Journey over destination

So, without too much fanfare my first year of the Fellowship is almost coming to an end. I would be lying if I said the last one year has not changed me and touch me to my very core.

It is hard not to get nostalgic and I believe sometimes it is good to let go only to make for better beginnings for a new journey. When I was training to be a teacher, I believed that at the end of the year I would know how I fared when I see the results of my students. I was naive and to some extent conditioned to believe that the end of year numbers reflected the effort and smarts.

But today as I finished compiling the results, it was a feeling I have not encountered previously. Not exuberance, not gaiety – a sense of completion. This is not to say I was unhappy with what the students have achieved. I am as proud as any parent of 40 great kids could be. :)

But I now know that this does not define what I have seen, felt or shared with the kids. When I see the results I cannot help but see journeys and not numbers.

One such journey is of Sumit – if you have had any remote contact with me in the last one year, you would have heard of Sumit.

When Sumit came to my class this year, he was quiet for an entire week. I assumed he was shy and just needed to be made comfortable. What I did not foresee was the raging battle that we both would be embroiled in for the next 11 months. He believed that I was out to get him and I for the longest time thought all he needed was tough love to get him straightened out. From running away from school, to stabbing me with a compass, to making gangs in school to beat smaller kids up and stealing money from home – he has done it all. I have shaken my fist at him, yelled at him, pleaded with him, even cried in front of him and he did not budge. I still recall vividly holding both his hands and forcing him to read (past experience suggested that holding one hand wasn’t sufficient – that kid is slippery as an eel!). He could barely read three letter words and when I taught phonics he would intentionally connect the wrong sound to the letters. It was frustrating to watch him make cuss words with phonics and for me to pretend to not care.

He would hit someone for looking at him and then hold that person responsible for starting the fight. He would hit girls on their legs and then pretend like he didn’t do it. He was responsible for innumerable parent-teacher meetings where parents of girl children would question my capability of keeping their child safe.  I had at some point resigned to believe that he needed something bigger than me to change him. But I never stopped keeping my eye out for him. The class knew that while I was teaching I was also just waiting for him to pick his next fight.

This went on and last week during the first of the two Math exams, Paritosh sent for me because Sumit was wrecking havoc in class and not letting anyone write the exam. I went to him and pulled him out for our usual conversations. He was ready to give me a laundry list of complaints against everyone else who he felt was mocking him or disturbing him. And I was so exhausted that without thinking I just hugged him and told him to just breathe (more for myself and less for him). He was stumped. He did not know how to react. I held his hand and told him how I believed he could ace his Math paper if only he would put his mind on it. He did not expect this from me. He was all prepared to launch his tirade and I pretty much rained on his parade. I told him how everyone would be so surprised when he does so well and maybe he would feel happier and even less angry. He went back in flummoxed as never before and wrote his exam. The rest of the day was uneventful. The next day during the second Math paper, he asked to sit with me and write the exam. I just saw it as an easy way to make sure the others were allowed to do their work in peace.

But yesterday I finally saw something – a glimmer. The whole class was colouring pictures and so was I and suddenly I found Sumit colouring the other half of my picture like it was the most normal thing in the world. I feigned nonchalance and continued to colour though my head was just bursting with joy that he finally didn’t see me as an opponent. And he casually asks me “which state you come to?” I asked back “Do you mean which state do I come from?” and I was met with silence. I pretended to not notice and said “TamilNadu” and he tells me “tum madrasi hum U.P” and we both continued colouring.

Today I know that Sumit has scored nearly 60% in his Math paper and has grown from a Pre KG level to nearly grade level 3 in English. That is nearly three and half years of growth in one year. But that is not what I want as keepsake. What I want to keep with me is the picture we coloured together and sadly he took it with himself.

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