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.

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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 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 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?”