Dark Circles

Lil M is a 3rd grader in my bus who is the most notorious of the lot. She audaciously complained about the bus support staff and me to her mother, when we chided her for trying to squeeze under the seat of a moving bus. The mother, truly doting, confronted us at the bus stop, while ten pairs of pre-teen eyes from the bus watched in amazement, not to mention the strange mob that gathers anywhere in this country and serves no real purpose. When I explained the scene to the mother, and we asked Lil M if it was true, she answered in all innocence “But I’ve done it only like five times, aunty!”

The pink-faced mother walked away, after asking me for my entire biography.

Anyway, Lil M has been testing me and my boundaries since that little episode. After a very tiring Independence Day Celebration in school, I sat in my seat, on the way back home. The following conversation ensued in the bus.

Lil M: Aunty, (pointing under her eyes), your eye liner.

S: (quickly tries to rub it off, while wondering if it has been this bad all day)

Lil M: Not above, Aunty. Below. Here.

S: (tries a little more, with no luck again)

Lil M: Aunty, I think you have dark eyelashes.

S: Awwh! Thank you, dear! (That is a compliment I’d never gotten before)

Lil M: No, No! Not eyelashes. Aunty, you have dark circles. That’s what you have.

S: (Sniff! Too soon!) Hmm! I know. I’ve had it for some time now.

Lil M: You know you should drink a lot of water every day, Aunty.

S: I doooo! I drink about 3 litres a day.

Lil M: Do you sleep enough? I think if you sleep well, they will go away.

S: You’re right! I haven’t been sleeping well enough, I guess. I should try that. (Mental Note of Bucket List items: Get beauty tips from a 7 year old – Check)

Aunty, There’s a bad word in the dictation

Day over day, I am surprised by children and their intelligence. Especially when working with the little ones, the ten year olds; I always walk in assuming they know a certain something and nothing more. And then they go out and surprise me.

The following happened today.

VSing, after correcting his partner’s dictation answers: Aunty, That’s a bad word in her dictation answers.

S: How can that be? We aren’t doing bad words here, are we?

VSing, moving closer and whispering his softest: Aunty, You asked us to spell ‘prone’. She’s written ‘porn’.

I do not remember when I first learnt that word, or when I truly understood the meaning of it. But, I am definitely sure it wasn’t in 5th grade, when I was ten.

It got us talking in the staff room about how children these days have too many sources for information, resulting in their innocence being snatched away earlier than normal. I can imagine a situation where this child read the word in a book that he was reading, or heard it in a movie/series that he was watching, and got curious about what it meant. A truly progressive family would have parents that are approachable enough for this child to ask them about it. In which case, he wouldn’t have associated the term ‘bad word’ with it. Which makes me think that the child resorted to other means of identifying the meaning of the word – the mighty dictionary, or better yet, a more knowledgeable sibling or friend.

And that second alternative worries me.

What worries me more is my acting casual about his observation, and moving on to the next ‘good’ word in the dictation. Should I have used that time to address the taboo associated with the word? But would it have been too early for these young minds? As teachers, we always talk about how the best time to give children sex education is when it comes up naturally in the class discussions. Was today one of those natural ways? Did I miss an opportunity to tell them about sex in the right way?

Day 17: On stage embarrassments

The morning assembly was hosted by the student council and they conducted a quiz across all classes. It was done very beautifully and it was a great show of their leadership skills. It showed more than just that by the end of it.

The various rounds were themed on topics like Prakriya, Sports, Geography and GK. Each class had a question and received a point for each right answer. The teachers were one of the teams too. Each round progressed smoothly, and as I sat with my class, 5A, with 5B close by, we discussed and got a number of answers right. Bad move.

The last move was rapid fire and each team sent one on stage to answer a question within 20 seconds. The 5th graders named 5 rivers, the 6th graders named 6 states and so on, until it was the turn of the teachers. The organizers called for one teacher to go up on stage, and the notorious 5th graders start chanting ‘Swetha-aunty-Swetha-aunty’. I HAD to go up on stage because of all that overwhelming love, and trust in my abilities. And what’s the question? Name 10 presidents of India.

It was very ironic for me to get the question considering I’ve been dead against any form of rote learning. I fumble a little, fidget a little more, edge closer to the mic and say ‘Can I pass to another teacher, please?’

I slowly take my seat amongst the 5th graders, feeling very guilty of breaking their trust and a bunch of sweethearts go ‘It’s OK, aunty. You can’t know everything in the world anyway!’

We are doing something right with these children after all.

But aunty, we can’t hear the audio at all.

(Shoot! Damage control. Plays two videos in two YouTube windows: one with good audio and one with great visuals)

You’re a Rockstar, aunty. That was genius!

You need to do better in your written work, H.

Yes, aunty.

Do you promise to concentrate on it?

Yes, aunty.

Is that a pinkie promise?

Aunty, I’m in 5th grade. We are too old for pinkie promises.

Day 16: Little quills

Mr. Vats cried in the first English class that I took in his grade. Why? Because I wanted the class to sit in 3s so that they could share a textbook, and I didn’t let him pick his partners. It was very evident that this child was much more sensitive than a normal 11 year old boy. I was curious to know more and was keen to make a personal connect with the child.

I had a little chat with him before snack time. He waved at me from outside the staff room, on his way to drink some water, and we walked out for a chat by the amphitheater. I appreciated him for a wonderful homework done and he blushed. I asked him who helped him write at home and he said nobody, unless he asks his mother for help. I told him how his classwork versus homework difference surprised me. He blushed again and told me how he hated writing.

He showed me a brilliant quill pen that he had made himself from a long feather that he had collected during their field trip to Melkote. He drilled the inner hole further, taped a fine nib to the tip and walked around with an ink pot. He promised to make me one if I found a nice feather that I liked too. But he warned me to stay away from porcupine quills, because they were useless, with just the poison in them. I nodded and we promised to try harder at writing during class hours. He promised and walked back to class.

I stepped into class and Mr. Vats had his notebook open and ready, spic in the first bench, and a brilliant smile on his face. His quill pen and the ink pot were right next to the notebook, ready and willing.

Aunty, I truly missed you and Ankita last Friday.

But we met last Friday, no?

Yes aunty. But after class. That’s when I missed you.

My stomach is paining, aunty. I am not lying. It really doing kodaboda.

OK! Go to Jessi aunty in the infirmary.

(Back later) It looked nice and pink, aunty. So, I drank it thinking it will be nice. And it tasted yucky.

Day 15: Disinterested adolescents

I went in to the 7th grade today to fill in for another teacher that was sick. Since I didn’t take any formal subjects with this class, I decided to run a couple of exercises and games from TO with the class. And boy, where they a disappointment! Well, I shouldn’t blame the entire class for a group of 7 or 8 boys that absolutely didn’t want to try any of the activities. They did the activity for half a minute, gave up and stood there, disinterested. They longingly looked at the basketball court, wondering when I’d let them go play.

It was a huge lesson for me on having a backup plan and on being mentally prepared for a disinterested class. For the first, I was covered. But the second hit me hard. I had to take a solid 5 minutes to let it sink in that a majority of the class was not interested in the activity and that I had to try something else. And this was the one that affected me the most and I had a lot to share about being in power versus being powerless and whatnot.

I abandoned that, picked another trust game. And it worked like a charm. It started slow too, in fact, and almost went downhill. So I quickly got in and teamed up with a couple of these notorious boys to show them how it could be fun. Soon enough, they were trying real hard, switching partners to get it right.

Validation came in the form of them talking about it before lunch to the 5th and 6th graders, and them coming over to ask me how to do it. Before I knew it, there were pairs of little kids doing trust see-saws in the ground. Totally worth it!

Aunty, you are under arrest.

Why? What’d I do?

You gave us all a – 1 in the Change maker chart.

Well you did leave the lights and fans on.

You’re still under arrest.

Ooh! Aunty, you’re a good zentangler.

Day 14: Sore throats and floating conversation

The 6th graders are more fun to be with. They understand puns, rhetorics and my sarcastic sense of humor. Most of them do. So, I’m able to connect with them more through my language and my opinions, than merely through textual content.

After handing out a silly homework for the Geography class, I commented about how one couldn’t come up with a simpler homework than that, and the class lost it. Their creativity resurfaced and they challenged me with their silliest homeworks. Draw a circle was the winner – it could mean the earth, since it’s Geography after all, they said.

When I’d let the class run afree for a few minutes I commented about how easy it was to derail this class and how the sensible alternative for me seemed to be to make point-blank statements so the class stayed on point. Utter silence! A loud-mouthed Kris from the last bench, raised his hand and said meekly – We like your way of teaching, aunty. Please don’t become boring. Kids!

Aunty, what’s your age?

Why do you wanna know?

We want to know everything about you, aunty. Tell us.

Nopes. Why do you want to know my age?

OK! Where do you live?

Marathahalli.

Hmm. Then you must be in the 30s.

:O

Day 13: Frenemies

Two weeks with the kids and I’ve identified a few that are loud and bold, and a few that are shy. So today, we handed out the groups to the 5th graders; some serious science went into grouping them appropriately to ensure there was an even mix of gender, difficulties and action in each team. Since I handed the names out, I’ve been talking to the outspoken ones at various times, trying to tell them about the individual differences that they’d encounter when working in the groups.

During one such conversation, V and I were swinging on the little football goalpost, (OK! He was swinging and I was holding it down for support), when I brought up the two shy ones in his group – ShyTee and Divi. He immediately agreed that he’d help ShyTee get over his shyness and make him participate more. But he wouldn’t talk at all to Divi, he told me.

I prodded a little more and this ensued:

That’s cos aunty, she’s my enemy from Balambika itself.

How can you make enemies in Balambika? You were only 5 and 6 then.

But that’s enough age to know how people are.

Really? So, why’s she your enemy?

Because she never studies in class and isn’t that exactly why you come to school? To study?

Well, I see you not doing your class work seriously all the time. So, are you my enemy?

No aunty. You’re my teacher, so you’re automatically my friend only.

Day 12: Shifting seats

I’ve noticed a strange need in the kids to simply break conformance. Apart from being the anchor teacher for Grade 5, I’m also the bus coordinator for the bus route that I take every day. We have assigned seats to kids on the bus, to ensure the seats are adequately used and to allow kids to mingle with those outside their own circle of friends. Given free will, the entire last row would be crowded and we’d be making additional stops at the ER.

Every day is an ongoing discussion on their seat positions and if they could switch seats or not. It got interesting with the 8th and 9th graders. They all wanted to go back to the last row, with the roller-coaster twists and backbreaking jumps. Tired of their never ending demands and pleading sobs, I sought some business gyaan to deal with them. I asked them to sell their proposition to me. If they could convince me of their USP, I would let them shift. So, they had two choices. To either sit in their designated seats or convince me otherwise.

Most of them stuck to the typical needs to sit closer to their pals and to enjoy a window by themselves. Some gave up and turned to their books. Except one. In a little too subtle a way, she told me that the only reason they wanted to shift was because I asked them not to. Ha! The rebels live on.

Aunty, you’re the only teacher I know that has a tattoo.

A tattoo? I have 4.

Woaahhh!

I had three dosas today only because we have carpentry, aunty.

But I had only one and I’m sawing more than you.

That’s because you’re the dominator, aunty.

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.

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!