Volunteering for Teach for India

Teaching is a two way street. You go there thinking you will shape learners' mind but you end up being shaped by their unfathomable curiosity. Something similar happened to me during my teaching term at TFI school.

Summer 2017

"Give me the child for the first seven years and I'll give you the man".......When I first read this quote in a book, I did not realize the gravity of the argument back then. But being a class-teacher, for 4th Grade Students in a sub-urban government school in Ahmedabad, expanded my perception.

It all started when one of my friends at TFI informed me about this issue that they had where all the new recruits of TFI fellowship go for some sort of orientation program during their first few weeks of joining. During this period, they have no teacher in the classrooms as old fellows have left the place and new fellows can't join before orientation. I quickly jumped in and asked them to assign me one school. I would like to share some of the key learnings in my teaching journey.

Idea of an Ideal Classroom
Although, I have been teaching kids for several years in different roles but being a class-teacher was completely new experience for me. Because of this, I was comparatively new to this teacher-parent-student-school dynamics. I started documenting my experience during this time which led me to understand several behavioural patterns in school and society. One of the core perception prevalent amongst all of us was the idea of ideal classroom. Although, it was not openly talked about or written anywhere, we somehow had a mental construct of ideal classroom and everyone aimed to achieve that.

An Ideal Classroom,
is where kids silently listen to their teacher, complete their classwork on time and do not create any noise.

An Ideal Teacher,
is one who can control his/her classroom and gives a lot of homework.

An Ideal Parent,
is someone who monitors his/her child's homework completion.

After discovering these, I made sure that at least in my classroom I do not fall in the trap of these societal ideals and try to look at teaching and learning in its broadest perspective.

Curious Case of Apple
As a teacher, I had to report to school before the kids start assembling for the morning prayer at 7:00 am. Hence, preparing my breakfast and lunch at 5:30 am in the morning seemed humongous. Everyday, I started buying apples for my breakfast and lunch. This habit of eating apple made me a centre of attraction amongst the kids. They started investigating my behaviour like I am an alien from another planet. I could not understand the reason for 1 week. Kids would come during break time, watch me eat apples, giggle and invite their other friends for this scene.

It made me curious and I started being more observant of their behaviour. After talking to few of the kids and understanding their behaviour, I realized the curious case of apple. Surprisingly, kids were learning the proverb "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" but they had never seen an adult eating an apple everyday.

That day I learnt how kids view this world and how they struggle to find meaning in our curriculum-defined education. They are taught many things in classroom but they encounter completely different scenarios outside classroom.

Culture of Debate

To alter the silent classroom behaviour, I used to document how many kids actually participated in the classroom discussion by their own choice. They majorly feared that they don't not have anything worthy of classroom participation. To break this, we started a culture of debate in our classroom and to ensure that everyone can contribute, I made up a game where anyone can counter other in only 5 ways.

I named each finger what?, when?, who?, why? and how?. Now if a student wants to contribute then they can raise their hand and point to the respective finger.

It melted their fear of framing correct sentences before raising their hands and resulted in meaningful conversations.

Over weeks, it formed a culture of healthy debate. It also meant that I had to do my homework more rigorously as there were so many questions which I couldn't answer at that time.

I learnt a lot of lessons from this interaction with school students and it gave me a closer look into how we think and shape our reality. As kids, we barely know anything about our surrounding and we start assimilating with adult's view of the world. Most of the time, kids try to be like adults but adults expect them to follow their words and not their action which is very difficult at that age. The experience made me more empathetic to teachers as their responsibility is much more significant than we usually think. Another significant challenge is incorporating human values and making our kids emotionally intelligent. What do you think?