Sunday, 2 August 2015

Educational Visits: Love it or Hate it?

Have you ever had an oreo shake with a pinch of salt? Tastes much better and the taste lingers on for a long time. 
The IUCAA trip reminded me of my first time having an oreo shake with a pinch of salt. My students and I were getting a great exposure to the world of Astronomy and its history. It was amazing to see what dedication and passion went into building the great IUCAA campus. It was inspiring to listen to the revolutionary stories of great scientists around the world who laid the foundation of modern Astronomy and Astrophysics. My students and I were left wide-eyed at the different devices and structures they showed us and their significance left us intrigued. Be it the dome which aligned with the stars in the sky every December 28th at 8pm or be the Foucault's pendulum which expressed the rotation of the earth, I saw the questions form in the students' minds and admired the innocence with which they asked their doubts. The taste of this experience was sweet and pleasant!
Now let me come to the pinch of salt. These students were performing below grade level in their classrooms. I have corrected their papers and most of them are not able to articulate the things they learn in their textbooks. I could also see the confusion and insecurity they had when they saw many other younger kids who came with their parents and answered all questions with ease. They seemed to know more than my students and it bothered them a lot. I saw my students squeeze their eyes trying to make sense of some of the things they heard about Aryabhatta and Einstein and the Foucault's pendulum. The innocence with which they asked their doubts had the slightest hint of hesitation in it.

But why is this pinch of salt making my sweetness linger on ?
Look at this picture!

Right after the tour was over, they made me sit and rewind through the entire tour and explain it to them all over again. They started discussing about how the scientists must have felt during the old ages when their ideas were being rejected. They also wrote furiously to make sure that they remember every single detail of the trip. The spark in their eyes made me feel that the entire trip was successful.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Basawaraj the great!

If there was one memory I would want to keep forever it would definitely be one where Basawaraj asked me to come to his school in 2015 and teach him in class VIII.
I had Eid celebrations to attend in my Epiphany School kids' houses and I thought I would use the holiday to go visit my students from Summer School. Hadapsar was a long way away and I was feeling lazy but my determined students made me come anyway.
I got a call a day before asking me if I was coming. Before I could answer he said "okay so what time will you come?" When I answered "2 or 3 pm" he said okay and hung up. The smart fellow he is, he didn't give me time to make up an excuse or say no. The day of Eid, he called me with instructions to cal him once I reach the bus stand. Again, I wasn't given the opportunity to bail out on him or be lazy.
Now you must be thinking that I am a hopeless heartless person who didn't care about her student's feelings, but I got holidays to sleep and the working days were very tiring. You have got to cut me some slack!
So after the Mela (Refer to IWBAT.... blog) I left for Hadapsar. On reaching the area I was lost because I forgot the address. I called up the mother and she told me that Basawaraj will pick me up. In 2 mins I saw a lanky dark boy with bright eyes riding his cycle in full speed. He was wearing (his favourite) red shirt and was grinning his best grin. At that moment I forgot all my frustration with my class or my struggle to teach. My mind went back to teaching him phonics and appreciating him for his math skills. I recalled the amazing perspective he gave to every discussion we had in class and his speed when he solved a math sum.
As I sat in his house he told me about his school and how he is looking forward to the chess competition. He gave me ideas for my classroom and for my student's behavior management. While watching Chak De India, he took out his science book and notebook and asked me to help him with his homework. Looking at his handwriting I remembered the hopelessness I felt when I corrected his notebook during summer school. While his math book was fun to check, his RC, writing and SST worksheets were a decryption exercise.
We started with science but gave up because he realized I am not going to give him answers but going to make him read and find answers himself. He seemed happier that I refused :)
Once the hour was up and I was fed some very delicious Poha and tea, I left Hadapsar to meet a very angry Snehal. Her mom and she made me promise her that I would come again and visit them soon. I sat in the auto (with a heavy heart) and left, with Basawaraj racing with me. As we left him in his house I felt sad that was returning home.
It was refreshing to meet him. I don't know why he has a very special place in my heart but he does. The great boy that he is, he reminded me of my little brother Dhruv and I felt that love I had been yearning for from my kids in school. I guess we don't get what we want, and we don't know how to work towards getting the things we yearn. He made me realize that all the love and happiness is all inside me, I just need to start expressing it and that will make all the difference.

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.

IWBAT experience love and happiness

After days of complaining and whining abut insensitivity and disinvestment from my class, I chanced upon Eid, a day which meant something completely different for me. One day in which I was with them, surrounded by them, loved by them, fed, fussed over and bullied by them. I felt like a friend and still like a respected entity in their life.
Dressing up I was skeptical about going because I have been a monster in school (at least I thought that, but the children had a different story to tell their parents). I ventured out in the pouring rain and searched and hunted to find Rahat's house. A comfortable home in a centrally located building, Rahat's house was decorated with beautiful carpets and bedspreads. Everyone was dressed in Kurtas and churidars. The men were wearing caps and the women has their head covered in an interesting fashion. I was greeted by everyone and looked at with affection and a certain reverence. Never before had I felt more like the teacher I had grown up seeing. The tone with which Rahat's grandfather spoke to me reminded me of my grandfather who would talk to my teachers about me. Her father slyly asked me about her academic performance and gave me an account of her past achievements. As she stood blushing and smiling, he praised the quietest girl in my class and spoke about how talkative she is.
The sheer korma was a delight to taste. A foodie by heart, stomach and mind, I had the best time in my life. I (expected some biriyani and other stuff but was not as comfortable with them to ask for it straight away..) ate two bowlfuls of the milky seviyaan mixed into roasted dry fruits. I  almost asked for the recipe twice but was always stopped by Mahima's non-stop chatter. (Another hero of my class, Mahima is my measure of success during Math class. He question-face is my only enemy during Math lessons. I work hard every minute to get rid of it and in most cases I succeed :) )
As Rahat's relatives came in to wish Eid Mubarak to the family, it reminded me of the Diwali Greetings we gave to friends and family when we visited them during the Diwali season. It suddenly felt strangely like home.
After that we all left for Afiya's house. Full of sheer korma, I was sure I would say hi and leave. But as I entered Afiya's house, her grandmother came and sat with us (I am sorry I forgot to mention. I carried with me a train if VIIIA students: Mahima, her sister, Samruddhi, Riya, her brother and Rahat). Her mother showed off the dresses she bought for her and spoke about the celebrations in her area. Mominpura had the area around their house was explained to me with details of every shop, mela and masjid present. As a result, being so happy with the closeness she expressed, I refused to refuse the sheer korma she offered! That my students bullied me by calling me a well and saying that I would become fat was pardoned for the day..
Post the eating fest, we all went to the mela. I was about to offer to get them tickets when they started insisted that I try a ride. I literally ran away to save my life :)

Now this blog might make even lesser sense to you because I have just written and not really expressed, but I was missing blogging and also was really wanting to document that day.
I feel that there is love in their hearts for their teacher (that is me yeeaay!) but it won't show until I express it for them as well. I have a new something to work on now and that's my "next-steps" for post-unit test plans.

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Training a Child

3 weeks into teaching and balancing my sanity and my will to teach, I chanced upon this question yesterday: Do we teach our children to be better human beings or do we train them to be so? With parents telling me 'maaro inko agar zaroorat pade toh..kuchh time ke lie hi sahi' and my own frustration when I see them answering back and murmuring defiantly when I ask them to do something, I wondered whether hitting them would make a difference.
In my childhood, I drove everyone crazy. At home, I was the only kid and I was worth 10. I got scolded, shouted at, threatened, locked in and even slapped for all the damage I did and the words I said. At school, I was caned many times because of the dancing and shouting I did in class and also because of the defiant looks I  gave the teachers. All that beating and shouting did make a difference. I am more aware of my behavior now and I know right from wrong, but is it the best way?
I remember reading the chapter on the Gringotts robbery in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. They speak about how the dragons are trained to expect pain when they hear the clankers. They are blinded before the training starts so that their only sense of observation is hearing and feeling of touch. They are hurt during the training while the clankers are making the terrible noise and the pain stops when the clankers stop. Hence, when they hear the noise, they try to get as far away from it as they can, recoiling into a ball in the corner. They cannot make their decision based on their perception of master, enemy or friend, but by the sound of the clankers and the expectation of pain.
Now lets make an analogy. We beat our children when they make a mistake. We scold them to keep them from doing something wrong. We don't teach them right from wrong. Instead, we train them to expect anger, shouting and pain when they do something undesirable. It is not until they are teenagers that they learn right from wrong on their own accord. Till then, it is fear which prevents them from doing wrong and not the conscience.
Now I will come back to my 31 kids at Epiphany High School. (I am not calling it English Medium because what's in a name; they hardly speak that language.) There are days I want to shout at them (which I already do a lot) and then there are moments when I want to skin them alive. I would like to say it is their fault, but I know that it is mine too! Beating them, scolding them and being mean would definitely get me their attention and get my work done, but will I be teaching the value of learning, the need for education and the meaning of discipline? I asked the 9th grade what discipline meant to them and they said we are disciplined if we keep quiet and respect teachers and do work on time. However, none of them could tell me why they needed discipline and what discipline really meant. Did beating discipline into them help? I don't think so.
In conclusion, I believe beating and scolding is a good way of getting everyone's attention because fear is the most powerful tool that can be used to lead (read:rule) a crowd. I also believe that learning cannot be done if one lives under constant fear. How will you open your mind if you are afraid of giving the wrong answer? How will you explore your own thoughts and discuss if you are afraid of the hand which will come crashing on your face because you were talking? How will you expand your knowledge if you are afraid of asking irrelevant questions? Lastly, how will you discover glories of nature and invent life-changing instruments if you are afraid of fulfilling your curiosity?
It is not fear but love for learning, not fear but a strong conscience, not fear but the right perception of right from wrong which will build better human beings. We have to be teachers not trainers. Let us learn the difference!

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.

Monday, 16 June 2014

First day blues!

"How was your first day of school?" This question has a deep significance in my life! An introvert, average student and an overachieving class, I never liked school that much. This question was very difficult to answer for me.
After all the years of transformation, friendships, love and other happenings, school became the center of my universe again. As I embarked upon the journey of being a transformational teacher, I realized that this daunting question would need a positive answer if I had to stay put for 2 years. So, I would expect you to ask, "How was your first day of school?" My answer has two words: Exhilarating and Overwhelming.
I woke up late on the first day of school, because I was too excited and anxious to get proper sleep! As I went about my morning business, I realized I had an upset stomach. Now, if it was the (spoilt) tofu of the previous night or the anxiety of teaching 30+ eighth grade students, I am not to sure. Anyways, I did what I had to do, drank a bottle of water and got ready to leave. I walked to the bus stand with fast pace (I was excited and impatient to start my school!) and fortunately caught the bus on time. The bus picked up my pace and I reached school 5 mins earlier than I had planned to.
I didn't have breakfast on the first day of school, because I was too late to make something at home and too late to pick something on my way. (Mom, if you are reading this, I will make breakfast from tomorrow and take) I kept feeling weak throughout assembly, not because I was feeling sick, but because 9 other children fainted, probably because they had not had breakfast this morning.
The assembly was straight out of my memory of St. Agnes' Convent School, my alma mater. 11 years of the prayer "Our Father", bible readings, stand at ease and stand attention, one-hand distance and wear proper uniform came flashing back as I saw an almost dramatic rendition of the same in my school. The difference, I was a teacher now! I had the power.........and the responsibility!
I was thoroughly confused on the first day of school, because I kept wondering about my class, my kids, the school timings and my plans. Confusion is my strongest weakness; if I get confused about something, everything related to it goes haywire. I had my plans with me (written out in detail on my notebook. I would make me proud!) and I had my material. What I didn't have was the confidence, which I lost as soon as I entered the class. Resilient, I still went about executing the plans I made, knowing that I would gain my confidence back soon.
I was overwhelmed on the first day of school, because my kids (every one of them) are a handful. Smart, clever, mischievous and loud-mouthed, they were exactly what I was told they will be. I saw 20 of the smartest kids I have met in Pune, in a classroom where I could do wonders with them. I knew I could learn a lot from them and teach them about the world, but today I knew I had underestimated them. I had planned a 3-hour activity day where I would let them show me what they are and how they behave, without my rules and values. I had made one thing clear that I am here to stay, no matter what they do and gave them one rule that they need to follow my directions. With that I started my day.
My activities had a scaffolded approach. Introduction game, Guess the action, Scavenger hunt and finally a debate on Which sport should I learn(cricket or football)? Their interest kept wavering but when they completely dove into the activity, they were brilliant! At the periphery of the activity(the beginning and the end) they lost their good behavior and culture of achievement and went back to being rowdy and unmanageable.
I almost broke down on the first day of school, because I suddenly felt I couldn't do anything with these kids and that I would break my promise on the first day. That very first dip in confidence in the morning turned into a ravine of depression and I wanted school to get over. I took 30 seconds to pull myself together while I watched them being the adolescents they were and creating a ruckus in class.
I was relieved once school got over and I went for the teacher's meeting. There my mighty savior Anuja Miss sat with me and listened patiently while I vented. I was surprised how positively I vented out the terrors I felt and how I gave solutions to the problems I was narrating. She told me her stories and gave me descriptions of the students of the class. Her earlier description of the class being 'Good' was good enough for the first day, but I needed more for the next 2 years!
In retrospect, I am happy I had this day as my first day. Having complacency as a weakness, I welcome small failures as they keep me on my toes. I already knew what was good and what needed improvement when I sat at my Debrief with Shalini. I would give the credit to my continually reflecting brain and Anuja Miss. I found my solutions being simple and easy-to-implement from tomorrow itself:

  • Set a structure in the class and have expectation setting with the students
  • Ask them to suggest rules for the class (mind you, they are smart enough to do that)
  • Stick to the rules and be firm
Apart from that, all I had to do (which isn't that simple) was continue making my content strong and highly engaging (make it as high as Mount Everest). As planning is my thing, all I had to do was now plan for my students to never be left empty handed.
20 of the finest students, all in one class; I have won the student lottery! I have a great task at hand and very little time to successfully complete it! I have to show them what they are capable of and help through the path of fulfilling their potential. 

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Cooking up a storm!

I always wondered how people came about using recipes? We ask, 'Who did people ask before Google?' I am thinking (didi is thinking) 'What did people refer to before Recipes came about?'
A simple solution is written down on our physics and chemistry books. One word which sums up everything about cooking: Experiment. As a young teenager, I was awed by the simplicity of the process of cooking (because the finished products were always god-like for me) and yet I was hesitant to get my hands into it. Growing up I have had the chance to live alone, eat alone and as a result experiment cooking alone. I always knew that if there is no one to critique my cooking, I can enjoy the process as much as I want. Hence, the experimentation started.
I never knew my observation powers were so good. I saw my mother and maids painstakingly turn flour into dough, carefully frying besan mixes into golden brown delicacies, patiently waiting for vegetables to cook so that they could add the masalas and lastly saw the accuracy with which they cut their vegetables. My mother taught me a few dishes, but those were forgotten even before the pans were washed!
With all that hidden knowledge and hidden talent (referring to Johari and making an entry into my last box) I set out one day into the kitchen in Manipal. Hungry and tired I looked for cooked food in the fridge but couldn't find any. This happened a lot of times and then finally one day I resolved to cook something and at least see what it feels like.
Fast forward through the successful and failed attempts to cook rice, macaroni and once even maggi. Fast forwarding through the realization that I knew how to make dough, knead it and make round rotis out it; stuffed parathas and break pakoras; and delicious omelettes and poached eggs.
Fast forward to present day. Today I had a lot of free time and the whole day to do my work. I thought, lets make something nice for breakfast. After throwing out some expired food packets I saw Penne and Fusili sitting quietly in their packets. I picked up the Penne and put it to boil. I spent the next half an hour cutting vegetables into long thin(nish) pieces. I didn't take half an hour because I am slow,  but because I took one vegetable after another and kept adding it. Surprisingly, it took half an hour for the Penne to boil and by then I was ready with my chopped vegetables.
The problem I faced was that I had more vegetables than my Penne. I dashed back and picked up the Fusili. Surprising me again, the Fusili boiled in 10 minutes and I was ready to make my dish.
Now if you ask me the recipe I will have none. I experimented like a scientist (engineering skills must also have helped here) and added one thing after another. The sequence simply put could be as follows:

  1. Olive Oil
  2. Oregano
  3. Carrots and Beans
  4. Onions
  5. Bell Peppers
  6. Salt, Pepper and Chilli Flakes
  7. Red Pasta Sauce (Hello Weikfield!)
  8. Penne and Fusili Mixed
  9. One small bowl boiled water
  10. Love

The proportions were also based on intuition and not practice or learning. I remember my chemistry teacher telling me once that never taste your food while you cook it. You are insulting your capability and the god of fire because you don't trust either of them to do a good job at the food. This worked today and when I tasted it, I was exhilarated! Spicy non-creamy pasta with loads of vegetables was the best breakfast I had had for some time now. For once I wasn't missing mom's food because I managed to replicate it here in a corner of Pune! (I am not boasting unnecessarily. Abhishek ate it and said it was crispy, the right amount of spicy and very good. I got proof!)
I now have the confidence that I will not stay hungry (or foolish) in Pune or ever in future. I might not cook up a storm, but magic for sure!

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.

A unique day in my New Life!

'Luxury expands with increase in resources.....'

'Opportunity expands with increase in curiosity.....'

An eventful day can bring so many thoughts to your mind. The feelings you have with every experience can leave you surprised, sometimes even at yourself! The first two lines in my blog are actually conclusions I have drawn from my day. Let me tell you how!
I started my day normally and expected nothing out of it. I was having my days off. I knew I had to go to school to get my grade and time table and I got ready for it. Autopilot helps in the morning, when you are lazy and yet determined to go to work.
Short walk-shared auto(Rs. 10)-Parihar Chauk. I walked with confidence to the bus stand. I was greeted by the sun shining brightly(it would get worse later, but I didn't know). The first experience that I had was when my bus came. Never really having to run behind a bus, I walked waiting for the crowd to clear. As I progressed I saw that the crowd just pushed into a full bus and it sped off leaving me and a middle aged lady with a huge bag scrambling behind it. Surprised at my inability to catch the bus, I sat down dejected. I could get late! (Why it is important may come in detail in some blog later)
The wait for the next bus was full of planning and strategy-how much time could the next bus take, how will I approach it, what will I do if it is full, how will I push my way through and lastly how I will pay the conductor when I do get into the bus. Forward or backward, I am not sure, but plan I did!
The planning was foolproof, so I got into the bus. I stood there pushed against the door, celebrating the feeling that I was not having. The feeling of disgust or hesitation. I was comfortable in the situation. As I paid the conductor I searched for a seat(because I didn't know what the route looked like while I stand in the bus. I was sitting in the last trip). My confusion was put to rest when the entire bus was shifted to another one just 2 stops before mine. Luck works in the best possible times.
When I got off I knew I had to walk through a series of lefts and rights to get to school. I had 8 minutes to figure my way out (I hate to be late). After entering a council office and walking out and getting confused once again I asked a lady for help. I expected a direction, but she walked with me and took me there. This was an experience which was welcoming. I felt at ease for the first time in the city which was going to be my own for 2 years. I knew that help is always given to those who ask for it( ya the reference should have been expected).
After my work at school was over, I had lot of time and my adventurer-self poked me. "Let us walk across Peths and buy stationery" it said. So, I took vague directions from a student and went a walking. I walked at high speed but with observing eyes and thoughtful pauses across Guruwar Peth, Shukravar Peth and finally reached Ravivar Peth. It felt more like home than Manipal ever did. Maybe Deepayan was right..I was back to where I belong! I felt comfortable, welcome and excited as I walked through the semi-narrow lane.
A mini-incident brought me more love for my fellow Puneris. As i crossed the road in utter confusion, I stepped in front of a scooter. Half expecting a rebuke or some verbal abuse I froze and instantly turned. To my surprise, there was the owner smiling calmly at my mistake. I apologized and felt forgiven. This is was the only time this happened to me and I am grateful to that man to demonstrate forgiveness in such a common yet simple situation.
So in half a day I, a lazy girl from Howrah, born on a lazy sunday afternoon, experienced a variety of emotions. Quick reflection check: 'Opportunity expands with increase in curiosity.....'

Fast forward to Kondhwa and after-lunch scene with Aarushi!
Now elated with the loving welcome from the Puneris in peth and a sumptuous lunch at Jyoti (no reference to my collab friend) I went to the bus stand to catch a bus to Aundh.
A little background before we go further. I have travelled in public buses, auto-rickshaws and taxis. However, my choices of public transport varies with distance. I have never, let me repeat that, never taken buses for long distances. Buses have been used for short distances and the luxury of taxis was taken for longer distances. Autos was only when I was very lazy to get on a bus. These choices were mainly because of luxury and the availability of money and time.
Now lets come back to me in the Kondhwa bus stand. With a Rs. 14,000 salary I have gotten into a habit of calculating everything and my accounts could finally be practiced. So with the lack of luxury, I decided against shared auto and auto. I asked people around and made a rough mental map of Kondhwa-Swargate-Aundh and decided that auto would charge Rs. Cant-Affort-to-Pay to go and I made up my mind on (surprisingly) taking a bus from Kondhwa to Swargate and then Swargate to Aundh. (Close to 18 km, the travel from Kondhwa to Aundh was divided into two because unfortunately I couldn't find a bus to my destination.)
As I got into the bus to Swargate, I expected to reach in 15 mins. "Its a bus. Its goes faster", I kept telling myself. 40 mins in the bus I revised my thought and saw the Pune city traffic for the first time. With the bus going up and down the million speed breakers, I kept asking myself, "Why are you doing this?" Why was I taking 2 buses just to save money? Why was I allowing my empty stomach to somersault every time we hit a speed-breaker? The answer (which you know already) was coming in parts as I went deeper, but there was still something left.
After getting down at Swargate Bus Sthanak, I asked a person where to get my next bus. He pointed in a direction he seemed unsure of. I followed his advice after confirming with a police officer. To my horror I saw my bus leave in front of me from the same spot where I was 2 mins earlier. I tried to run after it but couldn't manage to board it. Now I thought, "Auto"(but then it would cost so much!).
The solution: I stood in line for the next bus which would take me home. As I sat in the bus 15 mins later, tired and spent, I questioned myself again, Why would I wait longer for the bus? It was getting dark and I didn't even know the city? It took me one hour to finally reach Parihar Chauk and by then I had my answer. Second conclusion of the day: 'Luxury expands with increase in resources.....'
I found myself cribbing at the travel because of the unfamiliarity of it, but I relished every bit of it. (An evidence of it is that I am up at 1am writing about it). As I decided against an auto from the Chauk to home, I found myself celebrating, once again, the sheer comfort I felt while I walked along the road to reach home. Saving Rs. 10 gave me joy and that surprised me!

I am troubled by who I was and who I want to be, but I am untroubled about who I am now.