It has been 8 months and 16 days since I walked into my classroom the first time. It has been tumultuous to say the least – not to make myself a martyr. I have had some of my best memories in this classroom with my 40 kids, some truly inspirational moments and a lot of dark days.
Today was one of the darker days I have seen. I wasn’t able to go to school yesterday as I wasn’t in a position to even stand for a bit let alone climb 3 floors. I walked into school today and I was told how Sumit formed a gang with five 4th graders and beat Omega up real badly. I thought it was an exaggerated claim and climbed up three flights of stairs to make it to the staffroom. There again I was told about how Omega could barely walk home yesterday and how Sumit and those 4th graders have threatened to kill him if he comes back to class. That is when I realised that there was something seriously wrong. I went to class, did the whole jig of morning meeting, made it a point to address the class message of “Do not hit”, tried talking about non violence through Gandhiji and all this while my mind was racing with questions about why there is so much rage in 9 and 10 year olds.
Of course, I did speak to Sumit separately, questioned him about the choices he made and how it aligns with what we speak in the classroom every single day. He just looked at me with glazed eyes. There are many metrics for a teacher to gauge the effective communication of her message and a glazed pair of eyes is sure shot sign of failure.
I know I do not speak of this often, but I truly believe India is special and I feel personally responsible for not trying hard enough in the first 25 years of my life to help find solutions to its problems. When I joined this Fellowship, I wanted to first find solutions in my classroom and then use my learning to find solutions for the country. I still believe that the answers to issues of gender discrimination, indiscriminate violence, prejudice, intolerance lie in education. But when I see how after my 256 days I may have brought about a change only in actions of most of my kids that too motivated by the desire to please me, it is hard not to question my ability to bring a mindset shift in a country of 1.2 billion people.
I am aware that children carry their homes into the classrooms, I am aware of how operant conditioning works with positive and negative reinforcement, I recall reading that behaviour change is possible in most individuals with continued exposure in about 250 days since it involves reworking of some neural network BUT what I am not aware of is, what is one to do when time is running out and you feel like you are up against a wall.
I pledged myself to bridge education inequity and in my head I added a caveat of how I will not limit myself to academic skills alone when bridging the inequity. I earlier wanted to be that teacher whom you would look back to recall how you pushed yourself because she said so. I now only want to be the teacher who helped you find the inner voice which talks to you about the choice you make with every action.
I want to be that voice for Sumit for purely selfish reasons. I see in him the issues that I want answers to – it scares me that maybe there are none to find.