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?

Day 4: Diary, Nature walk and more

Diary: These kids seem to LOVE their diaries. It totally beats my adult brain but their love to note their timetable down in it. And mark their homework for the day in it, and to doodle all over it. Maybe it’s a little like us adults, holding on to little, trivial things; owning that little, trivial thing purely by writing our name on it. Maybe it’s them owning that little, trivial thing as their own.

Nature walk: I had my first nature walk today, with a part of class 5 and class 7. We walked over to the lake behind the school, single filing behind CoordG. As I brought up the rear of the group, two chatty 7th graders tagged along, telling me stories about a certain Sandy uncle in Bhoomi, who caught a rattle snake in this area once. Interesting personality, and I discover more of these every day.

Jumping down boulders and skipping stones on the lake is still on top of most these kids’ minds right now. Those and watching out for goat poop. So, the cynic in me is still ratifying the effectiveness of these activities in making them more Eco conscious. I’m hoping that since this is set into schedule to be once a week, they are repeatedly exposed to the outdoors and in the process, they’ll learn to attach more to it.

ShyTee: I’ve been noticing ShyTee from day 1 and I am more convinced by the day that the child needs some personal help. He is amongst the shorter ones in the class and yet willingly chose to sit in the last bench. He barely talks to his benchmate, or most of his classmates for that matter. I force him to converse as often as I can, and does so, crisply and with nil eye contact. He answers me to the point, while staring continuously at the ground. He tells me that his mom works too and his dad is away on an extended work engagement to Germany. I’ll be watching him more closely this year.

Day 3: Breaking inequality

Equality: I’ve started slowly breaking into the walls of the 6th graders during my English class. We spoke about inequality and discrimination in the 1st class and the most they could tell me was how their older brother got more candy or their younger sister got scolded lesser. I was still not hitting into the stories that mattered. So, I started today’s class reading about this 19yr old girl that started the Color Brave Campaign, because she wanted to fight discrimination based on her color. And then the real stories began.

They told me about how women used to be forced to kill themselves when the husband dies. They listened intently as I explained an ancient funeral pyre and a fully conscious woman walking in. They pointed out how some women started doing this voluntarily until someone just made it a blanket rule.

They realized that they were treating the bus akkas unequal every time they wished the teachers but not them. They told me how the canteen akkas and annas get ignored too.

They recounted stories of them being called American or African or Chinese because of the way they looked. They were Indians no matter what, and they felt ignored when they were called anything else. They remembered funny stories of their older brothers in 8th or 10th grade who’d be mistaken to be a working professional because they were tall or well built. I told them about how I’d get called ‘Sir’ very often because of my hair style. They were shocked and told me about how a number of men these days have long hair and that my hairstyle was ‘cool’.

Productive day!

Day 2: Plastic. And Aliens

Today, I had a chance to see the seniors in the middle school – the 6th and 7th graders. As they grow older, their naivete from the primary days slowly disappears. They clearly have opinions about what is cool and what is not. There is a distinct difference between girls and boys, in the way they think and act around elders. While the boys want your attention by rebelling, the girls want to win your love by listening to you. The school has taught them to question and they will use that right to the last T.

  • World Environment Day celebrations: The discussions on green practices that we follow and would like to follow, started with solid water packets to drink and ended with throwing plastic into space because there might be aliens who feed on plastic. In the middle was everything from using steel containers to not using straws and composting. If all the 10-12 year olds talked with such vision and followed through in their life, then I think we’ll be leaving our world in a safe place.
  • Abhinav. He started the Environment day circle time with me, beanie pulled down to his eyes, by asking me “Why should I stop using plastic, aunty? I’m just one in the 7 billion people on this planet.” As each child kept bringing up steel plates and steel water bottles, he talked about how too much of anything, including steel, was bad. When I told him that if he and I changed today, we might inspire ten others to change, he said “Do I look like someone that can inspire another?” Twenty minutes into the circle, while we’re talking about other students and their experiences, his demeanor changes. His beanie is off and on his head. He suddenly slams his beanie into the center of the circle and says “‘Stop plastic invasion’, that should be our slogan. ” Another child asks him how he’s suddenly changed to the side opposing plastic and he says, “I always knew it was bad. I was just trying to think like the others.” A 12 year old.
  • Curd rice. The food scheme for the SSA students in private schools definitely needs working. For ones like mine that compulsorily provide food to all its students, the government doesn’t support those kids under SSA. So they are left with their own means, bringing dabbas from their already troubled homes. As we sat in the auditorium post lunch, Chetan, one such student from my class, cuddles up to me, and whispers, “Aunty, I didn’t eat my lunch today. Because it was curd rice, and the curd was not nice at all.” I wad left without a response as the image of the pulao, raita, soup and salad that I had had for lunch clouded my vision.

Aunty, you promised, no you guaranteed, that we’ll get our diaries today. A guarantee is bigger than a promise. Where are our diaries now?

That’s not a 9, that’s a G. Aunty, what’s a G:30? (laughing at the way I write 9 on the board)

Aunty, are you saying that there are aliens?

I’m saying there might be aliens. We don’t know it all yet.

Nooooooooo! Don’t say that aunty.

At Prakriya, you should all always carry a plant with you. Everyone does. And the plant dies. (A special child in 6, telling me different things I should know as a newbie to the school)

Stop plastic invasion. That’s our slogan. Cos millions of plastic gets thrown out into space. And that’s bad for the aliens. And also because people die from plastic.

Day 1: Exciting experiences

A new year begins and a batch of bright-eyed 10 year olds move from grade 4 to 5. As their anchor teacher for the year ahead, I’m hopeful of a lot of learning and many many experiences. While the last week of planning and preparation was meant to ready me for this first–time experience, I don’t think it came even close. Because nothing can prepare you for the noise and the chatter and the sheer energy you feel in the room. For every question that you put out, every one of them has a response and some more than two.

The 10 year olds are ruthless. They watch every move you make and remember ever breath you take. And make sure to point out at your face if you’ve over stepped one line. They are also the sweetest. They yell for you and wave at you from the bus. They want to know what your mother tongue is so they can blackmail you in it. At the end of the day, I think they all want to see you happy

  • Boys and girls. As we shuffle them up to sit with kids of the opposite gender, they squirm and twist, still thinking that boys are ewww.
  • Write. They want to write, write, write. Even if it’s simple copying the timetable for the next day, they’re so excited. And that’s why they love their diaries.
  • RTE. There is a very obvious difference between the regular kids and those who’ve joined through SSA. No other boy of this age would wear a pink colored socks, or girl dress in knee high basketball jerseys. These children are definitely going to be in my purview all year, to see how far they travel.

My brother told me that the middle school boys washroom is haunted, aunty. Is it?”

“I don’t have a brother or sister. But my mother is a topper. And she told me that if I come home and revise everyday, then I will also be a topper.”

“Aunty, is middle school as boring as today was?”

“What are the breakable rules at school, aunty?” 

Day 141: 2017 Highs – PsychGoddess

It’s 2018. 2017 has gone by, and the cyberspace is overflowing with messages of positivism in the upcoming year, reviews of the year that went by and promises for the new year. Here’s my year in review but focused on the major highs and the lows.

PsychGoddess

This lady has definitely been the best find of 2017. We spent a week together in the summer, at Bhor, and it’s been a jolly ride ever since. As someone with a Doctorate in Psychology, with a post-doctoral work on autism and I was already floored. Some people have an innate tendency to not look their age, to make you feel at ease at get-go and to have abundant clarity in life. They also bring in the fun and the humor into any group, bonding with all evenly. The PsychGoddes had them all.

  • I understand and respect her clarity on the societal arrangement called marriage. Two people that like one another, can stand each other and respect each other, do not need a marital contract to spend their lives together. Marriage is not the beginning of the glorified happily-ever-after and the sooner we accept it, the less people will be stuck in this rut.
  • The way she’s raising her son is inspirational and is something I’m going to refer back to for a long time. Open communication, even with a ten year old, is an absolute must. It should start at that age for them to realize that their mother is in their corner for life. I still remember stories of their little arguments, writing reasons for being mad at each other I’m crumpled chit and throwing into the other’s room. Communication,  at its best!
  • Psych Goddess, the adopted mommy. My love for the dame grew millions when I heard her story of how she adopted her son. And then it grew a little more when I heard the story about how she told the little one about it. I’ve always felt strongly about adoption; there are too many abandoned souls looking for love and a life, too many to make any further procreation seem unjustified. But I’ve always wondered about the acceptance from the child’s end, would they ever think that we made a mistake by adopting them. The PsychGoddess made me realize a step to the answer: Open communication.
  • For someone like me that’s easily impressed, she’s taught me to wear the Black Hat every once in a while. Any awe or pleasure that one typically feels immediately after an event, a training or a lecture or a show, is purely because of the feel-good factor arising from the novelty of the experience. While it is a good thing to be happy about any new experience, and to enjoy it with an open mind, the stable mind will be grounded in reality. It will see through the tricks and the showmanship and will be able to spot the plot holes in the event. That’s a great power to have, something I’m going to consciously try this year.
  • The learning never ends and she’s taught me that from the first day we met. The quality of her reading, her academic proficiency and her quest for learning have all been impressive. Something to look up to and emulate.

The maanga-curry cookscapade, the rum and breezer  circles, her theatre games, the cuddle sessions with Scotch and the ramblings about everything under the sun will hold a special place in my heart. She’s introduced me to some brilliant people and some exciting new areas of learning and I’m looking forward to some more. She’s been an ardent reader of my rambles and the best PR in the world. What more can a girl want! Much love, PsychGoddess!