Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Benchmark just got higher


On 4th Dec 2011, 23 of my students appeared for NSTSE exam.

Picture this –

99% of my students in my classroom on July 15, 2011 were not able to answer the question:

Circle the sixth balloon.

And to prepare for NSTSE, on 1st Dec, I dare to give them a worksheet that asked them to solve:

Nitin is standing 5th from left and 6th from right. How many people are standing in the queue altogether?

When I was preparing that worksheet a night before, two other teach for India fellows said to me that you are being two hard on the kids. But when next morning I gave students this worksheet, after explaining few concepts around it, 80% of them got it right. Teaching the concept was needed but most importantly for me as a teacher, I knew the benchmark question, and I was able to build up the thought process in them. For two months, efforts like these changed the entire equation of the classroom. Earlier when I was teaching curriculum thinking that kids need to go by a step-by-step process, I restricted myself thinking that their cognitive abilities need to be developed in a slow and sequential manner. But I was forgetting that learning curve of the kids is so high and they can start connecting the dots and picking up quickly.

Within a span of two months, few kids got to the level of answering questions like “Write the smallest three-digit odd number from numbers - 0, 2, 1, 9’ when few days earlier they were still learning what a three digit number was.

Of course, not all students could do it. But those who could, they were hungry for these kind of challenges.

The day the exam got over, I realized I have created a big problem for myself. In my classroom, the divide became greater. The kids who solved questions like the above, cannot be given simple question now. They were done with the direct syllabus. While there were still few kids who appeared for NSTSE but would love a step-by-step approach and didn’t mind teaching of objectives slowly again. And then there were kids who still cannot answer  July 15th questions

 “Circle the sixth balloon’

“Circle the odd number’

“Circle the smallest number’

The way I used to teach pre-NSTSE days was of no use anymore. The level of customization that was needed now surpassed every kind of customization that I have done before. And teaching the NSTSE kids at supernova speed also led me to have lesser time for data maintenance about their mastering objectives of the prescribed syllabus. So, as a teacher I was basically screwed – I could no longer introduce a new concept in uniform way to the entire class, my data was messed up and I had no clue whatsoever how to teach different classes that I had created by MY OWN HANDS in what earlier was uniformly a 2nd grade.

I had to go back to the drawing table. I took the first objective – Number names.

And created four different worksheets that have questions for different students:

------------------------------------------------------------
High performing kids ; Write the number names of all 3-digit numbers that are possible from digits 0, 4, 6,7. (Lengthy questions like these kept them busy for a long time that I needed for kids haven’t yet mastered the objective.)
------------------------------------------------------------
Medium performing kids : Write the number names of all 3-digit numbers that are possible from digits 3,1,2. (These kids were occupied as well!)
------------------------------------------------------------
Non-NSTSE kids – First Group : Write number names of following numbers:

512, 521, 215, 251, 125, 152
------------------------------------------------------------
Non-NSTSE kids- Second group:

Fill in the blanks:

Color the right star:

672 is Six hundred and ______

Seventy Two          Eighty Three     (written inside stars)

They progressed to the worksheets of non-nstse first group after this
------------------------------------------------------------

Of all the worksheets that I have created these worked like a magic. Now while I test all the students with same objective, different kids got challenges at their skill level and not higher. And I managed my entire class with a very micro level of customization. My data could be maintained easily as well.

I have done this for three objectives so far in Maths and now everything is back to smooth yet again. But this work requires enormous amount of time in panning, checking and analyzing data. I fear what one of my friend cautioned me – of  getting burnt out. But I wish to do it exactly the way I described. Once you have seen the benchmark of level of customkization that is possible, you really cannot turn your back. It is a matter of 38 lives in one hand.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Notes End of November


Something does not seem right. I have divided kids into groups and yet I am not able to keep up with the pace of each group, each child and each style. Can an individual teach like this? I wished to optimize and I still wish to.  As soon as I start writing this, I want to leave this and go and draft worksheets addressing different audiences. There is so much turbulence in this job. I think it is there in every job but it depends on how many responsibilities one is ready to take.

 Few kids don’t make noise. I sometimes don’t see them what they have learnt. At the end of the day, I see their faces and still don’t know whether they got what I taught.  I wish to spend more time with each individual child, see her growing in her studies, in learning from one objective to combination of objectives. I want to open the brain of each child and know how they are assimilating information I post to them and where do they keep it – in their permanent or temporary memory?

I see their books and hope that all students find them as easy as I and that they are able to do it as quickly as I can do. But I am not at their level, I still don’t completely understand challenges their brain gives to them. I don’t recall much about my own second standard but I hope that these kids remember each objective I taught them, that I don’t have to revise this often. Their silly mistakes screw up my data. I know a kid knows the answer but she is not writing it down. Why not? I send this questions in empty classrooms of afternoon.

I imagine classrooms I saw during trainings and visualize how much possibilities exist of achieving in first year. And then think about my class which got painted before Diwali but still hadn’t all charts on the walls. I try to prioritize but all variables are not in my hands. I cannot control few things. Two Pillars of planning and executing are not matching. I am planning something else and reaching somewhere else.  Dynamics are not dependent on me. In my previous job, I would fix the bug and see the output, try, retry but still would see the errors. But I always knew where I needed to put the band-aid. But here, water flows from all directions. It blinds me so much that I can’t figure out where is the leak. Dynamics are more intense. I don’t have all available pointers.

I wish to replan and think again about execution. I wish to make best use of my time and of the kids.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ETHICAL DILEMMA


While writing my business school applications last year, I came across this question so many times “Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma?” And I have faced one in truest sense recently. I have enrolled kids in my classroom for NSTSE exam to be held on 4th December. I kept it open for all kids in my classroom and told parents that I will try to be as helpful as possible but please do not expect results in this first year and pay only if it is not a burden on you. 23 Parents enrolled their kids by paying Rs 200/-. When the material finally arrived for preparation; I realized that only few kids in my class have real shot at it. I had a choice to make – choose those few students, increased their chances or instead take all the kids along who have enrolled. I have taken the middle path. While I am creating scaffolded worksheets for all students who are participating but I am giving individual attention to only 15 students out of 23 who enrolled, taking their extra classes and finding out what objectives they have not yet mastered.

 I wanted other 8 kids to earn that attention from me – to know that Didi will choose them only if they are committed. Today, mother of the naughtiest child of my class came to meet me in middle of school hours. She couldn’t meet me during my community visit. She never showed in two of previous parent-teachers meetings. She even sent the money through someone else. She never showed after repeated mentions in Diary. She never showed up when her child beat the other child in the class while I stepped out for administrative work . But she showed up today because she wanted to know when her neighbor’s daughter has been enrolled in extra classes for NSTSE preparation, why is not her son? I gave her my reason but wrapped up the discussion quickly to get back to my class. I asked her to call me after school gets over. She called before I expected but at that time I was taking an extra class. She called after an hour again with a simple request “Please retain my son for extra classes. I will make sure he studies”.

Bull’s eye! I thought and said “Why not!” I was glad that it vindicated my decision of choosing to teach the chosen few and making others serious about it by that choice. I hope I didn’t let down one value of my class . “ACT RIGHT!”. What do you say?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Viva La Vida


Smile from a distance to someone you know. Face of someone sleeping. Sun rays on your face as you turn towards East in morning. New parents’ exchanging looks. An old couple walking together. Grandmother’s voice. A sweet tiredness after a sweaty run. Laughter of a child. Food you cooked well. Choosing a career instead of other way round. 
A beautiful life!


Solving a question you didn’t think you had an answer. Reading a book that brings you closer to yourself.  Finding a failure. Walking again into it next day anyway. Eventually finding answer of why you failed.
Reaching life!


A failed relationship. A dysfunctional family.  A loving partner. An understanding family. Happiness. Emptiness. Festival. An uncomplaining friend. Sorrow. Illness. Responsibility. Misunderstanding. A caring sibling. A wrong decision. A deserved appreciation. An unexpected opportunity. Out of control situations. Unsaid words. Waiting for second chances.
Ambiguous Life!

Viva La Vida!




Wednesday, November 2, 2011

So you want to be a social worker?


Who is a social worker? One of the simplest definition that one can hear is “Someone who serves the society.” But let us just question this definition. Why society needs to be served? Is it poor? Is it incapable? Does it have lesser than us? 
Or do you think society is being exploited and a social worker is that “benevolent” species who helps the society to fight that exploitation because he is in love with humanity?
Or a social worker is that “selfish” species who wants to have an ego satisfaction of being benevolent and want to have that pride of “I work for the needy”?
Or you may say “powerful can escape the crime they have done on the powerless” and a social worker is the one who fights for powerless?
Not long from now, answers to above questions were mostly “yes” for me. But now when I have turned into a social worker by job title the answers are not affirmative anymore.

The first premise: “Social worker serves the poor in the society”
Man’s greatest incapacity is demonstrated when he finds an excuse for his situation – I am poor and stuck in vicious circle of poverty. So, why you don’t break that circle? You will have 13 children when you cannot feed yourself. You will be a part of the unions – beggars, rickshawalahs, coolies etc – and find yourself sitting idle rather than work. Finally when you sit idle for so long, you will sleep on a road platform only to be run over by a BMW. Then a social worker should come to help you to provide you justice? You will be the first to fight for your religion and be part of communal violence and expects police to save you and a social worker to rescue you? My dear poor friend, the only reason why you are poor is because you have not exercised your greatest gift – the gift of reasoning and a social worker should only be helping you find that it exists. The fight is of your own.

The second premise: “Social worker serves the incapable”
Let us define incapable here. Physically challenged or mentally challenged or rationally challenged? Take example of Helen Keller for physically challenged as shown in movie “Black”. Is your idea of benevolence a social worker should have is same as that her mother had or her teacher had? Her teacher was not at all benevolent. In fact, he was cruel. Was he still a social worker? In highest sense of term. He helped her find out the reasoning that “I can do it. I will do it” unlike everyone else whose benevolence was born out of pity that “she cannot”. Did the teacher serve the incapable or the capable?

The third premise : “Social worker serves people who have lesser than us”
What they have less? Money? Power? Or they belong to inferior race, caste? What a social worker will do for them? Mahatma Gandhi is considered a champion of caste oppression. But did he serve the Harijans because they had lesser than other castes or because they were equal to any other caste? Did he serve the people who are lesser than us or people who are equal to us?

A social worker serves the equally capable men and women who have not yet found the gift of reasoning in themselves and they are lesser, incapable and poor in only that sense.

Can any Tom, Dick and Harry become a social worker? Certainly not. It is a job where you require great leadership skills and great convictions. It is a job where you need belief not only on yourself but on people who you are working for. It is a job which does not work on principle of love for fellow men or kindness towards them but on rationality, reasoning and will-power.

And if you are altruist by nature then job of a social worker is certainly not for you. You really need to be selfish for the purpose of serving someone else. You are serving them for your own sake. You want to use your skills to help them find their capability. It is you who you want to win most badly. You want to be a champion or a teacher to bring out other people’s capability.

If you are becoming a social worker because you feel for the society or you are benevolent or an altruist or you love humanity then you are setting out yourself with false premises because to be a social worker you will have to be cruel, egoist and truly, madly, deeply in love with yourself.
As for me, I am trying hard to become one.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A bad day that wasn’t


One of the challenges being in Teach for India classroom is that despite the outside world projecting you as overly qualified for a job of a primary teacher, you won’t feel you are. It is easy to be a teacher in Delhi, perhaps the country. You come to school on time, write things on black-board, ask kids to copy that down and check it for an hour. And worse, you check their diaries for an hour too to see if they have copied homework correctly.

But when you really figured out what teaching should be, you fill find out it requires qualification much greater than just a college degree. It requires you to have innate strength. From last two weeks, I am trying to be a well-planned teacher but I yet again failed to deliver. I am trying to find that strength again.

I had a good planned week. Had my everyday agenda ready, had my lesson plans ready, had my class painted, had a parent-teacher meeting, had every print-out prepared. But today I came close to saying this – I cannot do this

This is how it happened. In one of our Project Manager debriefs, we collectively inferred that when we are teaching Reading Comprehension objectives, we are focusing more on teaching kids “what” rather than “how”.  We have been doing this because our kids are ESL learners and we are still struggling to have them identify the language. But kids, when they grow up, will kill us for doing this, for not equipping them with “How to think”. So, when I planned my lesson for this week, I kept the focus on “How”
My objective for this week is “Identify character’s action by visualization”. My focus was on visualization. So, kids should imagine, draw pictures in their heads, and show that picture to me somehow – by acting or by drawing. And after they have done that, they should tell me what character’s action is. The easy way is to directly do it. They read and tell me the character’s action. But then that doesn’t equip them with the approach to crack any future WHAT!

When I started teaching my class today, I kept my focus on lesson plan but I soon found out that to teach kids “how” can throw your lesson plans to doldrums. It is strange that it reminds me of my engineering days, when someone told me that electrical engineering is harder than any other engineering because you just cannot see anything. You have to imagine a magnetic flux or an electromagnetic field to understand the concept. And to teach kids visualization to find out character’s action rather than directly take a short-cut to read and tell them character’s action, suffered from the same problem of intangibility. Needless to say, almost all kids were off-task in my class!

So my class was a disaster. But then I had my moment. I asked few kids to stay back so that they understand the concept. And before I explained it, one of them actually visualized and told me the answer. He told me he cannot draw the picture of what is on his mind so he would rather act it out. He acted and told me the character’s action. Objective was met and the reading strategy delivered for the child I assumed I hadn’t. Rest of them might not be that far behind.

I revered this moment by having both my following meals ordered!


Monday, October 10, 2011

Big goals in my classroom



I wanted my kids to have vision and big goals like other Teach for India classrooms but I was not finding any excellent way to propose these to my kids. I wanted something that students will be excited about. 

I had written my first vision statement draft: 


To bring out the best academic potential within ourselves and to hone our personal passions  so that when we grow we reach our best paths


It was an appropriate vision statement but it was not at all something that will last in students' memory. So, I kept on deferring introduction of vision and big goals. Today, finally I introduced Big goals to my students. This is how it happened:

Didi : Didi wants to know where you want to be after you finish your second class. Do you want to be a bad second class?

Students: NO

Didi: Do you want to be good second class?

Students: Yes

Didi: Do you want to be as good as Chaddha school's second class?

One Student shouted: Better than that

Didi: Do you want to be better than all second classes in Delhi?

Students : Yes

Didi: There is a second class in Mumbai. Students in that class are very intelligent in English and Maths.  So, we will be second after them.

Students : No Didi. We first.

Didi: OK. What about Japan. Students there are very hard-working. We should be second after them

Students : NOOOOOOOOO. We first.

And I continued to different countries for next three minutes – America, China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal etc until kids themselves derived that we want to be first in world.

As soon as they said that, I asked them do you want to be first in this world when you finish second class?

In unison they shouted : YESSS. We are champions.

Then I wrote two words on black-board : ACE ATLAS

And told them the meaning of these words. I knew that both were new words for kids so I explained the meaning. I explained to them this is our Big Goal (another new word for them)

But after this I told them that this is our secret. If it is leaked then all second classes in the world will try to come first. THEY BOUGHT IT!

One of the thinkers said “Didi. Yes they will start studying more than us” (in Hindi)

I said “Yes! So let us make a secret code for our Big Goal. How many letter ACE has?”

Kids answered “3”

“And what about ATLAS?”

Kids answered “5”

“So, from now onwards, we will speak only the code of our Big goal – 35. Don’t tell anyone what does it stands for. Will you tell class 3?”

“No”

“Will you tell class 4?”

“No”

“Will you tell your brother?”

“No”

“If someone asks your big goal, what number will you say?”

“35”

“Excellent!”

“Didi, can I tell my mother?”

“NOOOOOO…Absolutely no one. It is our secret!”

And throughout the day whenever I asked my kids about the big goal, they would say 35. I asked them what it meant. They remembered “ACE ATLAS” and then I asked what does that meant.  “We will be best second class in the world!” was the answer.

Just after their post-lunch toilet break, all kids were making noise, but otherwise noisy Chirag who was surprisingly sitting quietly stood up to say “Didi, world best class!” and started laughing……So I still have a champion who does not believe in his class’ big goal!

There are few add-ons that this big goal has – measurable and realistic criteria to become best class in the world which I will try to publish soon. But I finally gave a kick-start to the big goal  that my kids and I needed badly.

But meanwhile, I wish to share another set of secret code.
Not only big goal of my class will be number 35 but four values as well:

Get Power – of knowledge
Act Right – Always do the right thing
See Clear- Know where are you going
Fly again – If you ever go down, rise up

I have decided to name the teams in my class with four values above – “Get Power team”, “Act Right team” etc. And get kids excited about the number 35 this whole week and for rest of the year!


I was happy to do it and kids were happy to know it! Howzzat?

Letter to parents of kids in my classroom


I have started a series of letters from this week onward to parents of kids in my classroom. This is first one of them. I distributed this one in my classroom today.

प्रिय माता-पिता / अभिभावक,

 मेरा नाम ____  है और मैं क्लास 2 की क्लास-टीचर हूँ. मैं पेशे से एक सॉफ्टवेर इंजिनियर थी और बंगलोर में एक सुखद नौकरी कर रही थी. परन्तु एक अच्छी नौकरी के बावजूद मैं प्रसन्न नहीं थी. मैं बचपन से ही देश की सेवा करने की इच्छुक थी इसलिए मैंने स्कूल में पढ़ाने का निश्चय लिया. अगले दो सालों तक मैं आपके बच्चे की क्लास टीचर रहूंगी और अपने पूरी जान लगा कर बच्चों का भविष्य सुनिश्चित करुँगी.

मैं अपने क्लास के हर बच्चे को देश-विदेश के उच्चतम कॉलेज में पढता हुआ देखना चाहती हूँ ताकि वह अपनी ज़िन्दगी सम्मान के साथ व्यतीत कर सके. मेरे लिए मेरी क्लास का हर बच्चा एक उम्मीद है अपने परिवार के लिए और मुझे जानकारी है की आप कितनी आर्थिक और व्यवस्थापाक कठिनाइयों के साथ अपने बच्चे को पढ़ा  रहे हैं.

इस ख़त के ज़रिये मैं आपको अपने दो लक्ष्यों की जानकारी देना चाहती हूँ. मैं यह ख़त इसलिए भी लिख रहीं हूँ की मैं आपकी उत्तरदायी हूँ और आपको जानने का पूरा हक है की बच्चे क्लास में किस उद्धेश्य के साथ पढ़ते हैं.

 मेरा पहला लक्ष्य - मैं क्लास के हर बच्चे में इंग्लिश को समझनेबोलने, पढने और लिखने की क्षमता अगले दो महीनों में दुगनी करना चाहती हूँ. आज दुनिया के अच्छे कॉलेज में जाने के लिए सबसे ज्यादा ज़रूरी है इंग्लिश की योग्यता. अभी बच्चों की अंग्रेजी ऐसी नहीं है की वह अपने क्लास की किताबें पढ़ सकें और समझ सकें. इसके लिए ज़रूरी है बच्चों कि उत्तर रटने की आदत का हम बिलकुल त्याग कर दें और समझने पर जोर दें. 

मेरा दूसरा लक्ष्य - 
4 -दिसम्बर को राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर गडित की परीक्षा NSTSE का आयोजन है. इस परीक्षा की फीस Rs २००/ है. इस परीक्षा में पाठ्यक्रम दूसरी कक्षा का ही है परन्तु सवाल बच्चों की कौशलता को जांचने के लिए थोड़े मुश्किल होंगे. इस परीक्षा की फीस 15 अक्टूबर तक भरनी है. परीक्षा East Delhi में ही किसी दुसरे स्कूल में होगी. इस परीक्षा के ज़रिये बच्चे अपने अन्दर की  प्रतिस्पर्धता  का और विकास कर पाएंगे. मैं चाहती हूँ की हर बच्चा इस  परीक्षा में भाग ले. इस परीक्षा की तयारी के लिए पुस्तकें मिलेंगी परीक्षा की फीस भरने पर. 

इन दो लक्ष्यों की और जानकारी देने के लिए अथवा इन लक्ष्यों की योजना बताने के लिए मैंने  इस thursday  को सुबह ठीक 8 बजे एक मीटिंग का आयोजन किया है. आप से विनती है की आप इसमें बच्चों के साथ ठीक समय पर शामिल हों. इस मीटिंग के बाद स्कूल अपने नियमित समय 1 बजे तक चलेगा. 

आपकी विश्वसनीय,
_______

Monday, October 3, 2011

To Emma, with love


My program manager, Emma, was sitting in front of me in a meeting room at Teach for India office. She asked me a pretty simple question after she had visited my classroom earlier.
“So, you have your daily agenda in the classroom?”
“I used to have”
“Didn’t it work?”
“No. It actually did”
“Then why don’t you have it anymore?”
“I am just focusing my time on other things I guess”
I thought mentally: Somewhere along the line I dropped one good practice I had adapted.
She knew I got the point. She can see on my face I guess. So, she continued to another bullet point

“Your kids seem to be more confident in speaking English. What have you done?”

“I taught them how to make simple present tense sentence first of all, then how to use prepositions and made them practice it through different story books.” I proudly said.

She replied “Don’t you think that after you started speaking more English in your classroom, they have improved?”

I replied “Oh! Yeah may be. No, actually.....surely”

Recently, I have become stricter with myself and have given all instructions in English and that English must be getting out from my kids what is getting in them through me. And Lo! I was giving all credits to my instructions.

Here it was a good practice that I have adapted. J

“So, how do you plan your day?” She continued asking

“I make a note on my previous day and try to write on my notebook what I am going to teach tomorrow and to a little extent, how am I teaching.”

She smiled. She know that I am still a struggling teacher and after listening to what I just said she would have to show some patience here because the way I am planning is nowhere close to what I should be doing. She made a suggestion “Next Friday, let us plan a reading comprehension lesson together and we will co-teach.”

“Oh! What a wonderful way to address this. Instead of giving me talks on how should I be planning etc which she knows that I am already aware of, she is going to give me a one-hour walk-through planning session  on how can I be more efficient and plan more effectively.” I thought

Next she gave me walk-through on the lesson plan she observed.  And we had a good discussion on
the content I delivered.

I walked out of the meeting room completely energized. I was glad I have got a program manager who understands exactly what I need and how I need it. As much as she was sending message across about my areas of improvement, what I like best about her is that she is doing it by extending 100% support and not judging me at my current struggling level and believing (not pretending) that I can improve.And more importantly, making me believe that I can perform at a better level.

“High expectation is a self-fulfilling prophecy” I murmured quoting it directly from the material Teach for India had sent to us before our training began. Once again, at Teach for India, I found an example of practicing what is preached.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not calling it a day



More than two months have passed since I started teaching in 2nd grade. Frankly, it was easier being an engineer than a teacher. I used to work 14 hours a day in my previous life but once I was home, I would turn my mind off from work. Once at home, I would be the last one my manager would call to fix an issue because he knew I don’t like that idea of working after calling the day. Now I am a teacher, a primary school teacher as I proudly like to say, and I am facing a severe crisis managing my personal and professional life.

I have sometimes very difficult choices to make – walk down three storeys to open the knob of water tank to have some running water in my house versus check the phonics paper and enter data.  To go for a run versus making a lesson plan for next week. Look for the maid because she didn’t turn up last two days versus making a schedule for extra classes. Teaching 8th graders English because they wish to learn that versus making a database for school administration. Creating worksheets according to school syllabus versus making assessments according to EI standards.  Spending Sunday to assemble my cycle versus taking printouts for next literature lesson. Call to my parents versus presentation for my students parents.

Lots of threads are currently running in parallel – managing classrooms, investing parents, investing school administration, setting up classroom, planning assessments and getting them printed, analyzing data and figuring out which objective is not yet mastered, maintaining a proper learning gradient for brighter kids as well as the emergent-level kids. 

This makes this whole experience hard. As a 2nd year TFI fellow pointed out the other day,if  everything seems to be IMPORTANT AND URGENT then you are not managing well. Guilty as charged. For me, it is becoming increasingly difficult to streamline all the threads.  I don’t know what keeps me going but I ain’t qutting. I am not calling the day yet. The more I do, more I wish to do.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Redemption


To prevent fan’s air from next room, I pushed the door to close it. It was 6:30AM. I lighted an agarbatti to pray after a long time. I closed my eyes. It was a hard day yesterday at school and I wanted, very selfishly, to be blessed with more patience today. When I opened my eyes, I saw smoke changing direction because of the air coming through the slit of the door. A strange thought crossed my mind - what if one day I can unleash that power within to change direction even when the door is closed.

School’s assembly started at 7:40 AM. I was standing behind my class to take mental attendance. Gurdeep hadn’t come today as well. That small child cries whenever he comes to school. His parents were mute and he also was not blessed with good speaking ability. He was having an impeded brain as well. Everyday he shows up with fresh injuries - someone keeps showing power on the weak. His peers in class laugh at him when he tries to speak-up. He never feels hungry during recess. He cannot repeat whatever I am saying - even in Hindi. To see a dream of building his comprehension skills  may require a Hubble’s telescope.  It is so hard to believe that I can change direction of his life. And if I can’t see myself seeing it, how will I make him believe?

Oh! Even Mahek is absent today. She gets bored in class because she is a little ahead of everyone. I closed my eyes again.

It is so hard to manage a bell curve. It reminded me of a heated argument with my boss few months ago in what seems like a past life when I didn’t like that he gave a reward to someone I thought didn’t deserve instead of someone who did. Now I can so easily see these are so difficult decisions. I tend to create exception for that weaker child but is it a right choice considering that I might be destroying his self-esteem? How much scaffolded questions I will be able to create for children like Mahek so that their learning path is not retraced?

I wish to have a redemption from this small myopic life. I want to see a dream for each kid, love them equally, respond to them with 100% enthusiasm 100% of time, plan in a way that it never require remediation with any kid, and become a world-class instructor with constrained resources. I need to be all of it. I need to be all of it real fast!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Letter to my team in previous company

Hello everyone,

Sorry I have not emailed you in a long time. I haven't forgotten. It's just that last few days have been crazy.

So, I started teaching from this Monday and have officially become a teacher. Currently, I am managing two classrooms as another Teach for India fellow is undergoing training. He will be joining in another three weeks to manage one of the classrooms.

Before recess break, I teach Class 2 and after recess I teach Class 3. And managing two classrooms of 35 kids each is very hard. Most of the students are from very poor background. These are first-generation learners. Most of the mothers are housemaids, or do laundry, or are toy-makers. They cannot even read students' diaries I write.

I have a kid who is about to loose his sight completely in few months. He comes to school because he loves to learn. And whatever homework I give, he makes sure he finishes it. A very self-motivated child. I have another student who has some issues with his motor skills. He cannot even repeat a simple word I speak.

I have taken diagnostic test for students to assess their current English and Maths level according to EI standards. 100% of my students have scored less than 50%. The situation is really appalling.

By rote memorization, Students have learnt to read the words. But they don't understand meaning of them. So, they don't even know the meaning of "Have you got it?" or "Didi is dancing" or "Crying" or "Angry"

Teaching is very hard. One of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. But there are lot of inspirations in Teach for India staff and fellows. Like my current Program Manager lived all her life in UK and taught in Uganda in her first year. She managed 400 kids in a week in different shifts teaching continuously for 15 hours. I have to manage just 35 after three weeks.

I miss office sometimes. I miss the times I did Server-Application Data Scenarios or resolved Birth Certificate Issues or did those conference calls or had Dosa and tea breaks. They were good times. Challenging but comfortable in lot of ways.

But here I am, at the place where I am needed more badly than anywhere else. I have a vision. These kids should become capable of taking their families out of abject poverty. But currently these kids are not invested  that can make this even a remote possibility. I have a huge challenge in hand. I hope I can live to see it through.

I no longer have well-polished conference rooms or an air-conditioned workstation. I eat chalk dust everyday in harsh Delhi summers. I don't even have that kind of pay check as I used to have. My life has gone for a complete 360 degrees toss. I don't mind. I sleep well. Really well!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

As I began to Teach for India!


There are dozens of times when you wonder about the purpose of life. After all we are just a speck in this giant scheme of things. You talk about spirituality and about worthiness.  But you usually don’t find a definite answer.

There are dozens of times when you try to balance your life between comforts and pain. Watching Shawshank Redemption on a hot sunny day reminds you that somebody crawled five football fields of shit for redemption. But you usually get muddled up in small petty issues of laundry and broken relationships. And you thought you had a great pain.

There are dozens of times when trust does not work, hope is a dangerous thing and optimism is lethal. You take great risks, you thought you calculated, but life takes you to another inconclusive direction. And if you are objective enough you may realize what action of yours led to what.

There are dozens of times when love seems too dangerous. You see your friends making compromises that are giving immense pain to their souls. You have seen their tears and you know they are hurting themselves badly. And then you are forced to think how love is supposed to be. But you still fall in love.
There are dozens of times when you feel less caring towards your family. You know you should have done better and take more care of them. And you promise to do better!

And then a beautiful day in your life comes. You neither need a definite answer, nor you feel your own pain. You are really not worried about direction of your life and you are not perturbed about who is your soulmate. You know you will soon have ability to keep promises and you are organized as if you are ready for the free fall. You learn how to live the moment and even better - how to make it!

This beautiful day came yesterday as I began to Teach for India!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Wake-Up Call and a Teach For India Fellow


This evening I went to watch a play at India Habitat Centre called Wake-Up Call with two other TFI fellows and a fellow’s friend who has been recently selected as IAS Officer. The play was based on Delhi Bombing and the acting was superb, to an extent that you wish it was your profession. The cries of family members who lost, the media reporters who needed ostentatious video feeds, a cynical beggar advising everyone to commit suicide and the gorgeous Vasundhara Das who encouraged people to live and cope-up, gave the play so much life that each member in the audience must be having anger towards the inconvenient truth of “Life is not fair”

When the play ended, Vasundara, in one of the most melodious voice I have ever heard, asked the audience if they wish to make a promise to themselves to take ownership of their country in any small but impactful way. That’s obviously a favorite topic of TFIers. We have reflected so much on these kinds of topics that we would be first to grab the microphone and speak about it. And so we did. One of the 2010 fellow spoke about how we are teaching in an under-resourced school and the kind of impact we daily make. The audience applauded and it was that kind of applause when you know it's for real. Another gentleman said that he has seen his neighbors washed his five cars wasting so much water and that he will never use water to wash his own cars from today onwards. The audience sighed. A lady spoke that after living abroad she has returned in one of the most posh colonies of Delhi and found that people have lost that sense of knowing thy neighbor, so she will work to bring that culture back.

Suddenly out of the blue, a gentleman asked what was the purpose of this play? His point of view was that we already know that we don’t do anything about anything evil in our country and that EXCEPT the gentleman who teaches for India, no one else is actually making a point here. Vasundhara replied with lot of grace that the idea is just to have mind over most important matters and that people don’t forget the losses they make because they have chosen to look the other way.

I just want to go back to the speech that Anand Shah gave, about which I wrote few days back. If there is a tree on the road then you really have to drive around it and you cannot ignore its presence. The word EXCEPT in the sentence of this gentleman was the real example of that tree. I saw a change happening. If it wasn’t for that fellow’s contribution, this gentleman would have said “No one is and no one will do anything about it. Nothing is practical and your play spreads no message and solves no purpose.”

The power that a walking TFI fellow can give to a platform like this, where only rich and famous who owns five cars and lives in the posh colony exists, is unique. For all the things that TFI has made me reflect, I think that one of the greatest powers TFI has is to bring live issues from floors of underprivileged to coffee tables of privileged, from “Nothing can happen in this country. You try to start and you will meet your end” to “Oh Yeah! We are doing it Baby and we will live long enough to tell you how!”

By the end of the event, I could easily tell there were more people who were envied of the job of a Teach for India fellow than the jobs of those brilliant actors. And that my friend was a real proud moment!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New girl in the city

There is one stark difference that could be easily noted by someone who has migrated from Bangalore to Delhi. Delhi roads are wider but Bangalore homes have more colorful exteriors– purple, green, orange, even red. Delhi homes are black – People don’t prefer to paint their homes exteriors as they know the soot will reappear.
When I used to get inside a local bus in Bangalore, women would wait very patiently in a queue to get in when they could see that they aren’t going to get any seats. In metro today however, even though seating space in women’s coach was full and women who were waiting outside knew there is enough room for standing but they refused to wait for other women to step out and then an unnecessary deadlock was created. What does this tells about general mentality difference of women in Delhi and Bangalore?

A new girl in the city is facing a culture shock in her own country!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In pursuit of......


The door opened. I was looking down before stepping out of the metro  as I saw her footwears. Nice elegant leather sandals. I looked at her suit next. That was a nice choice too. And then I saw her face. A beautiful face but with tangible sadness. A very odd thought ran through my mind. When I saw the sandal, I thought someone wearing these kind of sandals should be a smart and a happy person. Why I thought that? And why despite of such an elegance, she looked sad.

I hopped into a rickshaw. I could only see a dark brown body soaked into a yellow vest struggling to pull the rickshaw. It looked like that the body had been overused and is exhausted of everyday struggles but still can’t give up. As the rickshaw moved ahead, I passed-by a funeral march. Someone yelled, “Do it before 5 PM or it will be postponed to next day!” A little distance ahead, I saw women crying, crying out loud, cries - some were real, some not-so-real. We reached a road adjacent to a park. A poor child with naked feet walking over a garbage dump with a kite clutched tightly. What happiness is he seeking? Sadness is all I am seeing. I reached home. The summer was too hard for the rickshaw-wala. He stood there waiting for his fare to be handed over. He was looking down as if he doesn't like serving someone this way, a job in which despite all his hard work, he couldnt keep his head high with pride.

Few years back, when I watched pursuit of happiness, I was moved when Will Smith said that he used to see people around him happy and he wanted to be happy too.

 But why I am seeing sadness all around. What I’m in pursuit of?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Ground Reality in the Interim


I have never been this consistent about blogging as I am these days but with kind of daily experiences en route sharing is crucial. The reality of being a teacher in low-income school has started hitting. After I reached Delhi on Sunday, I have been searching for a house.

I teamed with another girl  from TFI who was looking for a house too. As our first action, we decided to have a look at the schools in which we will be teaching. My school was closed. I could see a small green color gate. The school looked smaller than the most government houses I have seen all my life. We next visited my friend’s school and to describe it I need to change the paragraph and dramatize.

 We got off at the metro station. We told her school’s name. No one knew. We explained a landmark. Rickshaw walas started guessing. We hopped into one whose rickshaw-puller looked supremely confident in his claim. The streets were one of the most crowded streets I have seen in a while and one of the poorest too. . No doubt most landmarks and most schools were lost in the crowd irrecoverably.  I looked at my friend’s face. Her expression had started changing. She said “I have to dress really conservatively here. I don’t see women around”. It was majorly a Muslim area - an area where mostly shops were owned by butchers.  After fifteen minutes of bumping on what looked like the streets from “The Kite Runner”, we turned into Gali No. 9. As I think back now, I remember that “Gali” as a street from movie Dil Se with scary music in the background and camera rushing to nowhere.

The school looked like a construction place. As we stepped in, a worker looked at my friend and said that you must be looking for the school right across the street, the bigger one. The classrooms were small, no sunlight. The construction sand was pervasive, no window. There were rickshaws parked in the room labeled library and construction material in the room labeled Laboratory.  “Welcome to the toughest school in the toughest locality.” I turned around to my friend. “If you could make a difference here in next two years, you can really make a great difference anywhere in the world.”

My friend was scared. Expressions on her face were of nothing. But the scarier part had not yet started. If she is working in a place like this, she really cannot stay alone and we definitely need to find the house that is close to some other Metro station so that she has less travel time. The hurdle was she is a daily non-vegetarian and I don’t even prefer eating eggs. With drastically opposite food habits, we deduced we need separate kitchens – separate houses. We got off to a Metro station where the broker from my contacts had to show us a house. As we got off, we looked at newly constructed DDA flats. We liked them. Just for having fun from our newly found talent of being enterprising during training, we reached out to the property dealers. One of them suggested to us to stay in an ashram and the other asked us to stay farther down the metro station. It was not we were having any budget issues. We agreed to pay them on par with other tenants. Somehow they were having difficulty in understanding what we do.

 “So you are teachers?”

“Yes!”

“Government school?”

“Yeah”

“How can you live in separate houses and pay this much rent if you are government school teachers?”

“We work for Teach for India and they will support us.”

“So, you are not government teachers? We need two referrers! We would rather give these houses to Government employees”

“We are serving the country. We are committed to teach kids in low-income schools”

And then I heard the scariest thing told to my friend “We don’t give houses to people from North-East”

And the trust issues in the capital city of the country where we have committed ourselves to serve the Nation continued….

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Last Lecture


“Why you have come all over from America to serve the country?” someone asked. “So that you can ask me this question” Anand Shah answered and this is how our last lecture in the training institute on a rainy Saturday morning began. It was the last time 144 of us were together after the valuable bonding of 5 weeks. Something powerful could only hold our attention as we long for celebrations (read as nostalagia) of our last day. And Anand’s mesmerizing talk immersed us completely for next 120 minutes.

Anand Shah told us his story. He was born and educated in US and has come back now to contribute in establishing a Higher Education Institute in India. Read more about Anand here 

Our first mental stimulant: Legitamize the idea of serving your country!
It is usually funny to tell I am here to serve my country. Nobody talks like that! Why?
Anand Shah threw a question in IIM-Ahmedabad once “Why were IIM, IIT established?”. The answer is “The founders of our Nation knew that we need world-class engineers and managers to build the nation. So, the idea was to create a force which SERVES THE NATION. He asked the IIM crowd again “Do you know how many people paid for you to come here? Many people, for whose villages had to be built, paid by establishing these institutes by sacrificing what they deserved. So I ask you would you like to volunteer for one year of your life to serve your country and contribute in building it because that is what the purpose of the institute you are in. Don’t you think you should pay-off?” No hand rose.
Even at Teach for India we don’t hear these kind of answers a lot. People are hesitant to say “I am here to serve my Nation”.
Why serving the nation is such a hard idea after all?

Our Second mental stimulant : The world is so fast that there is no point having an urge to go behind where everyone is going
“Why people go to IIT-IIM or Why over 6-7 lakh people compete for IIT-JEE and CAT every year?”
“Why someone who joined Lehman Brothers in 2005 got assured that his life is set and later found himself in the crisis in 2008”
Following the herd might be the right thing to do or say it better safe thing to do. To compete and reach to be in top 1% brings out the aspirations. People want to be more than what they are and they just go through the usual psychology of following the herd and work hard to be at the top of that.
Going against the herd might not be the smart thing to do always. But going with the herd has one serious disadvantage:

Our Third Mental Stimulant : Herd follows consumption.
Successful moments are those in which you are a producer. The blunt truth of following the herd is that you are consuming opportunities that others are producing. But when you are a producer you create a value nobody else is even thinking about.
“Why if there is a tree in a middle of road, you have to drive around it?”
The tree makes it presence feel.
Mahatma Gandhi might be an old school of thought but he stood like that tree. Steve Jobs might be a modern school of thought and he creates a value no one else was even thinking about. They stood for what they believe in These people are producers.
Who remembers who was Vice-President of Golman Sachs in Mumbai three years ago or the Head of Maruti Suzuki ten years ago. But people will remember Gandhi and Steve Jobs.
When you have a handful oh wheat grains in your hand, you have two options – send them to mill and once they are grinded you cannot tell what’s what or re-grow them and you will find a new value created if nurtured properly.

The fourth mental stimulant : The litmus test
Every morning when you wake up and look in the mirror, can you say “I am doing the right job.” Will we, the trained teachers, after 60 days be able to say that? Will I be able to know always in middle of my class “Why am I doing what I am doing?’

Will I always have a moment of being a producer for next two years for 40 students I teach? There are very big questions that we will be confused about in next two years.

For 144 of us, the moment of reckoning has come.




Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The fountain of heads


The window panes were broken. Slow. The fan-outlets on ceilings were missing the company of their friends. Sweat. The board was too small. Constrained. There were no benches for students. Floored (literally)

The sense of urgency. Fast. The students finally learnt what is subtraction. Relief. The capacity to learn. Infinite. The energy and love received . Floored. (Metaphorically)

Harbored Roared laughed.

She recalled she stood still on the Harbor of her first school. She Roared with joy when now it is at the end..for she loved what she did....

She will miss her first fountain of heads….

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Life @ TFI


Fun Fact: Average Human mind has 12000 thoughts per day…

Didi Game!……Introduction to new material…. Scaffolded questions …..Didi Toilet…. …Didi he is fighting…Didi I haven’t got notebook today ..Lesson Plans….Deadlines….Classroom management…didi why?.....Didi water...Didi fan…….   6:44AM: Arnab shouts : Fellows bus leaves in 1 minute….Didi biscuit khao na…...2:30 AM Ping: yaar video challenge ka document fill kar diya?…..Didi in Table of contents we have to arrange numbers  in ascending orders! ….Nakko Didi…..9:30 AM: Didi school over?....Investment Plan…. …..Laughter….Insomina….Emergent Level Diagnostic….One Team! ….Chal yaar chai peene chal rahi hai?......next Session 2 baje hai yaar…uthhhhhh…….…Green……….. Machine!…. Yaar maine submit nahi kiya LP…..Project Manager wont spare me…Yaar reflection nahi karna ab aur…Mausi chai milegi kya? …....……Yaar weekend pe lonavla chalte hain…Forget it yaar…neend aa rahi hai..….…Romana asks: is this Phonics or PPA? … Saale mere boyfriend ne phone nahi kia abhi tak….Rain Rain Come Again …Yaar mess mein nahi khana…..My rock ka matlab?.......Lemon Tree mein IPL ka final dekhte hain...Egg Roll mil raha hoga kya? 10:30 baj raha hai!….Maureen ka jabse Coupelia attend kiya hai abhi tak dard ho raha hai yaar…….Shrihari Greets: Have a terrific tuesday!…..…Didi dream means sapna…. Philelooooooooo …HOOOOOOOOOOOO ….Didi Banana Dance…...Evan speaks: Be Cognizant….


5….4….3….2….1…





……..the moments of a lifetime…

Saturday, May 21, 2011

@ Teach for India : We are one mighty mighty Insane Team


It’s Saturday evening and there is an absolute silence in the hostel.  People are either sleeping, watching movies on their laptops with headphones on, playing at the basket ball court, roaming around the city for a good break or quietly in corners of their rooms working on lesson plans (a detailed plan of our 45-minute teaching everyday) for upcoming weeks. You may call people in the last category insane for choosing to work on weekends but after spending three weeks I can easily claim that no one in TFI could be devoid of insanity. Insanity is a common trait among the fellows! We have MBA from INSEAD, graduates from IIM Indore who are here to find their lives’ true calling. We have fellows who forgo admits from IIM-Bangalore or TISS Social Entrepreneurship program, people who gave up well-paying jobs or preparation for IAS or people who were just not happy being relaxed in their previous jobs and wanted real challenges. A bunch of crazy people makes Teach for India a very special place to work for. In a way, it is kind of serendipitous that all these crazy people found a common place.

The third week of our training has ended and backward counting has begun. Two more weeks and music will stop! The fellows will be on their own working in their respective schools in company of may be 1,2 or 3 more fellows. And the amazing support system and network we have during the training will not be this handy. Plus here we still are learners but once in schools we cannot allow ourselves to do mistakes.

You may be wondering what exactly we do in our training. I already talked about sessions conducted by trainers but that’s not all. An important component of our training is summer school. From second week here, we have been going to schools to teach. We have most lovable bunch of kids whose academic gap we aim to narrow during a span of four weeks.  Two weeks have already gone. We have collected some assessment data to understand where the kids stand half-way of their summer school. Even if we get tangible results after two more weeks, the picture will be not easy to accept. It is really very difficult to visualize whether we are narrowing any gap because it is such a short time. Despite this fact, just in two weeks, each and every one of us is so connected to the kids that I am sure we all are hoping to see one day those kids going places. I sincerely hope our efforts works like a geometric progression and we in these four weeks are able to set the value of the multiple of that progression.

Personally for me, I have felt connected to one girl child especially. Her face is etched in my mind deeply but unlike National Geographic photographer who found the afghan refugee 17 years later,


I want to see life of Gauri closely.

I have fallen in love with that girl and would be blessed if I could see her growing up and see her getting successful in whatever she chooses to do. Academically she is the kid I am struggling the most but for each of my struggle she replies with immense unconditional love. 

She is a second grader; She forgets things easily, does not remember what was taught a minute ago but suddenly from somewhere she would tell me what was taught three days ago. 

I try to repeat lot of things and scribble them down in her notebook so that she remembers.

She will remain silent the whole day. I will have to make efforts for getting her to speak comfortably and eventually she will open up just to speak “What Urdu you have written in my notebook?”

Laughter! Innocent Laughter! Of Gauri and I!