Although my students are around five years younger than I, 7th & 8th standard, they continually and often unknowingly teach me about the environment which I now call home. Working with 160 rambunctious kids may be far from easy, but they offer insights into their world that I could only imagine before immersing myself here.
Here are 3 short stories with a few photographs of my time with these children.
An unplanned voice change
Preface: I teach in an English medium government school, but most of my students speak Hindi or Marathi, leaving me surrounded by chatter that I’m slowly learning to understand, although admittedly, I have yet to piece when they poke fun at me. For the students who speak their best English with me, there still remains a difference in the pronunciation of words and an inflection in their voice, that I have slowly begun to pick up.
Left to teach joint bar graphs and the order of operations, maths material on the next day’s exam, to 7B, the more attentive of the two seventh grade classes, the children focus their attention on me. As I begin to write data on the chalkboard, explaining the correlation between groups of numbers, I hear it; my voice has not deepened nor has its tone changed, but there’s a distinct accent that wasn’t there two months ago. Here lies my audible cue that for the ease of communication, my unconscious mind alters my sound, as I adapt to my surroundings and soak up the nuances around me.
Getting spit on
Amidst my incessant calls of “Challo! Sit down! Jao! And no hitting!” everything seems chaotically normal as I attempt to settle the kids. 7A is mid Math exam and keeping the students from discussing the test and getting out of their seats feels like pulling teeth. There’s one young boy who refuses to complete his exams, no matter the subject, and within twenty minutes of sitting in his seat, asks to turn in his paper so he may go out. All the students know that I will not begin collecting the exams until the beginning of break time, at which point, when they complete their exam, they may take their tiffin and go eat outside. For each of his exams, I open the pages, void of any marks, and I look at him, waiting for his gaze to reach mine, and I tell him to try. Upon his refusal, I ask once more, in the hopes that maybe one day he will, before moving on to another child, one with a question and putting effort into their education.
Bent at the waist over a desk to help a student read a word problem, I feel the light damp shot hit my lower back where my shirt has slightly risen. My expectations of my students, higher than many have for themselves, has finally irked the refusing boy enough to seek a jab at me. As I finish working with the other student, I hear a knowing giggle arise as I readjust my shirt and make my way back to the front of the class.
I find Russell Barkley’s quote, “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving way” fitting, for coming from a home where schooling lacks value, this young boy doesn’t hold a high regard of himself, and hence I choose to continue to provide a new perspective where the individual bears value. Perhaps in the future he will see this within himself, and pass the sentiment along.
Reading under the lone tree
Preface: 8th standard does not have a classroom, but rather shares a hall with 2 kindergarten classes, and sits on the floor in the middle in front of a chalkboard. Often times, the hall is in use by others and becomes unavailable to us, and hence my two 8th standard Teach For India mentors lead class in the computer lab, a room with a lone working computer adjacent to the principal’s office where teachers go for meetings and to eat lunch.
With many of the government teachers in a meeting in the computer lab, and the hall in use, 8th standard’s class moved to the cement flat outside the school building, leaning the chalkboard against the lone tree. After a short maths lesson, learning about the different types of lines and how to identify them, there remained some time before the school day ended, allowing the students to let loose prior to heading home. Before running off, two students brought the board back into the meeting room, leaving the tree bare once more. Fishing my book (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini) out of my backpack, I sat amidst the speckled shade and reclined against the tree. Beginning to read silently to myself, one of my students tentatively came behind the tree, appearing interested in my book. With a slight motion to come sit next to me, I began to read aloud, drawing my finger across the page so that he may see where I was in the text. With the start of the next paragraph, another young boy from 7th standard has seated himself nearby and instead of reading aloud, I’m being read to, only speaking when coming across an unfamiliar word or to help with pronunciation. This unplanned gathering of curious readers continued to grow while simultaneously filling my heart with joy, watching the wonderment of a story unfold onto wide eyes and eager ears around me.