22 July 2014.
If you have to find me these days, from Monday to Saturday, you’ll catch me sitting across a computer….frowning at it, sharing a smile with it, or usually furiously tapping away at its keyboard. To cut the long story short, you’ll find me in ‘office’…engrossed in work or so I’d like to feel!
The nature of the work requires me to be brainstorming, documenting ideas, developing them. Hoping that one day, at least one child can go places because of what my mind could conjure up. But just occasionally, before that brilliant dream takes flight, my work decides to take me places. To see, to understand, to experience and to absorb. And so today, ‘office’ got packed into a bag and a car and a school in Talegaon awaited our arrival.
A huge campus with a simplistic school building constructed in the midst of it, the school we visited in Talegaon today was as rustic as it gets. Children dressed in uniforms that were not shiny new but worn with much pride. Hair that was oiled and put in place and eyes that sparkled above charming smiles. A single division per standard, there were about 30 kids in each class. The school layout was simple. Carpets to sit on for the younger classes and benches for the elder ones, the doors and windows looking out on to a breathtaking view. Nestled cozy in such a location, there was something quite unlike any other school here. There was enthusiasm running through each teacher and student’s veins. And this enthusiasm was contagious! Quickly our team split up and each of us requested the class teachers to allow us to conduct a class. We were here for some basic research : to check whether our planning was in sync with the reality. And so our initiative of teaching a class each was an effort to learn about the grasping capacities of these children. This is a Marathi medium school with the trend of English fluency being no stranger. When I walk into the class, I get an instantaneous Good morning. Not because I’m some exotic species but because that’s what they know leaves people impressed. As I walk out at the end of the class, I get a traditional Namaskar but coupled with the English Thank you! The language is integrated to such an extent in all these lives that it is funny to see the children’s liasons with the language of the British Raj.
The idea is to remove these hurdles, these complexes generated due to a language that despite popular usage, we still partly call our own. And so in each class we check the level of English. Can they walk English and talk English? As I ask my class (I was teaching Std.5) whether they’d like to read a story with me… I have 4-5 hands and souls jumping up from their benches already. They’re eager to participate, enthusiastic to learn and most importantly, not scared of making mistakes. We falter a little through the reading process but we sail through the comprehension test. Children of all intellectual levels participate in this ‘discussion’, right from the mentally – challenged boy sitting on the first bench to the boy who cannot recognize a single alphabet yet but who’s the first one to volunteer for the ‘Reading aloud’ activity. Each child has an opinion. And each child wants to have it heard.
Within the next hour and a half that our team is in the school premise, the children exhibit a variety of emotions and behaviours. And the crux of it, these children know how to care. Stand in one spot and just look around. There’s one boy tripping over himself to get you an umbrella. There are two girls bending with the effort of bringing you a chair. There are four boys making sure you’ve had your steaming cup of coffee. And there are six girls standing guard as you enter the toilet. None of these favours were requested, none were in fact necessary. And yet, all were granted. By children of ages 6-13 for women in their 20s and 30s. Why? Because that’s what they know. How to be responsible and how to be supportive. You’ll see the elder children mentoring the kiddos in the absence of teachers and you’ll also see 7-year olds help out a classmate who has wet his pants. Nobody is suppressing a smile; each child aware that one day they might need a similar moral boost. Against a backdrop of pattering raindrops, I’m lost in thought.
I’m standing here in front of the class, learning how to teach….
And yet I walk out of the classroom realising I was just teaching to learn…all the invaluable life lessons that these children had to offer.
22 July 2014.