1st July, 2016 was the day when I stepped through the mirror into the ‘Looking Glass House’, just like Alice did in ‘Through the Looking Glass’. And yes, just like Alice I also felt that I had stepped into a world which was similar to mine but, with several strange differences. I cannot describe my Teach for India (TFI) experience without lending images from this wonderful text by Lewis Caroll. Alice becomes a different person after her journey through the Looking Glass and so did I, after this internship.
The world I had stepped into was unlike anything that I had ever seen. All my life I thought I knew everything about the impoverished and marginal community of our society, the people living in slums. I thought I was aware about the challenges they face. I thought I knew about the educational inequity and loopholes in our education system. But little did I know that ‘I thought’ too much and hence, assumed ‘I knew’. Everything that ‘I thought I knew’ just came crumbling down the moment I stepped into 4th grade classroom of MCD School in Saraipipal Thala.
I expected the worst; the unruly kids, lazy government school teachers and yes, dirt everywhere! Alas! I was wrong about a lot of things. Here’s how my one month went as TFI intern.
1st and 2nd July were Friday and Saturday. The attendance was low, with only 5 and 6 kids present each day. The class teacher told me that the kids will definitely come from Monday and, they did. The moment I in stepped in class, I was wished by a chorus, “Good Morning, Didiiiii”. I was taken aback by their enthusiastic, happy response.
This first week was the hardest week; I was stripped off all my pre-conceptions. Every time I saw something which was not what I had believed, it confused me even more and felt as if everything I knew was a lie. Each day of this week I heard a new child’s story which made me feel a little more grateful of my life and childhood.
Now with all the kids present, the teaching began. As my TFI fellow had pointed out, “If you don’t have a plan for the kids, they’ll have a plan for you.” The kids in my class had unlimited energy, constructive as well as destructive. I was assigned to teach English and Science. My first foray into teaching began with a poem. This poem gave me an insight of the level of the kids. There were kids in the class who were unaware of the basic sound and letter recognition and hence, were unable to read. Thus, I made it my goal to teach them sounds and basic reading before my one month gets over.
My days flew thinking, planning, talking about just my kids. I didn’t know when I started referring to them as ‘my kids’ but, I did. All the things in my life faded into insignificance. With my BOY assessment, my days were spent assessing each child on a motley range of criteria’s and my nights were spent filling the tracker.
This assessment further helped me in recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of my kids. As my assessment came to end, so did my internship. I could not teach all my kids to read. All of them had different learning capacities; some could only learn letter sounds, some 3 letter words and some to read sentences. But, with each little milestone that my kids achieved, I smiled little more and felt a little more alive.
I may not have done much, but I did what I could in one month. Change is a slow process. One could not expect to move mountains but, it’s the baby steps that count and the will to continue. It’s all about ‘one child at a time’. Being with these kids for one month taught me to smile in the face of adversity. Their happiness and zeal was infectious. And yes, their lack of resources showed me what today’s privileged kids are losing, with their lives heavily dependent on technology.
I learnt that my biggest flaw was that my opinions about the education system were based and influenced by what I had read in newspapers, heard from others and seen on television. We often go through life forming opinions, passing judgements over our flimsy assumptions, but it’s the first experience and in-depth insight that really matter and help. I realised that most of the policies fail because the real situation is misconstrued by the policy makers. Though this TFI internship was short, I stepped into an alternate reality. However, I wish that there was no disparity between, my kids and my reality. In the kids company, I learnt to unlearn. Before I met them, I thought they needed me, but it was I, who needed them!
One should definitely work with TFI as an intern if, planning to join the fellowship. An intern does most of the things that a fellow is expected to do and gets a peek inside TFI culture as well!
Featured Image Credits: Zeba, TFI