Thursday, October 14, 2010

Steep Climb: another report from a Jaitpura school

You can always tell those teachers who have taught the same lessons the same way for many years, paying no head to the changing needs of the children before them, and  in spite of their own inevitable boredom. It's frustrating, but you almost can't blame them, considering the number of times they've been reminded of how important it is to cover the entire syllabus. No teacher is perfect, but I've always thought the best ones were the ones who never stopped learning and thinking themselves. 

In this report, Gandhi Fellow Kabir Arora reflects on figurative and literal barriers he's encountered so far; successes and mistakes made along the way; why teachers need idealism, and more.

Steep Climb!
Before coming here, I was a part of many times bold, sometimes conservative society of Delhi (3 years) and open minded Jalandharis (18 years). “Life in the small town by the river (hill in my spatial context) where everyone wants to live with the Gods” was a big challenge for me. From my clothes to the conversation skills, everything can force people to stare at me. Not an attention seeker especially because of clothes, voice etc. Blank eyes looking at me! No idea in mind-which can help me to deal with the situation. Later on, got used to it. “Now I know how every woman feels when she walks down the road, I empathize with them completely”.

There was a language barrier between me and kids, residents of the village. Overcame it, Marwari is the sister language of Punjabi,  so I used the Punjabi mind in the class and outside. It worked. Kids responded more to my Punjabi than Hindi. Feeling proud of my Punjabi heritage which helped me to connect.

The toughest thing was to do passive observation in the class; either kids get scared or they’ll get too much excited to talk to new person.  During later days did some assessment of behavior by being present in the class but absent from kids minds.

Silence is indeed needed to start something new in the class. I was totally confused and was trying to find some way so that the energy level of kids doesn’t go down, but they are silent when something is taught. This conflict in mind went on for a week and half. Left for Delhi, met a friend who is also a teacher. We had a long conversation over the pedagogy and ways to make our class interesting. He suggested me an exercise which helped me in creating space of new concepts. Discipline exercise was a big hit-I experimented first with 2nd as the number was less than with third. The idea was to show a physical gesture (like a clap or raising the hand), kids have to respond to it by sitting straight and silent. This gave me time and space which was needed for learning process. Concept of Addition was introduced in 2nd standard, multiplication exercise to give clarity of tables in 3rd standard with the help of this exercise.

Bonding knows no boundaries-Why are we different from other teachers?
For me every day was a new day-new beginning. I used to get up very early and see the old night mingling with the new dawn, earth meeting the sky at horizon. Horizon inspired me! It helped me in moving closer to the kids.

Once I unconsciously slapped Hansu Ram, as I was physically and mentally very tired that day. It was not frustration which came out but just a reaction to something which is very minute. I felt guilty. Embarrassed! Hansu somewhere sensed it, came forward and we got together again. After that he just sank deep in my heart-A new beginning! This can happen only with kids, we adults are so ignorant and egoistic. If some one of my age was there, he would have scrapped all the ties.

Kids accepted the way I am. Expectations were high from their side too. I accepted them the way they are. It opened the gates for exchange of thoughts on family, background and society at large. When I was hurt, they used to feel as if a nail was pushed in their heart. Their faces used to go down. In that environment, I used to put my feet in their shoes. When any teacher used to hit them, fear of the teacher pushed me in deep frozen oceans. I used to question my silence at that very moment. I felt as I’m a part of their small world.

Many of them were slow learners-but I never felt frustrated about it. But if I go three four years back, I used to get irritated when my younger brother was not able to solve his math’s problems. I’m surprised by this transformation, not too sure about the reason. They struggled to reach the destination. Their struggle not destination became important to me. Every morning I used to get ready with that struggle in my mind.

On my way to school I used to have a glimpse of high hills. For me hills and mountains were sages lost deep in meditation, the clouds around them tried to wake them up. Kids who are living under the shadow of the same hills
Students in the shadow of distant hill
always gave me a sense of satisfaction. Their journey is similar to the vastness of hills, which absorb all the ignorance of mankind and still keep meditating.

I used to look at the hills. They are so high and huge. My kids are so small but still they will reach the top with their humble background. 

Am I becoming an idealist? Yes! What is bad in idealism? This is what a teacher needs in bulk. Envisioning a perfect society. Kids are too young to think about this as my group members used to say. But can this be added to their thought-process. I don’t want to make them serious, but they are already somewhere. They feel the pain of injustice. They feel guilty when something wrong has happened. Their lips loose the movement but their eyes say so many things. I saw that in their eyes. 
For more on Kabir's experience, see also:
If I were my own teacher: confidence, colour and voices

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