TFI School Part 2

Noah Montemarano - India

January 26, 2018

Hi everyone. Sorry again for the delay. I’ve written several different posts I’ve decided to keep private. Regardless, after a few concerned emails (and some uncharacteristically nice texts from friends 🙂 )  I thought I should inform everyone of my new school situation. 

I am no longer the full time social science teacher. My role is now far more flexible. I teach roughly 1-3 classes social science classes per day, occasionally tutor math groups, and assist students in reading / art projects / random homework assignments in the after-school center.  Overall my schedule is longer (I’m working from 8:00-5:00) but I’m under far less pressure. 

The truth is, the difficulty of teaching in a TFI classroom has not changed. Even after five months in Pune, I still struggle to maintain the class’s attention. I’m still frustrated at times. I still leave classes demoralized. But in my own mind, I’ve reaffirmed the necessity of my own patience, and of deeply immersing in a problem before expecting to fully solve it. 

That patience has produced one great realization for me: In the past months, I’ve most often been annoyed when students don’t take me as seriously as the other teachers. Something deep and innate interprets their inattentiveness as a personal offense. In that moment, I feel as if I’m trying to prove my worth in the classroom – that I’m not just a feeble and unqualified teenager stumbling about the classroom, that I have some purpose being at the school and being in India. Those personal grievances are unfairly imposed upon the students. And what I may perceive as “wanting the students to learn” may not be my only true intention.

Over that same time,  I’ve realized the students exploit my class time asking for games, talking, laughing, yelling, because they otherwise have little time to do so. Most students attend school Monday – Saturday along with daily tutoring sessions As I monitor their other classes, most teachers (some of the kindest people I’ve met) keep strict order. Speaking out of turn will get students beaten with a ruler or their ears pulled vigorously. In September I remember asking Samruddi, a more well-behaved student, why I don’t command the same respect. She said it’s because I don’t frighten them, because I don’t beat them. 

Better understanding my children doesn’t entirely absolve my frustration – I still want them to learn. But it gives some relief and, as I perceive the classroom in more nuanced and human light, allows me to appreciate the formerly intangible good of allowing the kids to be kids. 

Becoming close to the local Teach For India team has also helped. Together we spent an entire week replanning the after-school center, to align both with academics but also provide a free and creative space. I’m leading small group sessions with five of the most poorly behaved students in discussions and bizarre arts projects. Although it comes with its own difficulties, doubts and failures – and although the school remains as difficult as ever – I’ve learned to appreciate much of what I couldn’t before.  

Noah Montemarano