Day 102: If she does not want to take class, you accept it and move on

I showed up at Uni today, after sucking it up in traffic for one and a half hour, and I find out that the class teacher, the teacher for hour 1 is absent. I understand everybody has emergencies, and every teacher needs her time off. But I what I do not understand is how your professionalism as a teacher lets you not show up to class, and not make alternate arrangements for your class.

When A spoke to the HOD (wink wink, the model citizen), he bombarded her with comments about how if teachers did not want to come to college, then students just had to suck it out and take a free hour off. Students didn’t have a right to attendance, he made it sound like. He did not let her respond to any of his comments, and just bombarded her with his outdated theories.

We spoke to JK later on, and she reminded us about her M. Ed days in Bangalore University, and how students had no right to question for attendance. Even if the teacher was in the office, but did not feel like taking the class, we could do nothing, she said. She asked us to suck it up, and ask teachers that we knew to see if they could adjust their classes with us. And if they couldn’t, to suck it up and have a break.

Unfortunately, I do not approve of or agree with their logic at all. Every student makes an effort to make it to class every day, mental, physical and emotional effort. I drive 20 kms every day to get to Uni, and another 20 kms to get back home. I take all that pain to learn something new from esteemed professors who have the knowledge and the expertise. If I had to stay at home and learn on my own, I could have taken up a correspondence course and not a full-time one. And if I am not ‘getting taught’ after my 20 kms long struggle, the least that I should get is attendance for the hour that I showed up. That is the least that anyone can do to respect my time, and everybody needs respect.

Don’t get me wrong. If there was a process that I could change, I would start by taking off the one which requires 85% attendance in the first place. But, if that is set in stone, and this very same teacher had the nerve to send me an email that read ‘strict disciplinary action will be taken if you miss classes unnecessarily‘ after I sent an OOO email for being sick, then the teachers should take enough care to make sure they aren’t faulting from their end.

“You spent 1.5 hours in traffic and you didn’t take me along. Saadd!! You know how much I love the driving? But, yeah, standing in traffic is not a lot of fun, and I hate that too.”      ~ Scotch

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Day 85: Bad manners 

I’m learning a lot about poor manners from the Swiss, through this project.

I’ve worked in multi cultural environments before, but we always made sure that language was never seen as a barrier. Even when I worked with the Mexicans, and Indians from different parts of the country, we had an unsaid rule to always speak in English at the table. You do not want to sound like the Filipino pedicurists, who are probably just complaining about each other’s husband’s but always seem like they’re bitching about how your feet smell, because their whole conversation is in a language you do not know.

Even when we started off with this project, all of us Indians had an agreement to speak only in English lest we let the Malayalam, Hindi and Kannada backgrounds between us be a reason to split us. And then the Swiss showed up and shamelessly spoke in French all the time. For a novice ear, it always seems like they’re talking smack about us, gesticulating violently and furiously.

For the first few days, I interrupted, clarified and always tried to bring the conversation back to English. But now, into week 2, I’ve given up. I speak in Malayalam and Hindi to people in the project with whom I’ve never used any language other than English for the last one year. People are shocked with how good my Hindi or Malayalam is because that’s how little they’ve heard me speak it before. And often, I speak about the Swiss in Malayalam or Hindi so that they feel like they’re getting the Filipino pedicurists treatment. A tooth for a tooth, and a foreign language for a foreign language.

Anyway, we had a presentation by the Swiss students to the School of Education, and we learnt how poor they are with public speaking skills. Dinner at Namesake’s house quickly turned into a show of extravagance, what with the fancy jacuzzi and infinity pool in the club house. But the family was very welcoming and the food tasted good. Hectic day indeed!

You’re complaining about a foreign language now? And you yell ‘Sit’ and ‘namaskaram’ and what not to me every time. What’s with that? Should I just bark back in Scotch-tongue going forward?” Scotch

Day 55: A fitting finale

I remember watching a few cultural performances by special children in the past. Mostly when I was a child myself, and I had not yet been introduced to the concept of disabilities. I majorly remember feeling disgust, and some shame as the kids flayed aimlessly on the stage. I almost felt a tinge of disgust when the adults appreciated such a half-assed performance, while the normal kids had done much-much better. I have a second cousin with some developmental disabilities, and I remember always making some excuse to not visit that aunt. Even when I was there, I’d try my best to avoid any eye contact. Her loud voice and a lack of personal space all scared the adolescent me.

As we sat at Bethany School, watching the students of the Special School perform for their Prize Day, I felt none of those old emotions. In fact, I felt an abundance of pride while watching these students perform the little skit that we had scripted. I felt awe and amazement as the kids danced for one of the newest Bollywood numbers, never batting an eyelid away from their dance master amongst the audience. I felt mirth as an autistic child broke step from their action song to wave at Ms. Shanti sitting in the first row.

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Jeslyn’s Jesus Loves me 🙂

We reached a good 15 minutes early and I had an opportunity to observe the audience very closely. Most looked like any other parent in any other school; eager to watch their child perform on stage, engaging the other child who is too distracted to see his brother or sister on stage. Most of them had an empathy that is often missing in the competitive nature amongst us normal folk. They had a child that was suffering, and in that they were all united as a community. I felt that powerful bond in the hall.

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We also noticed parents react very differently to their child’s condition. I know it is very naive of me to judge an experience purely from the 15 second interaction that we were purview to. But we saw our dear Stuti run over to her mom and dad sitting a few seats away from us. The mother, first in her path, did not change her morose look at all, as she simply passed the daughter over to her partner beside her. The father was all smiles at Stuti as he hoisted her up on his lap and checked emphatically about her upcoming dance. Just in that body language, the mother somehow seemed to come out as the less supportive parent of the lot. Who knows what demons lurk under her breath there! Did she blame herself for her child’s condition? Does she fight the demons of depression that our society very conveniently ignores? Did she battle complications during her pregnancy that have scarred both her daughter and her for life?

If nothing else, the experience through this teaching practicum has taught me how normal these special children are and how abnormal our ‘normal’ lives are. The two lead boys, who vocalized our entire play, could have been kids in any normal school. I’ve already talked about how a major lapse in awareness can result in children getting taken out of normal schools, and pushed to a slower track.

It pains me that the society still has a strange but deep-rooted taboo associated with disabilities. The current schooling has definitely progressed since my time, and integrated education has brought our kids closer to disabilities. But there is still so much to do. Parents and students need to be caught up on so many issues faced by these children. Only when the mainstream starts worrying about these special children will the policy makers start worrying too.

While you were busy enjoying your morning at the Special School, I’ve spent the morning stalking mom and dad for food. So much so that now daddy refuses to look at me while he eats. 

Look how silly he looks, S. And that’s him eating my fave dosas. How can I let him be? “Scotch 

And I’ll be right here, waiting for you, dosa! 

Day 39: Respect

We spent the afternoon at the Special School, preparing props for their upcoming Prize Day. The theme for the year is “Respect: Give it to Get it”. Could any other topic be closer to my heart than this one? We were excited to watch the kids rehearse for the skit that we put together based on this theme. We had fun writing the scenes for the play. Equally fun was preparing this colorful backdrop for the skit.

My hair inspired the yellow boy, I think

As we were working, Jeslyn, one of the children in the fast learner’s class hung around, trying to help us. She is one of the most chatty ones in the class; she took us around the lunch group on our first day and introduced us to all her friends. She sings ‘Jesus loves me’ beautifully and tells me that Jesus loves her a lot because she prays to him every day when she goes home.

In the course of the two hours that we spent there working, Jeslyn asked me thrice if I had lunch, about four times what I had for lunch, definitely about five times if the Principal had allowed us to watch them sing during the Prize Day, and another three times if I knew her name was Jeslyn. She reminded me about four times that her Johnu also studied at Christ, asked me about five times what happened to my hands and if it hurt, and mentioned around ten times that she loved singing ‘Jesus loves me’. She asked me about five times if we could go down to play and about ten times where her class teacher was.

As she asked me the same question over and over again, and as SrA’s responses to her started getting more and more snide, I wondered what was really going through this little child’s mind. She is in the top performing class in the Special school, but was removed from regular school for being slow and disrupting others in class. What was truly going through her brain that made her forget what was said only 5 minutes back, and yet remember the entire lyrics to her favorite Jesus song? She never missed reminding Stuti to wipe the drool off her face, or helping Kelly find her favorite crayons. But when she was looking for her own English book, she looked over and over at the same spot, expecting it to magically appear.

It’s funny when we see movies like 50 first dates and laugh off at people that forget the present within 10 seconds. But what would life for Jeslyn truly be, if her mind worked so fast that it did not even capture what was responded to her first question because it was already making up the third question to ask? Would everyone have patience like her dear teacher, to tell her for the fifth time that we will come back next Thursday to help her finish the scooter prop?

Sometimes I wonder if you’re a little slow and suffer from memory issues like this Jeslyn too, S. Why else would you not give me food right now and make me wait for it instead?” Scotch