Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trade-offs

Since last few days I have felt like writing more and more. I am reading this book called "What I talk about when I talk about running" by Haruki Murakami. If you read that book you will obviously would love to go on for running. He puts all that very beautifully. He also talks about his journey of becoming a novelist. And that has what brought me back to my blog third time this week. I have nothing specific to write about other than a conversation I had with my manager yesterday.

My program manager yesterday had a leadership talk with me where we talked about how I have seen myself growing as a leader and how she has seen me growing as a leader in last 18 months. During the talk, she asked me a question if I think I have been able to maximize the resources and network of Teach for India and if I feel that I have optimally used the support Teach for India offered. Her question was obvious - I have chosen not to live with other Teach for India fellows, have been out of facebook since last one year and have missed majority of  Teach for India social events.

It is not that I want to look different. I think I am mostly termed as crazy. But all these have been part of my personality which in your late 20s probably starts to get consolidated. I am no asocial - I have my share of Coffees, WhatsApp, Phone conversations and Emails but most of the times social expectations come in between of my work. I was working this Sunday very efficiently but I had committed to meet a friend from my previous organization a week before. I lived up to my promise of meeting my friend but the rhythym of my work broke down. In middle of the week another friend from my previous organization called and he was angry from me being not in touch. My old friendship bonds have been very strong and I am not able to keep up with them as much as I try. I have made few great friends in Teach for India as well and I am not able to keep up with them as well.

I live a very independent life. I live alone, I cook for myself and do all the running around from empty cylinders to service of my active by myself. Plus my students who come back from goverment schools in the evening do not want another teacher teaching them on blackboard. So my lessons have to be creative and funny. Whenever I have delivered an unplanned class, it turned off my students so much so that they would choose cricket over coming to my class for days. How do I make everything fun for them is another story and my program manager plays a larger role in it so I am going to tell that another time.

But planning fun lessons of history and maths for 6th graders, physics and maths for 9th graders and maths for 11 graders leaves me really no time to have errands in social life. So when my manager asked me if I think I have been able to maximize the support, the answer is No. For me Teach for India experience was mostly about myself. I wanted to throw myself  in a circumstance where I am living with less money in hand, no luxurious office spaces and try something which I wanted to do. I wanted to deliver me. I wanted to find my solutions within. This is exactly what I did. It was never hard to make all these choices because all these were subconscious instincts. This place had put me in a position where I was responsible for lives of the children who can become good adults. The stakes have been high. Social life took a backseat definitely. I made new friends occasionally. When my father was admitted in the hospital, I made friends with all the nurse and technical staff under the Doctor. We exchanged Happy Diwali messages as well. I have made friends in Neb Sarai, a part of Delhi where I live.  I have made friends with a Dosa waala who left his corporate job to start a small restaurant. His restaurant right now is very small but his Dosas and his sambhar are exotic.If you are somewhere from South Delhi, you will be amazed to eat Dosa this tasty in such a crowded and packy place as Neb Sarai.

There is definitely a trade-off for knowing yourself more. I would have made more friends with lots of other fellows. I would have reached out more to the academic impact staff to find solutions for my students but honestly my program manager's prior experience was sufficient. So, my interaction within Teach for India stayed limited. 

I have been very comfortable in being with myself. I am getting to think that may be this is me, my personality. It did not require much of thoughts. Staying this way just suited me. Although I could not agree more when my Program Manager suggested towards the end of the conversation how we have a responsibility of sharing our hardships and our successes because it could be valuable to other people. I have been open in sharing resources but talking about myself in front of people have made me uncomfortable. I could write about myself here for strangers, unknown people but I cant do that in form of a public speaking. I don't think I am an introvert but this is how it is.

I want to leave you with another quote from the book that I am reading. To be in the rhythm of your work everyday, stop yourself at a point where you think you want to do lot more. It will be easier then to come back in the groove next day. It is a very interesting suggestion. 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Methi Leaves

There are several ways to get over a feeling. One of them I found out today is by cleaning Methi leaves. This morning, I woke up with a long list of professional commitments to fulfill but instead I chose to bring out my domesticated avatar.

I am living in a house on first floor which has one room completely empty. The room  is on East side and has a door where morning rays fills the room. I have kept that room empty especially for this particular reason. I love to sit on that doorway especially in these winters. And  as I found out today, It is a good place to clean Methi leaves.

To take out the  leaves from the twig in front of the sun can have some pacifying effect on you. Life is simple, clean it out like Methi leaves. There were so many things that came across my mind. And slowly they came, stayed and left. None of them left me complicated or empty. Peacefully they walked out.

May be there is something about the green color or freshness of the leaves. Or may be about the simplicity of the process - no lesson plans or behavior management that I usually have to deal with. Teaching is hard. Being patient with your students is harder. The  adolescence of students is challenging. This is their transformation in becoming an adult and I am part of that transformation and that too in a role which is pivotal. That is huge responsibility.

But Methi leaves, they are not like that. They are very friendly. They don't give you any responsibility or obligations. They are just a small insignificant errand.Work is too much pressure may be and it rarely allows me insignificant errands. When it does, it is friendly and fresh!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

We all wait

"We all wait" Victor Novaski said.

The Terminal is one of the greatest films of Tom Hanks. This Saturday I was translating this movie for my students. They enjoyed the movie and especially the concept that he waited for nine months to fulfill the promise he made to his Father of taking as simple thing as an autograph from a Jazz singer.

Today, there are 10,000 marriages in Delhi. It was a such a heavy traffic on Delhi-Badarpur road that cars were not able to cross the red light because the traffic that was stopped by the next red light down the road was still overflowing to this red light. I along with almost every second car took a U-turn after 30 minutes of being stalled on the road. It is interesting to see that 50% of people could either take a U-turn to go back to their homes or find alternative routes. But all of them were stalled for 30 minutes to be given this opportunity.

Life makes us wait - sometimes on the road from where can take a U-turn and sometimes for helping us find alternatives. And most importantly sometimes to clear the road ahead.

I took a U-turn today. But most of the times in my life I haven't. I wait for roads to get clear.

I go where I have to go.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Education of India


Jawaharlal Nehru had a great vision when he established IIM – to have managers who can build the country. Management is an important function for any organization. Simply put, it is responsible for making all employees deliver and stay satisfied. Throughout our country, the idea of universal education has arrived. You hear no argument against education these days. An illiterate person is as well invested as the business tycoon in his child’s education. But the idea of how to provide an excellent education is in progress. The customers are ready. The system is not. Nobody knows how to really fix our education system. We do have great teachers but we really have no nation-wide management education in the field of education. As a country, we really are not focusing on leaders for managing school system.

In the 19th century, when education system was being developed and we had got great universities all throughout the world, its priority was to prepare children for jobs that Industrial revolution offered. So, mathematics and languages were at the top and then somewhere down below were humanities, sports and arts. The emphasis has always been to develop only one side of brain. It is worth mentioning about KIPP charter schools in United States here. By extending the school day till 5 in the evening, they have been able to give emphasis not on side of the brain but to the entire body of each student. They have taken responsibility of Arts as well as Humanities as well as Sports. KIPP students dance and draw and skate as much as they do Math and English. Their focus is still to have children from low-income communities complete their college degree but they have stronger focus on building character of their students. They are able to build character by focusing and taking responsibility of overall development of student’s mind and body. Interestingly when KIPP schools analyzed the data, the KIPP alumni who were more academically accomplished at KIPP have higher drop-out rates from college then their less academically successful KIPP colleagues. The less academically accomplished KIPP colleagues who did not drop out were higher on character traits. This is a very interesting evidence of where the focus of our education system should be and what really matters. When I visited one of the uncommon schools in US in December, I found silent recess. Nobody talks while eating. Usually, we say recess is the time when kids are interacting and having fun. So, lunch breaks are chaos. But because KIPP is able to give time for interactions all throughout the day. Therefore, they can afford a silent recess. It is no different than what an Indian saint would recommend – keep your 100% focus on task-in-hand. Have you ever seen a recess in India like that except at Ashrams? We have all the best practices in the world but we do not have wisdom to use that wisdom.

India once had a great education system. Our Vedas and Upanishads were never written for centuries. Students sat at their Guru’s feet and would know Vedas and Upanishads word-by-word and that too in one of the most difficult languages of all - Sanskrit. The teacher did not need a flyer or a handout or a textbook. Did those people have stronger character or memorization?

The Guru’s word was everything and Guru had all answers. In turn, his teachings and discipline would make the student a wise soul. All throughout the history and mythology, we had clear examples of cases when Guru would ask the students to do as difficult things to stand on one foot for years and the student did without speck of self-doubt. Today, even the best management teacher could ask student at IIM to become an entrepreneur and he would be more likely to have self-doubts to begin with.

I have bunch of friends who are graduating from top-MBA colleges of India. I ask them if they think that their management education has prepared them to be a world-class leader. Not single one of them answered in affirmative and in fact added that they do not see themselves ready for picking even one cause of the Nation. The doubts are not because of the magnitude of challenges that each cause of our Nation presents. The doubts are because as soon as they entered the elite-MBA schools of India, they figured out all that everybody cares about is getting the job in the following year. The ends of getting the job have become much more important than the means of becoming leaders in our management schools. The mindset to become a leader is clearly missing. We have clearly undermined what Jawaharlal Nehru had aspired our management education to do.

Indians, bounded by Himalayans at North and a mighty ocean at South had always been explorer of inside. That is in our blood. Pick country-wise average GMAT scores. Or pick religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism. We were able to give so many religions to the world because we looked inside. As evident from my own life, I teach in a school where children have not been in mainstream education for past 13 years of their life. I teach them as hard thing as Atomicity and they make it a cakewalk. I have felt underprepared and under-resourced in front of them several times in past six months. And have recently came to a very strong realization of my own fault – my focus has been in teaching knowledge. I am trying to make my students those KIPP academically accomplished Alumni who may not complete college even after getting admitted.

I want to draw out several conclusions from my arguments above –
1) India had a great education system once which prepared men of character and ethical purity
2)  We Indians are people of exceptional intelligence but without the skills of using that intelligence.
3) KIPP’s focus on education is same as our great Indian education system had, but with the technical and management expertise on helping children find right vocation for themselves.
4)We need to bring into our education system - from primary education to higher education that kind of focus and discipline as our education system had, combining with the management expertise of US charter schools.
5) Skills are more important than knowledge. Asking the interviewee what is pragma does not make him better qualified than somebody who has will and wisdom to find that answer. Our assessments should test whether the individual knows how to fish rather than what is fish. If we teach students skills, we ensure to make them independent and confident individuals. To be honest, Google is going to stay. Knowledge is not difficult to acquire. Give people leadership skills or skills to complete college. That happens when we internalize these skills in the students.


From being a class teacher of 2nd graders to teaching street children in a Juvenile home, I have graduated to see our Education system from a bird's eye view. I have tried to give words to my thoughts. I have a vision that I want to work for. A vision I never had for past 26 years of my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What makes my experience with Teach for India great?


I am writing a post after two months. Even without the post, the blog is buzzing with visitors.

I am grateful. :-) Thank you.

This is the first post where I am going to write about what made my Teach for India experience great. I am going to begin with three people who made the difference

1.The best boss  - Emma Francis
2. The civil war peer- Nakul Arora
3. The leader and the Hero - Shashank Shukla

1. Emma Francis, the British girl came to Teach for India with experience of 7 years as an educator in Teach First and Uganada. Ms. Francis has taught merely with chalk and black board in Uganda to almost 200 students per week and several teenagers in Britain. Honestly, she is the most supporting person I have ever seen. She totally adapted herself in Delhi, wearing salwaar kameez within two months. She gives such a great insight about the work that you are doing, that you will have your jaw drop. Her convictions are universal - that means she has come out of from the well of the little worlds. Her sense of India in one year is more than most Indians born here. Her focus is clear  - whether you are becoming a leader you can and whether you are building on your strengths as you grow with the experience. So she is not working for herself clearly. But for the people she is responsible for. Talk about great women - in real sense of word - talk about Emma. She is extremely practical in her approach, superbly mature focusing on development of fellows she is managing. If you haven't done a task and she grasps that you arent doing it for genuine reason, she will just not force to do it. You dont have to find excuses. If she understands that you are innovating in your school, she will not force you to meet some organizational deadline. If she understands that you are exhausted, she will not force you to attend a meeting you otherwise definitely should.

What happens when you have a boss like that?
(a) You come closer to your real self.
(b) You get feedback on the leader in you and not one of those manufactured leaders who knows how to work on MS Excel and give presentations or write emails
(c) You are cared and valued. You are professionally bound to grow in that environment, learning to take charge of situations, feeling responsible towards your work and not feeling burdened at all.
(d) You are led by example. Teach for India is all about being a leader to your children. If your manager is leading you by example, making you feel how you are trusted and cared, why won't you learn to do the same to your children?

2. Nakul Arora - here you have, the young brimming talker who wants to fly high, fight all the evil roots, learn  to be perfect and save the country. Too young for accomplishing all of them but yet trying hard to stay on the road. Here I have one of the most contradicting peer, who is a friend from the civil war because he remembers to be at war with me. We drain out each other, pointing out hypocrisies or stupid arguments. And yet we stick together only because we point out each other's hypocrisies and stupid arguments. We are jealous of each other, preachy, competitive and showing-off all the time, feeling extremely happy when the other fails, impressing each other's students and trying to make them against their teacher. Yet we know that we celebrate each other accomplishments, are heartbroken when other person's efforts go down the drain and dream that the other persons's reach the potential he is born with.
I dream that Nakul reaches the potential he is born with. I dream that a young man of 23 does not have to suffer because he is choosing the most difficult path out there. I dream he fulfills all dreams of his youth because unlike others he has set himself out to on a path to accomplish those dreams and hold very high expectations of himself. The dreams that are not about being a star or a celebrity but to be a great man - to be a man of this country. I hope he does not have to make sacrifices his path might ask for. I hope his greatest strength of seeking the truth is not let down by the world. I hope his hope ignites the fire in many others. 

His life's endeavors sets him apart from people of his age and even elder to him. What is my biggest learning from working with Nakul is his constant pursuit of seeking the truth - in himself and in people

What happens when you have a peer like that?
(a) You learn to be truthful. He will never allow you to give yourself any false ideas. If you cant speak truth to yourself, he will speak it to you on your face. You can fight about it with him and tell him doesn't understand but you will know soon who didn't.
(b) you are having a healthy competition.You know you are fighting but deep down you know winning doesnt matter.
(c) you team up! because you have a peer who thinks on similar lines. Nakul and I have delivered very high quality resources in Teach for India because we keep each other on toes and are very honest to each other.
(d) you keep finding your true North. You constantly ask the other the outcome of a particular action. You know no listening will happen but eventually admittance of wrong action will. You learn from your mistakes because the other person has already pointed out that to you.
(e) You learn to share - your aspirations and life's endeavor because you have a professional feedback and yet a personal care
(f) you learn to have lots of tea - because you are so exhausted fighting!
3. Shashank Shukla - If you are in a business school or corporate or undergrad and thinking where are all the leaders have gone from this country, have a break and come and see Shashank bhaiya in action. A year before, he was the first person who raised his voice for the street children - the last customers of educational inequity and extorted to Teach for India to experiment in a place which does not have anything similar to a normal Teach for India classroom. Within a year, four fellows are continuing the work he started. The lone ranger, the fixer of the sinking ship, someone who had turned around a hell to heaven, a courageous leader, a visionary who can prophesise the outcome of his decisions even before the uncertain dynamics come to play, the teacher who never had to raise a voice on his rebellious teenagers students to obey, the patriot who deferred his admit to Harvard for he thinks he is still not done with his work for the homeless of the country, the manager who knows how to delegate work to people rendered as inefficient and uninspired, a hero who stands for right thing 100% of time, a mentor who can tell you on your face whats wrong with you and you wont mind. This is Shashank Shukla for you, one of the greatest alumni Teach for India will have and one of the greatest example of men this generation can produce

What happens when you have a leader like him in front of your eyes?
(a) Guess what!You know what being a leader takes - the exhaustion, forgetting self, standing up, getting your hands dirty in cleaning and burning all the negativity, taking care of people who might or might not choose to care back, fighting for people who might not be grateful  or in fact even appreciate
(b) Guess next! You will witness something impossible happening in front of your eyes every time you see him in action. Forget the movies or text books, you can closely watch a hero in real life.
(c) you wish you are a movie director because his story deserves to be told to every Indian
(d) You can do your job! You dont have to worry about someone else's job because the leader is taking care.And you will not slack from you job because the leader is taking care of that too.
(d) you feel you are exhausted and you wonder where the hell Shashank bhaiya gets that energy and you get back to your work. Oh! he transfers his infectious energy and conviction all the time!

This has been my experience with Teach for India, great because of great people in it.The greatness you never usually see because of the mad rush of money, shopping and EMIs. You see this greatness because the people in it had courage to leave their country, well-paying jobs, relationships or defer a Harvard admit and going all out for their real motto - discovery of self and live a life of honor more than materialism, security and inhibitions.

I give my salute to each one of them. I am grateful that I deserved to see the greatness they have.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

2323hours

Last night, I was on bed at 23:23 hours. It was a strange number when I saw my watch but not stranger then the day I had. In twenty minutes preceding that I had eaten Kadhai Paneer and Butter Naan sitting on white marble floor of my apartment.

I had left Ummeed at 10:30 PM last night. I have usually been coming at that time throughout this week and sleeping without dinner. When on one side, Delhi Government is making law against solo travel of women at night time, I am effortlessly breaking them on my black Activa. This week I have been at Ummeed in the morning at 5:45 AM and traveling back and forth to home whenever I could, just to take few power naps. Sitting on white marble floor of my apartment is then a rare delight.

Yesterday, a small child at Ummeed stole wallet from my handbag when I was playing carrom with three students of mine early afternoon. He took away 800 bucks and spent them somewhere. It was after tea that I realized my wallet was missing. My initial guess was that I had left it at a stationery shop in the morning and before doubting kids I checked there only to figure out the worse.So, I called for all meeting to announce that take the money just give my wallet with driving license and pan card back.As soon as the meeting was over, younger kids ran to help their Didi to find the wallet. Within no time, a child brought back my empty wallet from toilet. I was delighted and yet was sad that it was actually a child within my students who has done such thing.

I didnt want to react so I continued taking my classes. In middle of that class, S (let's call him that here) came over and gave me 120 bucks telling me that he had got it from pockets of the child who had given me empty wallet back He had doubted him when he so quickly had found out the wallet.

The managers and my co-fellow Chetan was managing the identified child while I patiently kept on teaching. Later Chetan told me that S has given a good treatment to make the child accept.

We might consider the case that S is a good kid who is morally and ethically right. I cannot disclose here what S all indulges in but this is certainly not the case.

S is not going to school since April after our repeated requests while all his friends have been going. He creates horrifying nuisances for which he has been punished several time. He does not want to talk about his parents. He says he started taking drugs after seeing his father indulging in them. He just cant hear his mother's name. He only stated that his mother has given the body injuries so clearly seen even today. He is around 16, so I asked him if ever he liked a girl. He said that he used to like one girl but he killed it inside him because he does not think someone can love a "Chichora" like him. He said once he is 18 and he has lived for two more years, he will commit suicide. I saw tears covering all his face.

What made this child deny himself of everything? Why he is not giving chance to education, love, and goodness? Why is he creating nuisance instead? Why then he cared to identify and disclose the child who stole my wallet?

 I told him in our meetings before that I never even considered him a chichora. He respects, never answer back and all other numerous things that I noticed. I told him of a vision that I saw for him a while ago that he is wearing a business suit driving a car to work while a lovely girl is there waiting back home, And I have a plan to meet them that evening at their home.

For every negative word he said about himself and people around him, I picked up all possible positivity inside me to turn around and give a little practical outlook. At the end, I told him that for next 15 days just do one good thing your heart always wanted to do.He said that was easy. I wanted it to be easy for him. For next two days, he cleaned his wardrobe and got up on time, took a bath and had breakfast. This was new because before that he never got up before lunch and didn't change clothes for 3 days.

All this bring us back to the question I had, why S gave a befitting treatment to the child who stole my wallet. What made him return back my 120 bucks when it was known that he also steals property of Ummeed.

I can't tell you how crazy Ummeed is and teaching these boys who practically have no authority figure, no parents surroundng them, lots of free resources with absolutely no responsibility. There are daily crises which makes me work more like a disciplinarian than a benevolent teacher. But I never had elicit such a response through my discipline than through a simple care and affection in that meeting with S.

I am guessing that S wanted her Didi's money back. He understood her pain and had felt connected. People have expected him of a bad behavior so he gave them that. I showed a little love and he valued it and guarded it.

How powerful love is! How powerful is to show care and actually mean it. I cared a little but he responded with so much more that it is inspiring.

I am daring to see the vision of a feast at my students' "own homes" with a lovely girl which God has sent for them.

Life is beautiful.

  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Joy


Suffering is what I see all around. People are suffering physically, emotionally and spiritually. However,  in last one year, I have had a rendezvous with people and ideas showing me flipside. Where there was suffering they found joy, where there was ignorance they found wisdom and where there was greed they found generosity. I have often wondered, how did they reach that stage?

Mahatma Gandhi practiced ahmisa by which he meant not harming anyone even in thoughts. Dalai Lama admits that he sleeps 8 hours usually but see his contribution in spreading so much peace in the world. Parmahansa Yogananda in his autobiography tells about spirituality so technically and scientifically that it can construct an absolute path to walk on for the lifetime. Gautam Buddha continuously questioned himself why there is suffering in this world. To find his answer, for years he made himself suffer by giving up his every single desire, punishing his body and facing rejection and remorse. When he found his answer, he felt the cessation of suffering. He felt joy- an absolute joy. How strange is that when he questioned suffering, he found joy!

Last three weeks have been a very testing time for me. My father almost had a date with death. My mother I found out is losing her cognitive abilities due to Dementia. She cannot eat, write, locate things, express her feelings and forgets what happened a minute ago. She cannot be cured and in fact will deteriorate further. A doctor on a single day told me the critical situation of my parents. I have been coping with both of their situations, smiling, without crying and demonstrating unprecedented strength in dealing with the situation. I see them suffering. I suffer with their suffering. I am yet to figure out the path to joy in this scenario. What could that be? Detachment? or Surrender? or Acceptance? These does not sound like paths to joy, paths to peace may be....but not path to joy.

How did Buddha found it? How did he cope up with separation from his family? How did he address his longings? Parmahansa Yogananda cried when he intuitively figured out death of his brother several miles apart. Mahatma Gandhi was torn apart when his wife died and when partition happened. They suffered. How can we be oblivion to our surroundings? How can we break free from interdependence? 

I don't think so we can. In rare moments, we can find joy however and that could be our strength.

I enjoyed getting drenched in the rain yesterday. I in fact sang in the rain. I enjoyed fighting with my dad while he is still recovering and listening to my mom's singing. I love cooking for my parents and the fact that I got to spend so much time with them. That is the small joy I found. Things may not get better. But the present moment is beautiful. It has become beautiful due to one small secret - that I am focusing on it only. And no future or past can take it away from me. That is what I found underlying in teachings of these great men.

Joy. Peace. Happiness.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hit the waves

With no earrings,a broken watch waiting for its turn and empty fingers, I enter Ummeed worrying not about my jewels but whether boys today will choose education over cricket. It was 9 AM and I promised to have breakfast with them today. All but one already had breakfast, most of them slept again after having it. I had breakfast with one who was waiting for me. I sat in a corner to understand how will I begin teaching. 3 out of 9  IX standard students got up and sat down after a push and pep talk. In past one week, I have discovered that all my students are brilliant but they lack discipline and self-belief. Because of their background, they cannot be forced to do anything nor they can be motivated with stories of great legends. The only thing they need is sense of achievement in academics which will come with consistent trials of their own persistence.

One of the student attended three classes and never attended another one. Two students attended classes and everybody was amazed that they did so. I am still figuring out what turned one away and brought the unexpected ones into classroom. They love my presence is all that I have figured out till now but they have been abandoned before and they don't think I would be an exception. So they don't trust me. I prepared lunch for one of the younger ones, who is not my student, in the past week for I don't like eating my home made food alone while they all eat from mess. I loved little lunch talk I had with him. I brought one boy, desperately waiting for having his love materialized, to my classroom by hitting the bull's eye with "No girl's family will reject you if you are earning well".

This past week it was 9 AM to 10 PM and, a kind of hard work that I never have done before. I am sitting with fewer students at a time so I understand each of their learning styles and motivation levels. I dealt with an issue where a student's clothes were all torn with blade in the night time in his "locker" and he was wearing borrowed clothes. Still don't know how he developed that level of enmity with someone. I just couldn't teach kids when I figured out that they didn't have dinner and breakfast because of some issue with the food. But that was not all. I hit the bottom.

I have got one regular student in my classroom. He is always smiling and has a great sense of humor. He never says no to studies and so I have been really fond of him. During middle of the week however he started asking me quaint questions. It all began with "Didi, what do you mean by 1000 chicks?". Ignored, answered, dodged, deflected, I reached to a stage when he asked me very simply if I have seen Desi Boys. I said Yes and he said "didi why dont you teach us the way the teacher in that movie taught?" I was furious without any bounds. I confronted him by asking him if he has any idea what he is talking about. I asked him to leave the class. I was numb. I thought I have lost a student by not stopping him very strictly at first incident. The fault was mine. And he misused that liberty. After fifteen minutes, I found him lying in another room. I called him out and ask he wants to talk to me about all adult things? If he wants his teacher to give him  sex education class and impart to him knowledge of an appropriate behavior towards the opposite gender. He said sorry several times. When I was about to leave that night I found him cutting away from me, not giving his usual smile and not raising his head at all.

Next morning, I went back to him. This time I said sorry for being so furious. Of all the things I know his intention wasn't bad. He just didn't know what to talk in front of a girl. I want to be a mother of these kids and I just have to accept the challenges that they are giving me. He still didn't want to talk and didn't respond well to my apology. After two hours however when I was teaching eighth graders, he asked me from behind "Didi shall I bring the book?". He was back! My joy knew no limits. He placed his trust back in me again. He studied for two hours that day with a gentleman behavior and his usual sense of humor! Joy pervade in every cell of my body. I am proud to have a student like him!

Ummeed definitely is turning out to be one of the hardest things of my life. And I think I am underestimating!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Adolescence

I have completed my first week at Ummeed. It is an interesting shift as a teacher from 8-years-old kids to 16-years old boys.  I have discovered love lives of few of them. A boy very cutely wrote a  beautiful calligraphy of his girl's name on his calf. Another boy told me about an entire story on how he proposed. I loved when they said that they will tell me but that they wont tell that in front of anyone. They are truly in love can be judged by the way that they always are happy and looked so effortless towards their daily struggles. May God keep their sanctity and insanity forever!

I have been demanded to teach even on Sunday, today. Apparently, today the girls will be coming for TEDEx preparations and one student wants to create an impression on her girl by demonstrating that he is a very hard-working guy. This is so cute! Makes my job easier too!

This was a real good part of my week there. The week however didn't start that way. 

At 6:30 PM on Tuesday:

I saw two of my students walking out with their bags. One of them was being asked to go out of the shelter home by the staff. The second one was walking out in support of his friend. I was told by other boys that the first one threw stones on the staff last night. Before that he mistakenly broke the printer, beat a younger kid, steal a tap, brought bear on his birthday party etc. He had already been given a punishment for staying at an old age home for a week. This time staff (5 caretakers) demanded that this boy was creating nuisance since a long time and should be thrown out else they all will resign. The coordinator from the management came over to resolve the issue. It was decided that this child will be asked to stay with his mother for over two weeks. He gave a call to his mother but he said that if his mother comes here, she should not be disrespected as happened with a case earlier. Staff believed that this child should not be kept in shelter home as his mother can afford his education. They were very adamant. Since the boy committed the mistake, I really have no choice then to ask him to call his mother and promised to him the project co-ordinator and I will talk to her.

She came over. She looked tensed. We sat together and we told her about the entire situation. Meantime, staff barged in too. She broke down and said to his son that you always get me insulted in front of everyone. I was flabbergasted. The boy started crying too, pushed his head three four times on the wall. I held him and told his mother that how proud we all are of him. He is very intelligent in studies (he is brilliant!) and is giving Ted talk too where he will be talking in front of several people! There are few mistakes that he is doing and since you are his mother and he is so much attached to you, he will listen to you. Why don't you talk to him while we all wait outside?" We all left the room. I ran for water! I was so damn thirsty. All other students outside thronged around me but I had no answer to give them yet. After fifteen minutes, I walked inside the room alone and told the boy in front of his mother, "People waiting outside are really angry at you. What do you think you should be doing even if whatever you did according to you was right". He said, " I will apologize and I was wrong in doing what I did.". The staff and project coordinator came in and he said sorry to them. Staff however wasn't satisfied. They put their demand forward that he should be taken with his mother. His mother said " I can't keep him with me. You brought him from streets of Connaught Place, threw him back there." This was another shocker. The boy broke down again. I took him out of the room. He told me "I ran from my home only because my mother started crying whenever somebody complained to her" Heavens! I calmed him down and I said that I won't let anything happen to him anymore.

The project coordinator understood that Mother can't take the boy with her. He made the moments light and  appreciated her for taking time out at 9:30 PM. She replied that my daughters were requesting me not to go but I still came. I was in deep agony for that child. 

It was 10:30 PM when everything got settled down. All other kids rejoiced with this decision. He will still be given a punishment and it will decided soon! But he and his mother were respectfully treated overall throughout the "hearing".

I took this child on a ride on my Active to give him some fresh air. He was ok now and said with a laugh "I am having a headache now because of  barging my head onto the wall". After a km ride, i dropped him. I reached home at 11 PM. Phew!

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I have few more eventful stories to tell but this has already turned out to be a long post. Just to add, I am struggling in classroom. Out of all my 25 students, only 4 are turning up. Rest are ignoring their education and their new teacher! Lets see till what time time they do that.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Commitment errors

On a crowded street of New Delhi, you see cows eating from dumps very close to people standing in queue to buy milk from mother dairy. The animal which is a second mother to millions of people is treated with indifference and "none of my business" attitude. When I see such problems of the street, I question how through   me, a permanent change in this sort of mindset can happen. 

By being an educator, I solve problem of literacy to an extent. But human life needs to be trained for "How to Live" and I myself have no idea of how to do that. This has been a serious struggle for me as an educator, a daughter, a neighbor, a sister and a human being. In last two weeks, I have done some running for my parents both of whom have been ill for a long time. As much as emotionally traumatizing it has been, it has been cruelly treated by our medical world. At this stage, I have no longer satisfaction of whether they have been given right medications and I am losing hope whether I can find that in our Nation's capital. I see myself as an ignorant fool for not being able to dig through this till now.
 
Running for my parents meant an absolute withdrawal from work. For three days, when I visited the school, I felt how important it was for me to teach these kids. Shashank Bhaiya, who have been teaching these kids for past one year, with his extraordinary effort led these kids to mainstream schools so that they could get a life like you and me. The mainstream schools are however cruel. They beat these kids, shows frustration when they ask again and tell them from NGO students come to eNGOy. Their companions are faster, smarter, neater and more equipped. They face reality of their backgrounds much more than when they were in shelter home or even on the streets.The schools are far off from the shelter home - three hours of travel everyday. The schools that were nearer would take these kids two grades below their current levels.

Knowing these realities, when I started teaching, I knew I am doing a very important job. These boys were morally torn apart. Their attendance to school was continuously declining and they were giving up. They were so tensed about beating next day, that all I did was patch work to save them from beating. They would want to study only for tests they might have tomorrow. They belong to all grades, IV to XI and I am supposed to teach all of them subjects of their choice. It was absolutely chaotic. A day passed when I was teaching Maths of Grade IX, Biology of Grade VIII, Maths of Grade VI and Accounting for grade XI.
Not very hard to see that what a disaster I was!

Lots of my friends ask me aren't you afraid to teach these boys who might have been involved in all sorts of crimes? I would answer that here. Consider a case happened on the third day in the school - One of these boys waited for one hour without speaking a word for my attention. While another boy brought me dinner from their mess and I was in middle of having it when I noticed that this boy was still patiently waiting without food, to have most important thing that could bring him a good score in the test - a teacher's attention. Do you still think I should be afraid of their crimes, their past or their background?

Before I could settle down in the new house, in the new school and do a job which seems to me so important, I got a call from parents and I committed two weeks for their well-being instead. Everything is so important. Family of course comes first but I have been so much torn apart - for how much possibility through this human life, I want to achieve but unable to do it. How much is the work that my mind wants to do but my body cannot do it! An astrologer looking at my hand, said to me that you tend to commit more work than you can do. How true! I commit more work to myself and to people around, and bring disappointment. For all the things in the world, I really need "How to Live" wisdom because I am just not satisfied with what my human body does when my mind wants to do lot more.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A new journey of Ummeed

It has been a while that I wrote a sane article on this blog. My friends tell me that they don't get what I write these days. The truth is that I have lost for a while an appetite to share my learning with others. I have additionally lost peaceful writing time as so many things have been happening concurrently.

I can tell you few things what's going on to get some sanity back on this blog:

1) Today was my last day at National Public School, Shahdara where I was teaching 3rd graders. I left this school because I figured out a very brutal truth about private schools in general. They are low-income on facade. Their lands are illegal as well as their financial documents are forged. The teachers are forced to sign on the salaries they do not receive. They sign it because they are not aptly qualified. Students' parents are paying Rs 50 for socks that costs Rs 5 when these parents are not able to afford school notebook of Rs 18. Teach for India strongly believes that this is where we are more needed as the kids coming out from these schools are deprived of basic rights to their education. Right now, I don't have any tangible evidence to this information that I am writing here. So, I cannot do a whistle-blowing at legal level.I was not able to give my 100% however to this forced poverty environment. And the only way I could impact this school at the macro level is only when I have the authority over the actions of my principal. One day probably I will. Leaving my students have been a tough decision but I am certain that it is going to take me closer to their overall merit. I accept that discontinuing in this school is an unfinished commitment but I have realized it was critical.

2) I have started teaching at Ummeed, near Qutub Minar since day before yesterday during the evenings. This school is a residential shelter home for street children. These students have not seen an alternate comfortable way of living. They have been exposed to extreme poverty symptoms from drug exposure to murder covictions to rapes. I will be concurrently teaching assorted group of boys of different age groups and grade levels. My work will not only involve imparting academic knowledge but also life skills and overall management of students' lives.

3) I am shifting to a new house tomorrow. I have been staying alone for over four years now and it has been a great journey. I was looking for an economical rented "Home" for myself and for rare visits of my parents. In South Delhi, since everything is so illegal, unplanned and exorbitantly high-valued that it took me around 1000kms on my Activa for almost daily East to South Delhi road trips to finally accomplish this feat.

4) I am having few social confrontations these days. The other day I confronted Deluxe toilet authorities at New Delhi Railway Station for allowing men in Ladies Toilet. A day before that, I confronted a Senior Bank Manager who refused to accept a Rs500 damaged note withdrawn from his Bank's ATM.He redirected me to the company which fills cash in the atm, which redirected me back to the Bank. The words "This is a great story for Aaj Tak" did the trick for me!

5) I have been out of Facebook for over five months now and I have not been missing it at all. I chose to do it because by being on it I was somewhere accepting the contradictory lifestyle it propagates - of social show-offs and fake public displays of relationships. I miss however photographic skills of few friends sometimes. Rest all important news makes it way to me!

These five points hopefully gives you a slight idea of what is going on in this blogger's life. Let me know what do you think of them!

P.S. Notice the change in my profile. I have left my blogger avatar and have come out with real me.




Thursday, May 10, 2012

I have been a teacher

I have been a teacher, when a boy about to lose his sight, stood up to reach the stars in Nehru Planetorium in school picnic

I have been a teacher, when I said to a student I was like you, and her smile told me that was a great compliment for her

I have been a teacher, when students broke a promise to me, understood  why is it wrong, and next day a new promise was 100% fulfilled

I have been a teacher, when students asked me why I was talking in Hindi when they all can understand English

I have been a teacher, when in other classrooms I visit, I am asked why I can't give them the same thing I am giving to my class

I have been a teacher, when they want me to eat with them, play with them, talk with them and scold them
 
I have been a teacher, when in midst of a game of Kho Kho, they say that I work very hard for them
 
I have been a teacher, when they want to learn punjabi dance as much they  want to learn rounding

I have been a teacher, when the team leader does not eat lunch until no team member is left behind

I have been a teacher, when they walk to me to say that they just didn't understand

I have been a teacher, when they call because they know that I can make their parents understand 

I have been a teacher, when on this last day, my heart is heavy to sit with them in class

I have been a teacher, when I can hear their voices in the empty classroom

I have been a teacher, when I can hear their laughter in silence of my house

I am going to fill this silence with their laughter tomorrow for one last time.....38 students for lifetime

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Symphonies

Inclined towards understanding the real nature of human, I have been finding contradiction more than non-contradictions around me. The duality of human psyche and its ramifications on the world pushes me sometimes away from pursuing excellence. Occasionally, however, I have a tryst with wisdom more than ignorance, work-ethic rather than hypocrisy, excellence instead of randomness. That makes me stand up and give my cause, a fuel and my effect, some meaning.

The human brain is not gifted with perfect senses and it cannot see and comprehend completely the world around and within. That primarily is the cause of duality. Recently, I had an out-pour in front of my program manager, Emma, about my acceptance of duality of people. She answered wittingly that duality will exist. But what we can do is inspire our surroundings to minimize it  and do not react differently to people who we conceive as having high proportion of it. It gave my disturbed mind some peace because I acknowledged it a part of within and of others. We also talked about that work that we do can have such a terrible impact if we do not address duality.

In past month, I read two autobographies - one of Dalai Lama and the other "The autobiography of Yogi". Both led me to read Bhagwad Gita. I remember picking up Bhagwad Gita four years ago and putting it down because of incomprehension. But today I am able to atleast read through it with an intention of picking up as soon as I find time again. To whatever extent I am able to comprehend, it gives me lot of peace. Bhagwad Gita talks about finding peace through service of others. What form of service we choose is onto us. When I tell people that I was happy with my technology job as well as happy being a teacher, they ask me what gave you more happiness? I really have no answer. At Teach for India, I definitely have more challenges and independence to deal with those but I loved what I did as an engineer and a lead. This arises a confusion in terms of choosing the appropriate service for lifetime.

In the book, "The autobiography of Yogi", The Guru of the Yogi, gives him an experience of the cosmos world, where he sees through the soil and the sky, by touching his heart. Just after experiencing something so huge, both the Guru and the disciple humbly sweep the floor. Is there a bigger definition of humility? The learning of spirituality is magnanimous through these two books and I sometimes wonder if I can just get it within me somehow. I wish to comprehend every teaching and use it in my life, find out a way life should be lived with these imperfect senses.

I heard the rising and falling symphonies of flute of Hariprasad Chaurasia, as I write, and the rise and the fall, gives notes to the duality within.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why low-income private schools are failing?

I have announced to my students and their parents about my departure. Leaving behind kids and their hopeful parents is certainly difficult for me. But recently, this turned out into a classic ethical dilemma.

Few parents called me to ask if they can pull the child out from the school. These parents can afford a little better private school due to their good financial situations. Since I am leaving as well, they would rather take the child to a "better" school. The definition of better is - good buildings, good toilets, well-dressed teachers and may be a little better education.

Teach for India holds MoU with each school of staying with a class for at least 6 years. Now, I tried to ensure few parents about the quality of teachers a child will get because of presence of Teach for India. They reply back by saying that it is because of my teaching that their child has been able to get admission to the new school. They are glad that I came and they are happy that child is now getting into what he deserved. I put forward few arguments that a good teacher is sufficient infrastructure in herself. But I myself am leaving the school so I lose that ground.

I really could not argue their motivation to see their child in a better school. Besides, parents could see how even low-income private school is so much profit driven to never re-invest back into the school. Kids deserve better education, better facilities and better infrastructure. By my presence, only one aspect was ensured. And
since I am no authority mandating other aspects in the school, I cannot get this done. By just being a teacher, I cannot force principal to comply to maintain certain standards.

I recall in our last week end of year summit, what Shaheen Mistri, our CEO, told us. Teach for India as an organization cannot send teachers to each classroom having an educational inequity. But by giving us an experience at such a grass root level, it builds a base of strong alumni, who stand up against this at a higher level of impact and mandate schools to give each child a Right to Education the way he deserves and - NOT JUST ON PAPERS.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Thank you MBA Crystal Ball!

I had a great opportunity to share about my career choices and my transition to Teach for India in India's leading  MBA blog - MBA Crystal Ball. I have been a great fan of Sameer's inputs given at BW forums and I am glad that he found my experience, useful for readers of blogs of MBA Crystal Ball.

Read on to the full article here:

http://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2012/03/23/teach-for-india-ngo-education-jobs-mba/ 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How a friend made to Kellogg!


An acquaintance of college recognized me when he bumped into this blog last year and approached me because of my experience in GMAT and applications. We chatted about my experience and his plans.  He was little apprehensive because of his low GMAT score - 700 (low because of super scorers Indians!) and was clueless about essays.

Till then I had helped out few people with resumes and essays, so I asked him if I could help. He gladly agreed and we started working on his resume first. I sent him my resume; he picked the format and wrote his. Then to move ahead, I had to understand what he does because I had absolutely no knowledge about his domain of work. I would put forward questions, he would explain it to me and we would reach at a common understanding. We would talk about the impact he made and qualities he demonstrated for each bullet point in resume. This way we kept on building until we reached a point where we satisfied that each aspect that we want to highlight in his work is present in the resume. After several versions, emails and skype calls we were satisfied where his resume was.  

We moved forward with essays.  He was sure about Kellogg and Ross and was yet to shortlist other schools. Since Kellogg essays have higher word-limits and they are in greater number, we started with them. Essay writing got a little tricky at first. My friend has lot of International experience working in different countries and we wanted this to be the biggest highlight of his candidacy. But we were not just getting it right with the starting. We were able to write about his career progress part very well, thanks to resume, but we wanted it not to sound like a resume! So, we discussed about unique experiences he had in different parts of the world and how that helps him now to quickly adapt and work in a new country. Finally we found a perfect start and then we were able to complete one essay at a satisfactory level.

All this was before I joined Teach for India i.e. end of April. After that I had such a hectic training at TFI that I just couldn’t take forward the work we had done thus far. Also, my friend now was slowly becoming an expert on essay-writing himself. He carried forward remaining essays on his own. I couldn’t follow-up much except telling him that by end of writing it all, he must hire a professional service to get the final review and I recommended to him the only person I was sure of – Khyati Soparkar  - who had helped me with essays and interview at Tuck in 2010 and one more friend to get through Wharton in 2011.

We lost touch. I would sometime wonder what he was up to but just didn’t follow up. On one fine day this month, I got a call from him telling me that he has been accepted by Kellogg. 

We met up for lunch and he showed me his essays. I am so proud of what he finally got – much better than our satisfactory levels. I think because he started so ahead in time and took complete ownership that his essays came out really magnificent in the end. He kept the process simple without complications of multiple reviewers. I believe that is the key.

I am really proud of his acceptance.  He got through the one he wanted! I guess he wanted it badly enough and he went all the way to get it!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dil Se

I am coming to this blog after a long time for reasons that I am still comprehending. May be I had a writer's block. May be I lost that connection to express in this anonymous world.

 Life of a Teacher  is tough and someone who is considering this job should understand that you are entering into a system which is so screwed up and your job might be contributing in that screw up without your intention. You might be serving the wrong people indirectly. And you have to continuously remind yourself and hope that you are empowering a handful of kids that do not become wrong people of that system.

Life of a  Teacher is emotionally draining. Its a giving job. And sometimes you have breakdowns because you are not a superhuman who can give continuously.

Life of a teacher is faced with impossible choices. A slow progress of an emerging kid and super-fast progress of a smart kid, a planning that takes cares of both, an execution which paces both, data which makes you jump, disinvestment which makes you shout, and then there is all of your life things pending - unpaid bills, career choices, personal life...yeah personal life is a pending item sometimes!

Life of a class teacher is coming to an end. No, I am not giving up. I am just taking on another challenge. From teaching 38 second graders, I am moving to teach several 17 years old  adolescents who have been picked from streets. Boys who have suffered and seen reality of this world much more than I have. Boys who will not tolerate weaknesses of my mind and attitude. My job has been described to me as a female role model for 30 boys. The word is big! And a human life feels so small.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The impossible said I am possible

It has been six months when I became a teacher. I was imperfect with everything I did. My delivery never matched my planning. My planning never matched my ambition. The teacher's job was the hardest job I have ever done. I classified myself at novice in Teaching As Leadership rubric. I would be anxious in the classroom, sometimes without answers to my own questions. I would go to city conference and wonder how much more I have to do when I was still stuck with getting  basics right. I fell behind from my own ambitions.

My co-fellow Nakul who teaches grade 3 and I would discuss and try to adapt ourselves to the new challenges of everyday. Sometimes our efforts were wasted because of our short-sightedness and sometimes we will just take too much pressure. But we were dreamers all the time. We had chosen as one of our qualitative goals to  help our students appear in a National Level Exam. We found one exam in which both grade 2 and grade 3 students could appear. We saw a snapshot of sample paper and we enrolled around 50 students from both the classrooms in NSTSE. We believed in equal opportunity so we allowed all students to enroll despite being aware of their preparedness for the exam - few of them were not yet ready.

This was month of October during which we started reaching out to all resources for helping our students to prepare for the exam. The exam was on 4th December. When we saw the previous year paper, we were shocked. We thought we had done a mistake. I remember saying to Nakul that even brightest child in my classroom cannot score more than 3 in this paper.

The impossible was right in front of our eyes. We were expecting students to find out a three digit smallest odd number when they just recently learned about a three digit number and not even began to learn Science. We faced dilemma of improving chances of brighter students or taking along everyone and improving little by little. We were sometimes faced with impossible choices of teaching progressively or teaching with high expectations prophecy. 

But we forgot that our students are dreamers too and they proved us wrong. They worked hard. Their parents worked hard. I would spend morning assemblies standing out of the school listening to parents’ stories about the disciplined schedule students have created for themselves. This was thrilling and it motivated us more. It inspired Nakul and me to collaborate better. We will sometime shuffle enrolled students in extra classes so that students who have a steeper learning curve are in one classroom - Nakul's or mine's and we provide adequate intervention to others. I will spent a working day to teach students who were not enrolled in the exam and Nakul will teach students who did. Those were hard days. We were insomniac, starved and exhausted. But occasionally the thrill of receiving awesome responses from students kept us going.

The day which surpassed every thrill was the day just before the exam. Students were giving us answers to word problems that we never thought we will even teach them. From statistics to science, students were ready for everything. This 5th Jan, results were out. The lowest marks in our classrooms is 10 and highest 51 out of 75. Most of the students have scored around 40-60%. This has been an impossible outcome for us! :-)