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 15: Disinterested adolescents

I went in to the 7th grade today to fill in for another teacher that was sick. Since I didn’t take any formal subjects with this class, I decided to run a couple of exercises and games from TO with the class. And boy, where they a disappointment! Well, I shouldn’t blame the entire class for a group of 7 or 8 boys that absolutely didn’t want to try any of the activities. They did the activity for half a minute, gave up and stood there, disinterested. They longingly looked at the basketball court, wondering when I’d let them go play.

It was a huge lesson for me on having a backup plan and on being mentally prepared for a disinterested class. For the first, I was covered. But the second hit me hard. I had to take a solid 5 minutes to let it sink in that a majority of the class was not interested in the activity and that I had to try something else. And this was the one that affected me the most and I had a lot to share about being in power versus being powerless and whatnot.

I abandoned that, picked another trust game. And it worked like a charm. It started slow too, in fact, and almost went downhill. So I quickly got in and teamed up with a couple of these notorious boys to show them how it could be fun. Soon enough, they were trying real hard, switching partners to get it right.

Validation came in the form of them talking about it before lunch to the 5th and 6th graders, and them coming over to ask me how to do it. Before I knew it, there were pairs of little kids doing trust see-saws in the ground. Totally worth it!

Aunty, you are under arrest.

Why? What’d I do?

You gave us all a – 1 in the Change maker chart.

Well you did leave the lights and fans on.

You’re still under arrest.

Ooh! Aunty, you’re a good zentangler.

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 116: Let’s take it slow and you tell us what you want

One more exam to go and I took the day off to visit Valley school right after breakfast. The drive over was interesting, a comfortable NICE road, SilverGhoster to keep company over the phone, and a beautiful weather. I had lunch with Shankar aunty and helped Sandhya aunty struggle with their failing electricity to grind some dosa dough and realized the simple life that they’ve chosen to live. They battle with the infusion of modern wants and needs every day, but have, as an institution, taken a conscious decision to live simplistic. And I’m told that’s their strategy in reaching kids as well.

I met with Ms. Elsie, who will be my sounding board every evening after the observations. I also met Ms. Suneeta, coordinator for the junior school, and Ms. Indira, coordinator for the middle school. I’ll be working with these two ladies starting 23rd and I was stunned by their openness in sharing about their respective jobs. As we sipped hot tea and ate freshly fried bajjis, they quizzed me on my interest for the school and my plan for the upcoming weeks, months and years.

What caught me off guard, and warmed me the most, is the practicality of their approach to my research. They did not want me to come with a predefined questionnaire, structured interview questions, or a project plan for the week I’d spend with them. They wanted me to walk in with an open mind, and a willingness to question and understand. Everybody I met was willing to share, warm in their welcome as they opened their doors for me. I do not yet know if it’s the philosophy of J Krishnamurthy or their individual ideologies, but I sensed a comfort in their interactions that I have sensed in few other schools.

“I hear they have leopards and monkeys at the Valley School. Thank you very much, but I’ll stay out of that campus.” Scotch

Day 94: Don’t underestimate the power of a blind man

Back to Bethany

I did a solo trip back to Bethany Special School to collect completion certificates from the school. I also managed to pick up one of the carpets made by the students from amma’s sarees. It is always a pleasure being back. All the teachers welcomed me back warmly, enquired about the other two, and invited me to say hello to the students. I met Tarun, and our usual sweethearts, Jeslyn and Stuti, and they remembered. Stuti did a full bow and told me that she saw us during her dance for the Prize Day. Even Tarun recognized us during the Vote of thanks apparently. Beautiful souls.

I spent about two hours substituting for Ms Deepa since her mother was in the hospital. Got their computer running, then typed up a few mails and printed out letters for the Principal. It somehow justified the purpose that I was there for, as if the 20 odd hours we spent there didn’t. Maybe it’s me and my idea of not taking back anything but learning from such an institution.

Visually Impaired

The final Teaching practicum for the semester was at a an institution for the visually impaired, called Mitra Jyothi. It is support and resource center for the blind, and the founder is a visually impaired lady herself. So, I was in awe from get-go. We saw the Braille printers and slates, and a number of books published by the institute. It was an impressive establishment for sure. I even saw a blind student type up a super complicated formula in Excel as a part of the computer training, using the screen reader.

I learnt of volunteering opportunities to read books and convert them into talking libraries, and to edit recorded audio to make them blind-compatible. After the recent learning from Radio Namaste, this might be a great place for me to work with them over the weekends.

What affected me the most from the trip was something that the coordinator said. She spoke about the self-respect of the visually impaired and how not every blind man with a stick by the road wants your help to cross it. Most of them have been trained to take care of such basic tasks on their own, and unless they ask for help, you should stay away. A bold and yet powerful observation.

It got me thinking about how in our life’s aim to collect brownie points for the next, we offer help and assistance when we find fit. But what if the person at the other end doesn’t want your help? Are you smart enough to know where to back off?

Silver Ghoster

I’ve had a few decent conversations with SilverGhoster, and it has been refreshing to talk to someone of the newer generation that remembers their Shakespeare. Reddy child, doing his MBA to take over his mother’s school, and we talked about how Christ School is a major threat for their much smaller institution in the area. It talks immensely of brands and how the little mom-pop shop is invariably squashed.

That doesn’t counter the fact that they themselves suffer at the hands of poor teaching methods and teachers. Since it’s run by someone with minimal to no education backing, they still profess rote methods to innovative techniques. I was excited when he told me that most classes have about 25 to 30 students only. We spoke about how powerful that really is and the potential it has to bring real changes in the lives of the students. He had a valid point about the quality of teachers and their willingness to stay in a competitive market. We briefly spoke about recruiting at Christ and so.

Overall, seems like a sensible chappie.

Awkward Dreams

Woke up from a dream where I was being chased by a buffalo. Think the while scene was in a multi-story building, maybe even an infinity pool somewhere. At one point, I am standing in a crisp white room, possibly hiding from the buffalo it walks in, looks directly at me and doesn’t recognize/spot me. Then it takes a little Sniff, and charges directly at me.

And that’s how I was woken up by a blind buffalo chasing me through a fancy resort.

Don’t underestimate the power of a blind man? Is that what the visually challenged computer teacher said? Noo! I’m sure you made that up. Wait! He really said that??

Funny guy!

But it’s scary that they’re in the dark all their lives, no? ” Scotch

Day 54: Lacking vision

I’ve been pretty irritated by the head of the department and his clear lack of vision for the team he leads. What pissed me off most recently was his ‘expert opinion’ that it would be better for us students to attend class than skip sessions to be at a national conference on National Universities. A conference held two blocks away, in our own campus, organized by the department of advanced studies in education and chaired by one of our own faculty. What a logistical nightmare for the three in my class to attend!

Our syllabus is the most hollow effort at a program that I’ve seen in a while. Most teachers themselves comment about how most of the topics covered are repetitive and they simply put their hands up in the air when I question about the purpose of studying some outdated concepts. I’ve come to peace with this, rationalizing it through the fact that the syllabus is just a guiding post, not the journey itself. That is why I look for opportunities to learn, through conferences, seminars and workshops. Remember I wrote about the one on Service Learning here? So it really pushes my buttons when I’ve been forced to sit in class instead of listening to some eminent deans and vice chancellors from across the country about improving the state of higher education through the concept of national universities.

Only last week, this leader of ours canceled my class’ trip to a special school run by the same management as the university. His reasoning? Our class was missing too many sessions and reallocation classes was becoming a pain. He has made it clear more than once that we were spending too much time and effort in visiting Bethany Special School as well.

It worries me when such gentlemen, with regressive ideas, are made in charge of a team. They clearly lack a vision for the department, are comfortable doing the mundane and their biggest effort is spent in maintaining status quo. They are the ones that sit in presentations for the sake of it and question the authenticity of the project purely because they themselves faked their way to their PhD. Honestly, I don’t know if I should be happy that the man is at least honest enough to accept the flaws in his own research, or sad that the state of research in the country has been reduced to just a degree.

They are also the heads that stop others from voicing their ideas and innovations. They fervently oppose any new proposal because they would then be forced to think of ways to match themselves up. They lecture on experiential learning and activity-based curriculum, and restrict learning to the four-walls of the classroom. They let their male ego decide all their official decisions and treat the women in the department as mere door mats. They most often do not realize the effect, in fact the ill-effect, that they have of students and their minds.

The past year has been a huge learning. I’ve been unschooled. I know what kind of a leader to not be.

You’re busy complaining about your HOD when there are bigger things in life? We should be worrying about dad and mum leaving. 

Maybe I could sit on their bag and not give it to them. Then they’d stay back. Right?” Scotch