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 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 64: Friends

Dia is H’s local sweetheart. The mother and H bonded over their pets, her pug and our Scotch, and Dia grew up around both these little animals. When I inherited H’s social circle, which basically included just Dia, her mum and her pug, they landed up being the only ones I socialized with in the apartment complex as well. I’ve told you already about how poor my socializing skills are.

These days, because of Dia, there are a few other 6 and 7 year olds that have joined my friends’ circle. They yell, squeak and scamper away every time I walk out with Scotch. They dare each other into petting Scotch when we sit in the park in the evenings. Not Dia of course, she needs no dare to touch her big beast.

I had a very interesting conversation with Dia, and her friends, lets call them Seetha and Geetha (because I don’t know or understand the overly complicated, mythological, and extremely cryptic name that their parents gave them after spending a few too many hours on ‘100 unique baby names’ websites).

As I pull into the apartment at the end of the day, the three girls leave their game of examining the dirt on the path to the parking lot, and move over to the side. They see my car and me behind the wheels and start waving frantically; I lower my window and the conversation begins.

Me: Hello, girls!

Dia, Seetha, Geetha: HIIIIII! Where’s the dog?

Me: I left her in college. She wanted to study something about eating children.

D, S & G: <Teeeheeeee> Did you get any friendship bands today? Look how many we got?

<And they go on to count the 5 on Dia’s wrist, the 4 on Seetha and Geetha’s>

Me: Very nice. I dint get any; looks like I don’t have any friends after all.

D, S & G: <Gigggle, giggle>

S: Look at the one that Dia gave me, and this one Geetha gave me, and this one is from my school friend Anivaary.

Me: WOW! Where is mine? You dint give me a friendship band.

S: Noooooo! Because you are not my friend, and nobody gave you friendship band anyway.

Me:

D: Here you go! You can have mine.

<And she handed me this bright pink, bedazzled friendship band that she was wearing in her hand>

Me: Awwwwh! Thank you, Dia. But you keep it. I don’t want one.

S: Arrey. Anyway that band wont fit her hand, na?

And with that tiny, baby-sized bruise to my ego, I drove away.

A few things moved me about the conversation. One, Dia and I have spent very little time together. There was that one time when she told me about her plan to put a ladder all the way up to the moon. We got stuck in the electric cables. But, beyond that, we haven’t spent as much time as she and H have in the past. And yet, she did not think for a second before sacrificing her own friendship band for me. Some kids have such an open definition of friendship. Or, maybe some kids attach very little value to that outwardly display of friendship through a band. I’m happy for this young girl no matter what.

Second, Seetha already has a sense of some very adolescent concepts like cliques, popularity and standard behaviors. Kids at this age already know what it means to be cool versus being a nerd. They already consider the number of friendship bands to automatically signify the number of friends; and more friends automatically makes you the popular catch of the class. It’s these expectations that will translate very soon into the number of friends on social media, real or not. This is definitely not a new trend, because I remember the craze for friendship bands even when I was in school. Even back then there was a craze to join the popular girls’ group, or look up to them for the latest fashion trends.

Of course, when I was in school, we dint have the dark monsters of the virtual world, watching and stalking us every step of the way. We had real monsters, but they somehow seemed more manageable.

“Wow! You are very morose, aren’t you? Such a sweet and innocent concept called friends, especially from 6 year olds, and here you are already connecting it to stalking, molestation and rape. Take a chill pill now and then, S.

What’s this here? Smells off.” Scotch