These past months, I have had most externally calm and internally thunder-bolting months of my life. I went to US to take my mother at my sister's place and meet my niece, most wonderful baby I have ever met. I quickly fell in love with her and it was time to come back, I was energized by her love, support of my family and generally a lot of good memories.
I came back to Ummeed on 28th Jan. Since then, my dad had another life-saving operation, my mom was confirmed with dementia by doctors in US and both my sisters and my jiju worked so desperately hard to support my parents, to make our family united in crisis.
My only priority despite the critical situation of my family till 21st March was success of my students in 9th grade. I had to honor the responsibility bestowed on me - to save life of my students or rather make it. I got to know my students more closely during this time. They told me horrifying stories of streets, railway stations, Tihar jail or parents. I have witnessed their disappointment towards their life before. This time however things were changing. I was becoming their confidant, their mentor, someone they trusted very very deeply.
I began at Ummeed in May 2012 and then till December spent more time in dwindling between hospital for my Dad/Mom and Ummeed, I was, in all practical purpose, not able to perform the way I always wanted to. But this time because of my sisters' blind support, I was able to focus completely on my work. By just making this clear to myself, I composed myself much better and stayed highly focused.
I took up an enormous task of designing a curriculum that was fun and interactive and at the same time makes my students capable of passing 9th grade with their head held high. I prepared every lesson with videos, ted talks, power points and worksheets that very rigorously scaffolded. This way my students picked stuff faster and I was more efficient in delivering it. My day began at 8:00am when I would wake up, eat bread omelette draft a lesson, take printouts and head straight to Ummeed by 10:00AM. Most of my students left classrooms several times and I would wonder whether I was doing or saying something wrong. But I didn't move. They came back in again, smiling, regretting the walk-outs. I stood like a rock for them, accepting them without any complaints, skipping my lunch or dinner almost everyday, just to help them cover what they lost due to their emotional instability. They were allowed to take breaks. But I didnt take any. In evenings, when they played volleyball for two hours, I would check the papers, worksheets, design another lesson or help one of the students.
The school had strictly said they didnt want students of Ummeed in their school because they are irregular and indisciplined and they are tired of making exceptions for them since April. The school has the first real academic experiences for my students but it didn't turn out the way they had expected. The teachers didn't believe in them, may be partially, which is counterproductive. I recall a day just before exams when my students said to me that if then one of the school teachers made him stand to answer, he know he would answer. He added that earlier, they would keep calling all of their names continuously knowing beforehand that none of us would be able to answer and other students would, those who take tuition from them. Despite best intentions of principal and school staff, my students have felt at the bottom and lowered self-esteem in the school. I had a larger role to play. Believe in them like nobody ever did. Believing on them was not hard for me. They all are most brilliant students I have ever met. But it was hard to show them that my belief about them is right and others wasn't.
We studied for almost about 12 hours everyday. I would come back at 11 PM in the night. fearing from Delhi streets not because what would happen to me in case of a scary situation but more fearful of the fact how this group of young boys would react in case anybody dares to touch me. These were very unusual thoughts, making me more aware of the bonds that I share with my students. and how hard it would be to let this go.
The exams began on 14th March. I met my students at Hauz Khas metro station to wish them good luck at 6:00 AM. They all were scared and so was I. As the door of Metro separated me from my students, I felt my limitation as a teacher, that I just can't be there for them from that point. That beyond that point, I would have to submit them to the world. They all looked at me, smiled and I felt sadness that I would leave them soon forever. I smiled in return and cried all the way back to home. I have actually for the first time felt my students as my creations, their destiny will have a drop of my sweat.
By their third paper, we all became confident that they are going to pass. They told me that this time they are going to get things not as a beggary but with honor. Their final paper was of Math on 21st March. We worked harder and harder. On the eve of the exam, I got to talk with one student who six months before had outrightly rejected me as a teacher. His exact words were "Didi, don't mind my saying but you just dont know how to teach. The sweeper can teach us better than you " I was terribly hurt by the insult in front of the other staff members. But I didn't quit. I knew that I was a good teacher if not great and with noble intentions. And I am glad he got to see that. Just the night before exam, he apologized and said "if it not for you, I would have been back on the streets of Connaught Place by now. I have never worked this hard for my entire life. I am so happy that I am going to pass". He also gave me a note which said " Di, if you stay here till June, I promise I am going to work equally hard to finish my entire X syllabus. Now I know that I will go on to become an IPS officer".
I had earlier not known whether I would be able to go back to Ummeed once my students exam are over. I had felt that I would have to take the baton from my younger sister who for past 9 months have been working from home, and with that guilty of wfh has worked harder than most of her colleagues who are at Bangalore. I am right now with my father but missing my students terribly.
If you ask me what kept me going - I would say just plain hard work, my previous work experience as a software engineer which in an unusual way taught me to work long hours. Some credit however does go to Bread Omlette, the cans of Guava Juices, newly-discovered multigrain maggi which were the two meals that I had and of course a 20-minute episode of Friends.
Most of all, what kept me going was the trust of my students and their love, and some beautiful words we shared which none of us forget till our last breaths.