Teaching Was Not What I Chose To Do

by | Mar 11, 2019

During the India Fellow assessment meeting, I was asked about my thematic interest in the social development field. I was sure of what I didn’t want to be in – gender and children related work. And here I am, facilitating upper primary children in my host organization, Tamarind Tree. Although, I was informed by the India Fellow team that most likely, I won’t be placed in my thematic area preferences, pretty much like how most things in this fellowship journey has expected me to be. Just like all the chances I took in my life, I chose to take this chance as well.

I have always told myself that I am better off playing with other animals than with human children. How would I have ever understood them, when I have never even attempted to understand them?

The unknown space

Getting inside their world requires a lot of courage and consciousness. My first day at Tamarind Tree felt very nostalgic, as if though it was literally my first day in school. Excited and nervous at the same time in a new space with all the new faces, the day felt extremely dazing filled with confusion. The first couple of days, I was only observing the work culture and trying to learn how the rest of the adults engage with the kids. While I am very bad at remembering names, the best I could give back to the kids was awkward ‘Hi’ and listen to them during lunchtime. But the kids didn’t let me persist this awkwardness for more than a couple of days. The kids would throw up hundreds of questions – ‘Usma, where are you from?’ to show off their knowledge about Indian states, they would ask ‘Mizoram’s capital is Aizawl, right?’, also they are used to many visitors come and leave ‘For how long will you be here?’ super curious to know about my routes ‘How far is Mizoram from Dahanu? Can you say something in your language?’  They have understood that I forget names ‘Do you remember my name?’ and the never-ending questions goes on and on.

Lunching – my favorite time of the day

During the India Fellow induction training, I didn’t understand Anupama’s (fellowship program team member now and an alumnus of the fellowship) sarcasm about the mid-day meal. Mid-Day Meal? I told myself “Be prepared with chapatti, dal, and sabzi every day”. I had almost pre-planned to carry my own food if the meals get very mundane. But little did I know that this school serves one of the best meal with its unique recipe and nutritional values. One of the secret recipes to its awesome taste is love; prepared by the awesome chefs aka mothers and fathers of some of the children studying here. The best thing is I am consuming healthy food regularly, unlike my unhealthy diet of eight years in Delhi.

During lunchtime, the kids from different tables would call out my name to join in their table. Earlier, it was a difficult choice to make but I noticed that the rest of the facilitators also join in randomly in either of the tables with the kids. Lunching together was a critical space and time where I had built up bonding with the kids. It’s the time of the day where the kids and the facilitators can talk about anything else other than school courses. The curiosity of the children’s mind makes me contemplate the shapes of my own thought. One day, a very chatty ten-year-old kid asked me about ‘racial discrimination’ which was mentioned in one of the stories he read. He said, “But every human have two eyes, one nose, one mouth, two hands, and two legs, how can they be different? I don’t understand, Usma” …

The 20 minutes slot – meeting

I am engaged with the upper primary learners in Tamarind Tree school. I started a new role this year i.e to have twenty minutes one on one meeting slot with all the fifty-six children within three weeks. The meetings are conducted from 12:20 to 4.30 pm with ten children every day. These meetings are conducted to improve their English while assimilating the learning in their main subjects – Science, Math, Coding, Observation, and Digital Literacy. These children have helped me to understand them even better in the context of their intellectual ability; economic and cultural background. Accordingly, I plan the activities for the respective child.

Children – a reflection of my childhood

The children are like a mirror of my childhood and present life. They make me question about my early education, my teachers, parents, social circle and overall set up that I was brought up. Unlike them, I wasn’t taught to question the elders or the system prevalent around me. It was only recently, I started to question the political and socio-economic dynamics that I am bounded with.

For instance, in the longest period, I had thought that there are no railway lines in most parts of the northeast states because the terrain wasn’t possible for rail tracks and that’s what was told by the elders when I was a kid. But when I read the news, the belief I had about the railway tracks in the northeast regions was entirely thrashed.

After spending so much time with kids, I have realised that there is no question on the limit of knowledge. And I wondered eight months ago, what will I do with children as my community. Here I am now… and there is so much more to learn from the children who surround me all day now!

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