She recommended that I stop answering to every child individually and stick to plan, because the 11 year olds would be full of questions and a little encouragement and their imagination would derail the whole class.

But isnt that what education should be doing anyway? I remember JK talking about children distracted by a lizard in the ceiling while the teacher was trying to stick to plan and teach something way off. Would the child really learn when he is mentally disengaged? And at this age, are they really capable of parking their alternative trains of thought, to pay attention to what you have planned?

Additionally, aren’t we priding in individualized teaching? Then how can we conduct a class without hearing every child out and without answering every single question?

I realize that her suggestion was based on past experiences and the known expectations of finishing a preset syllabus by the end of the year. I’m still working on wrapping my head around ideals and realities.

Aunty, please drink some water. We’ll try to not frustrate you today.

I’m trying to save some space in my stomach, aunty. My mother had made chicken burger at home today.

Day 7: Boys , girls and trouble.

Partner trouble: We started today with Class teacher time and we had good fun playing ‘Dibi dibi dappe’ from Play for Peace. Motivated by their energy outside the classroom, I took my history class outdoors and asked them to pair up with new partners, and the trouble began. Faces went straight, and some crocodile tears rolled down as I pulled up boys and girls to pair them up. At ten, it seems unthinkable for them to sit or work with someone of the opposite gender. Add to it their individual weirdities and it’s a full blown recipe for disaster.

I thought we handled it reasonably well. It was imperative for us to put our foot down and stand with our original plan. Had we conceded, they’d have a way to trick us out of this situation every time. Slowly they walked over to the new pairs, and did what they were told. By the end of the activity, most of them had opened up to each other and were busy sharing funny stories from each other’s past.

During the reflection session, when I brought up the issue with their initial hesitation, they talked about how they were comfortable with their own pals and the others would tease them for pairing up with someone of the opposite gender. And I hear this same group dynamic would be very different in high school where keeping them apart, at safe distance, would be the challenge. Bring it on.

Unruly 6thers: If I’d thought that I would have a productive session with the 6th graders, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The class teacher had just changed their seats, and they were already on their worst moods. Since I had to have them share books, I moved them around some more and all hell broke loose. Mr. B, in the first desk, started crying, and Ms. Sud sat, arms folded and kept yelling ‘this isn’t fair’. The class of 25 felt like a mob of 100.

After 20 minutes of trying to settle them down, I put my chalk and books down and shared my worries with them. They all agreed that they were extremely distracted and agitated today, and that awareness was refreshing. We spoke about the next steps and when most of them suggested we do activities or games to solve this issue, I broke through the barrier. I made them realize that even if I had planned an activity, they did not give me a chance to talk about it at all. They realized what was wrong.

A number of them walked over outside the class and apologized for their class. It took a lot of courage to apologize for the team’s follies and it was extremely mature of these children to own up for their mistakes. I was definitely proud of them. Tomorrow is going to be fun.

How can you eat so much, aunty? (after I completely skipped the rice and loaded up on the salad. Kids can ve cruel :'[ )

We don’t mean to make your life miserable, aunty. It’s before lunch and we are very hungry.!

Day 6: Troubled kids

I was introduced to two very differently abled children today. Ms. LineMonitor is a bubbly ten year old, who always greets me with a hug and doesn’t hesitate to tell me when the class is a bore. I’ve seen her play with an RTE child’s hair with absolutely no hesitations unlike a few others. And yet, she doesn’t write like a normal ten year old. Her focus and attention constantly waver and she needs constant reminding to stay on point. I see the mind map she’s copied from the blackboard into her notebook and it’s a squiggly mess that leaves me worried. Moreover, when answering to questions in class, she doesn’t hesitate to raise her hands and begins answering. But midway, she loses her train of thought, jumps to a different topic entirely and often leaves herself frustrated and confused. All these difficulties are masked when I ask her to read aloud and she shows brilliant control of intonation and pauses. I’m beginning to sense the areas where we’ll be working on through the year now.

Ms. Tender is my other find from today’s English class. We did some choral reading in the session and her finger followed along the lines of the textbook diligently, almost seeming normal. Except, they were following an entire line above the one we were reading. As I promoted her, she beautifully repeated what I read, with the same tone and pronunciation. But her reading, and her fingers stopped, when I stopped. She wasnt able to read on her own at all because she had no idea what these letters and words looked like in print. I picked up her notebook for corrections and her answers were absolutely wrong. She wrote about what she liked doing and about her family members when I had asked about an activity we’d done in class. Her letters and words jumped around the line, sometimes trailing from one to another. This was clearly another child that wasn’t reading or writing appropriate to her age.

Day 5: Diary sheets and fat kids

I sent back a number of the student diaries today with incomplete information sheets. Being associated with a progressive and a liberal school like mine, I had anticipated to see most parents leave the ‘Caste’ row empty, and I wasn’t disappointed. I felt a little hypocritical, asking students to insist that their parents filled that in, when internally I wanted to high-five the parents and tell the kids to grow past these trivial differentiators. I realized that this was just the first in a long list of ideological mismatches between the education boards and me that I would have to live with for some time

Attendance: A physical attendance register would probably be the next big mismatch that I would take time for me to accept. As I spent diligent time rewriting the names from ‘rough’ pencil to ‘fair’ pen, I imagined me in an alternative universe, managing all of this digitally. I imagined digital signatures, and collaborative editing, and real-time updates. I imagined parents being automatically notified when a child was marked absent. I pictured us staring into tablets and laptops instead of ancient attendance registers. I came back to reality with a thud when my colleague pointed out that I should be marking absentees with a red A and not a black A. Sigh!

Weight trouble: Right after the empty caste columns, most diaries had blank height and weight informations. I wondered if the parents really knew that little about their children or if they had the same confusion as in my head about the true purpose of the school collecting this information. I might still be able to play the devil’s advocate and justify collecting height details. But the weight?

I almost forgot about the trauma of putting that trivial bit of information in writing until dear lil Ms Nambiar sneaked up to me, wondering if she could leave the weight column blank. I was immediately sent back to my own school days and how I found it extremely embarrassing to speak about it. I remembered stepping on the weighing scale in PT class and hearing a collective gasp behind me when my classmates found out about the reading on the machine. If my memory serves me right, I was exactly as old as lil Ms Nambiar. The troubles of a ten year old, and she was going through the same thing decades later.

I spoke to her through the day, at different times when we got a chance, and I tried to get her out of her discomfort. We spoke about one’s weight being just a number and how a part of owning your body was to accept yourself for who you are. I told her about how I’d wasted a lot of my growing years worrying that I didn’t fit in with the rest. A couple of her classmates pitched in, complaining about their height or bony build, and we spoke about how every body was different and everybody invariably had something to complain about themselves. While she listened to it all silently, I still didn’t sense a change in mind. I still saw the fear in her eyes, hidden behind her pink colored frames.

She walked close by during the afternoon class in the auditorium, and sat huddled by me, elbows resting on my legs. Mid session, she whispered in my ears “Aunty, is it OK if I fill my weight only in the pages I give you and not the one left in the diary?” Well, why not? And here was our breakthrough.!

Aunty, why does your tattoo say “Daddy’s gundacchi?”

Because my dad used to call me that.

But you’re not fat, no? Then why he called you that?

Ha! I don’t know.

When you do your mummy tattoo, can you please say “Mummy’s ollicchi?”

Geography is the study of boats, and aliens, and fossils.

Some things are better when done alone. But then life would be so boring if you did everything alone. That’s why we have team work.

Aunty, it’s magic. How do you know all our names already?