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.

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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 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.