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?”


“Will you tell class 4?”


“Will you tell your brother?”


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



“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.