Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teaching—A Journey of Transformation

Vipul Shaha, Fellow, Teach for India.

Vipul ShahaBhaiyya* I want to become a pilot!” shouted Ameya (name changed), an 8 year old boy, bubbling with energy and confidence in my ‘Superstars’ class. “But Bhaiyya, how do I write Pilot? See na Bhaiyya P—I—L—E—T? Correct?” followed his impatient question. The other 33, equally enthusiastic, were scrambling for my attention—“Bhaiyya, I want to be a dancer… teacher… doctor… cricketer… I want to help people…” I had asked them to write about their ‘Dream Job’—even as I had found mine in teaching a class of Grade 3 children at Epiphany High School—a low income private school in Pune. Everyday, as I step into my classroom, I can see the dreams in my kids’ eyes and feel the eagerness in their hearts to learn new things.

Schoolchildren in India Ameya came in as a ‘failed’ student. When the school started, his parents came to me, very worried about their child’s future. They even had to carry out a psychometric analysis test—the results of which suggested a low level of IQ and the suggestion that the kid should be moved to a Marathi school. I pleaded for time. Seven months have passed and Ameya, today, is one of the finest students in my class. He does his homework regularly, he wrote one of the most beautiful letters to his pen-pal in a school in England (through an international link-up). His parents don’t beat him as often as they used to and are happy with his progress.

The journey for Ameya and his classmates is nowhere as smooth and promising as their counterparts in well-off schools. By grade 5 there is 50% dropout in Indian schools, mostly as they cannot keep up with rote system learning and poor quality education; not because of parents’ don’t want to send them. With no support system outside school, the potential in these kids is not released. Their dreams and ambitions in life fall victim to their circumstances. This reality keeps me driving everyday to work harder, so that dreams the many Ameyas can take wings.

When I accepted my two year teaching assignment with Teach for India*, little did I know I was about to set off on a most challenging journey in life. The job demanded that I be not merely an effective teacher in classroom but an effective human being every moment. Soon it was clear that unless I transform myself I cannot hope to transform the lives of these young minds. ‘Teaching as Leadership’ as defined by Teach for India, began to assume a larger meaning. Over the months the children have taught me to be more patient, more forgiving and more cheerful. My world before was oceans apart from the mysterious little world of children. I can relate with them better now and they have become an inseparable part of my life —even in my dreams my students do not seem to leave me! I find myself more and more engaged with the mission, ‘One Day All Children Will Attain Excellent Education’.

Often I wonder if I am making any difference to their lives. How do I reach out to their parents and communities who have a larger influence on them? What about mal-nourishment, domestic violence, alcoholism, child abuse and so on which threaten their healthy growth? Exploring answers to these questions may be a lifelong journey. Down the years, kids may or may not remember the Nouns and Adjectives in English grammar. My belief and hope lies in helping slowly turn into independent and creative thinkers to face their own challenges in life. The unconditional love I receive from them; the purity of smile on their faces and anticipating sunshine in their eyes shall keep me going. The journey has just begun…

*Bhaiyya a respectful way of addressing an elder brother in Hindi.

*Teach for India is a national movement of young leaders working to eliminate educational inequity http://www.teachforindia.org