Tag Archives: hope

Feelings and the lack of it

So while I continue to say that I love all my kids equally, I secretly love some a whole lot more. It could very well be because I find more of myself in them than others but whatever the excuse, one of my favourite kids (MFK) called me recently and we had the most interesting conversation ever.

So MFK begins with the typical announcements on the books she has read and inquiring after my hair (if it is growing, what my plans around it are etc). We then had a power packed five minutes on how much she scored in all her tests, how she absolutely loves chemistry, the new elements in the periodic table and how no one in class is as excited as she is about those new elements (!)

But somewhere in all this, I felt like she wasn’t really saying what she wanted to say. Not wanting to probe, I let her stew in the pauses and then she suddenly piped up saying “Didi, I wanted to tell you something about our class. All our students have fallen into the TRAP.” I was suitably intrigued, and she continued, “Didi, these days all the girls they have feelings for boys.” The way she said the word ‘feelings’, I could totally imagine her disgust showing up on her scrunched up face. She let that information stay with me for a few seconds expecting a dramatic reaction. While I completely cracked up in my head, I projected a very calm ‘is that so?’ kind of demeanour. She could contain herself no longer and burst out saying, “Didi, I called to tell you while everyone has these feelings, I have absolutely no feelings whatsoever. Didi, I cannot feel a single thing! In fact Didi, I thought about these feelings and I realized I do not need these feelings also. I do not know why these girls and boys are like this. Unit tests are just over and they are still thinking about feelings only.” (Yes she did use the word ‘feelings’ so many times in one breath)

I was completely torn between cheering that MFK was exactly like me when I was in the 9th grade and ensuring that I give her balanced perspective or be that someone she could confide in. So I say, “You know it is completely okay if you do not have these feelings right now, but what is also okay is if you do ever have feelings and want to talk about it.” Yes, that’s how lame I was! I heard myself and I rolled my eyes over my own response.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one because I could literally hear MFK’s eyes going to the back of her head. She shot back pointedly saying, “Didi! It is just hormones! These are not real feelings. I do not have any feelings and I will never any feelings for any boy.” I immediately caught on and reminded her it doesn’t necessarily have to be a boy and she again sternly brought me on track saying she is completely aware of the ‘choices’ she can make and she is not happy with the way I am digressing at each step of the conversation.

So I let her take the reins and just listened. She told me about who is dating whom, who broke up and who is in the in-between stages of deciding their relationship status. She also magnanimously pointed out that someone’s writing has improved because of all the love letter writing, though she was disappointed that as a couple they weren’t really focusing on spellings. There is a lot of crying, breaking up in the corridors and missing school to mend the broken hearts.

MFK suddenly halted since her mom was in the room and she made me promise that I will come to Bombay soon so that we could catch up and discuss in detail why girls and boys are so weird and why feelings are such a waste of time. She reminded me again loudly (I am guessing for the benefit of her mom) that she has no such feelings and she is never falling into this trap.

As I imagined each of my kids being gangly and awkward, I couldn’t help but feel a huge pang of missing this part of their growing up. While I may not have been great at feelings and all that, but I would kill to be there for them and just remind them that it gets better.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how hard being 14 can be. MFK reminded me that being a teenager is chaotic, messy and mostly heartbreaking.

I cannot wait to go back to Bombay. It will be a session of coffee, doughnuts and high school drama – MFK is growing up and I just need to make sure, I play it cool and not let my feelings come in the way of our awesomeness.

You can read what happened next here.

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Independence Day

I have honestly never understood the idea of a nation or appreciated the sentimentality that it begets. Even though I grew up outside India and it is expected that my identity is defined by the country I was born in or from which my parents belong; I merely saw India as my grandparents’ home then.  I have many a time wondered how is it possible that 1.2 billion people with different dialects, backgrounds and stories feel kinship to an idea called India. There have been days when I have simply summed up the situation as the triumph of economic need to belong to a larger state over the need to carve out an own identity.

This is not to tell you that I have had a change of heart simply because of Independence dayand a few episodes of Satyameva Jayate. But I am beginning to see a kinship with the hope called India with every passing day. Yes, there are issues – not one, not two but innumerable. Inflation, currency de-valuation, illegal migration, corruption, unheard protests, foeticide, education, healthcare, nutrition, environment, caste based discrimination, safety of women –there is not a single news channel that at 9 p.m. talks about something good that transpired that day. It is about all the wrongs done by all those who could not escape the prying eyes of the camera. Of course the media should be vigilant, of course people should be pulled up for trying to hush up a rape case or pocketing 2500 crores meant for the healthcare of the state –but does it have to be only about the bad? This is not rhetoric – its something that I worry about. Is it true that there is absolutely no good happening which is why nothing makes it to the papers or TV? Or is it our choice to only see the wrong simply because the indignation compensates for our inaction in the day.

But even if I do consider the violent opposition of every action or inaction that occurs and the sceptic look that follows the announcement of any intention I cannot help but hope that it stems from a desire to simply see a system working better for its people.

This gooey optimism may not agree with most of you…I would be annoyed too if I made the kind of money you did and then pay the taxes you do! But I guess my optimism is also an occupational hazard. Everyday when I walk into class I see hope, dreams and the joy to make something new. I find it extremely hard to not believe that these kids will not have a chance to realise their potential and live the lives they want. I see them shaping their future one task at a time and incisively moving towards a goal they set for themselves. And something tells me if a bunch of 8 year olds can, then I am sure 1.2 billion across age groups, smarts and wherewithal can figure something out.

I do not relate to the chaos that is pouring out on the streets to resolve issues endemic to the system. But I do see the adrenalin for some form of change and that to me resembles hope – for if there was no hope, we would see indifference and not angst.

I am aware that there are elements who are striving to maintain the status quo to feed their source of power. But I believe that these elements too are now beginning to see the power of the collective.

Yes, there is a lot to be done. Of course you may not tell me but I am sure you think me teaching 30 kids, is not going to change anything for better. But let me tell you something, it is happening – things are changing and the future is looking up. It is for you to smell the wet earth. Like someone once said, some feel the rain while others simply get wet.

I still do not understand what holds all of us together. But I do see the shared past and glimmering future in the eyes of my kids and I feel like I belong to something that is larger than me – maybe it is the idea or hope that someone once called India.

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This cannot be it. I need to remind myself

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.

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Written on May 4, 2011 after a rigourous day at Institute

Today was day 1 of hardcore, serious teaching stuff. Goals, measures, benchmarks, standards, curriculum undestanding and so on. Sometimes it was easy to lose myself to believing I was in business school again but then a sudden image of a child landed me with a thud!

I read a lot of concepts today which I read between 2006-2008, applied between 2008-2010. But, this time I did it with the realisation of having 40 expectant eyes on me and 40 minds to be shaped. 

It was a long day. I liked it. It was loaded but it was what I wanted. It was what I wanted to hear and be told. I finally felt like I am now being given artillery to equip myself to handle the onslaught (i sense the irony of using guerilla or warfare talk to describe education and children. note to self: think less violent)

By the end of the day I was tired but in a good way. I like the feeling of that slight pain in the shoulders and arms which tells you have worked and done something with your day. 

Today evening I finally was initiated into the teaching commune with the three totems – a red pen, a piece of chalk and a shiny golden star sticker. All three took me back to my childhood.

Red pen – a teacher’s sword. Never could a student ever ever write with a red pen. And over those pencil written answers wooooosh went the pen, scratched it all out hoping to wipe it out of my head while strangely leaving grraffti’esque’ marks on my notebook. Did you have a teacher who brandished the red pen so hard on every page of your notebook that it left imprints on other new pages on which you hadn’t written yet? Imprints that you could see when you hold up the notebook in a particular way against the sun? I did. I did not like it. I liked my notebook pages to be new. I liked starting every answer on a new page (without marks). 
In class 2, I had a classwork notebook and a homework notebook. I once used a red pen to colour the apples of my addition exercise in my homework notebook (authenticity clearly was important to me). I had to re-do my homework because my teacher said I could not use red pen in my homework notebook and the only person who is allowed to use a red pen is she alone.

Chalk – when I was 4 or 5 I used to eat the chalk my mother gave me to write on the slate. I used to eat the chalk and ask for more to write. When my mother refused, I used to tearfully ask her how can I write without a chalk and if I didn’t write how could I EVER grow. My mother really wouldn’t know what to do. Yes, I was a canniving shrewd vixen (I was going to use another animal of the female gender but then I am currently working on my ability to control my language). In my defense, once I was done with eating chalk, I did write on the slate. When I was 5th grade, I used to steal chalk from school. I had stopped eating chalk by then but those blunt, nearly spherical pieces of chalk that the teacher couldn’t use and throw away I used to collect. We were not allowed to take chalk from school.  

Golden Star Sticker- There was only one teacher who actually carried instantaneous rewards for us (tangible not random extra 3 marks over and above a 100 mark exam). That was my English teacher. She used to take regular class but at the end she would check our library card and give us a star everytime we finished writing a summary of the book we had read. Depending on the number of books we read and wrote about we would get a star sticker or stamp. I was a sucker for any form of recognition or appreciation then so I started  pulling out more books from the library. I never really realised when the stars stopped coming – i found my love for books. 

I do not know if I am anymore ready to teach than I was before these totems. But I do know that I feel like I found the phonebooth where I can change into my spandex and cape. It is to be seen if I can fly….


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