When a dynasty is born…

Yet another day was coming to an end and the people of the land were tending their chores. It was all one peaceful ambiance with just minor disruptions here and there.  To help manage the affairs, the architect of the land decided to pull up a few responsible men and women and give them the authority to administer sections of the land..Well, ‘Decentralization of power’ as they call it. And then, things changed. With just one word, rose eleven kingdoms all powerful and energetic. And within minutes, the Kings and Queens swore at the altar to uprise their just formed kingdoms. Ministers, Treasurers and Soldiers were deputed and responsibilities bestowed.

Ever since then, things have drastically improved. The men and women now have something really concrete to look forward to – a structure, a pattern and above all rejoice in the powers that they otherwise would not have. There’s now an aura of peace in the empire and the subjects seem to be showing quite some interest in strengthening their kingdoms.  As days progress, the architect is still working out the finer details as to how the empires could be allowed to rule in mutual peace and still compete with each other for mutual benefit.

Welcome to Class of IIA at Epiphany- Where we play the Age of Empires with real Kings, Queens and Ministers!

Looking back, it’s kind of funny how just a random idea seems to be making so much of an impact on the kids. Ever since we divided the classroom into groups and gave them this theme to build upon, things have quite changed. Behavior management in the classroom has tremendously improved and almost every objective that is taught, once related to the theme even in some abstract form is investing the kids so much. It has also given scope to introduce an awesome value system in the class, which I’ve been trying in vain for the past 8 months to integrate in my regular classes. This coming friday, if things work well, I hopefully would be able to introduce them to the barter system and eventually trade and commerce. The options seem endless…

While biking back home today, I wonder why this idea didn’t strike me when I was scouting for a proper theme for my class late June, last year. There’s just about 25 instructional days left for this academic year to come to an end and I probably could have invested them a bit more had things ‘clicked’ before. But well, I guess thats just the feeling of not doing enough, that every teacher experiences every single day in his/her life. Really hoping this new system evolves into a robust framework and also if nothing works, I still can now be proud of founding eleven dynasties, not just in my dreams but in reality!

Looking back at 2010…

Over the past few months, there’s a lot thats been happening; but for some reason I just didn’t take the time out to visit this space. With the school closed down for the Christmas break and keeping up with the self imposed rule of updating my blog every year-end, here’s a quick snapshot  of ‘my’ 2010.

This year has been quite interesting from various perspectives. Looking back, the major checkpoints[not necessarily listed in order] this year  would be:

  • Ran the infamous Auroville half marathon and vowed never to stop running!
  • Resigned from Infosys to join TeachforIndia. [leaving an awesome team behind and making one profound shift in my career.]
  • Met Paruammai, attended a close friends wedding and more importantly explored Kerala like never before.
  • Joined TFI and reveled in the five week long induction programme.
  • Couldn’t resist the temptation to do the Katraj-Sinhagad night trek [Twice on successive weekends!] amidst the rigour of he institute.
  • Missed spending quality time with family!
  • Reported to Epiphany School where I’ve been teaching IInd grade kids for the past six months and probably continue to do so for the next 1.5yrs.
  • Paid obeisance to the rain god by trekking the Kenjalgad fort [First monsoon trek by DH.]
  • Hiked up to the Ahupe village to take some time out and celebrate yet another important milestone.
  • Visited the Khadakwasla dam.[Failed executing  the rock band idea though!]
  • Revisited[Hiked] Koraigad, Rajmachi and Ratangad.
  • Rode to Khadakwasla dam [Got back to the byke after a long break of 5 months!]
  • Registered for the MBL course by Distance education mode from NLSIU.
  • Visited the Korlai fort [Didn't byke this time!]
  • Registered for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon[My first Full Marathon!] and raised about 9500Rs. for TFI.
  • Ran the Pune Half marathon.[ Well, actually ran a 25!]
  • Turned 25 Years! Woohoo!
  • Ran the Goa River Marathon.
  • Witnessed Shreks’ [a co-fellow] wedding in Vizag.
  • Was gifted a Hookah, a mobile speaker , some invaluable coupons and a heart rate monitor!
  • Realised that I could afford to save more than I thought I could.
  • Squared in and took some real important decisions.
  • Vowed to stick on to Ubuntu TOTALLY.

Well that kind of summarizes the year that’s been till date. Tomorrow hopefully I would run a sweet 30k to siphon off 2010  and usher in 2011 and for some reason, I have this gut feeling that the next year would be even more eventful than this year.

Wishing you [And myself!] an awesome and happening year ahead….

Dynamics of the playground…

Couple of  hours back I opened my student tracker,  just sat back and started mulling over how each of my kids have changed over the past few months. As I went through the list reading each of the kids names, images of the kid kept flashing in and out of my mind and most of them, so turned out to be of those moments when they were being ecstatic or really happy. This made me wonder how we as humans tend to capture/remember only the positives or the cheerful part in our relationships. But as a teacher, am I not failing my kids in not noticing their negative behaviour and working to get them back to their normal self? Am I doing justice to them by not stopping what I’m doing and not taking that extra time to pay attention to that minuscule behavioral change? How many times have I swept a behavioral change under the blanket and continued with my class/session? How many times have I ‘neglected’ a kid in the rush to finish off a topic/objective?

Sadly in retrospect I seem to recollect more than one occasions where I’ve failed noticing/paying heed to the change. This could probably be one of those reasons why a particular kid did not perform well in a particular objective; a reason why a particular kid did not receive me with the same enthusiasm as he otherwise would have and this is something I’m really beginning to appreciate in this role as a teacher. Every moment in the classroom you end up dealing with the emotions of 46 kids out there. Human to human interaction is the utmost priority. When I go back to my classroom in twenty days for the second term, this is one thing that I have to keep in mind always.

Talking by numbers, my kids have progressed from a class average of 25% to 56% in Math, from 17% to 59% in Grammer and from 28%[-0.1 Grade] to 85%[1.5 Grade] in RC. Thats some significant progress that the class has made. But again, the class average does not necessarily represent the overall growth of the classroom. There still are kids like – Sarfaraz, Nabil, Aditya More, Meghana and Yash Pawar who need to make tremendous progress if they have to be on par with the other kids. I guess that is where the main challenge lies.

Today, I visualize my classroom as a circular board resting on a pivot. I being the pivot and the circular board,  a playground where my 46 little ones decide the dynamics of the classroom from inside. My responsibility is to  maintain the equilibrium and I need to be extremely flexible so as to adjust and re-position to the external stimuli and the dynamics created by my kids so that the whole system remains in equilibrium always. The next fortnight I guess is all about figuring out how to maintain that equilibrium, about how I push myself to my limits of being flexible and making that transformation something sustainable…

Windowed Illusions…

Yesterday was one of those real interesting days. Couple of friends and I had been to the Korlai fort and were heading back from Alibag late in the evening. Seated in the rear of the bus, I’m not really sure how this conversation/debate ensued. For about an hour or so the six of us had a heated conversation on various policies, practices, ideologies and biases. Probably one of the best ever deliberations since my Infy days. In introspection, it kind of gave me some food for thought on how I’d like to proceed with the rest of my fellowship or for the next two years.

Since I last wrote, things have quite changed in my classroom and otherwise.  TFI has this concept of having two teachers in one class room if the number of students is more than 30. Kavitha, My co-teacher formally chipped in in July. With this things slowly seem to come under control. The kids receive more personal attention and we’re able to address issues in a much better fashion. Couple of kids who never even open their mouths are slowly opening up and and are showing interest in the classroom. The class dynamics has changed and kids are slowly learning to appreciate English.  Community visits seem to make an impact.

Going by last weeks assessments the class per se has shown significant improvement. But looking holistically I still do not see myself doing justice to the kids. Two years down the lane when I move out of this role, I would like to see my kids be able to speak for themselves, have the confidence to stand for what they really feel about and be able to take appropriate decisions given a set of choices. I personally believe, all that these nimble minds needs is exposure to the world out there and a pathway that would help them generate a practical solution to  problems.  They’re more than smart to figure out things for themselves.  Teaching them Arithmetic and Grammar probably would be in the last of the priorities list.

Drawing the dividing line between catering to the parents and schools mandates of ‘completing’ the syllabus, and really imparting what I truly believe would help the kids overtime is something I still need to get a knack of . It is so heartening and overwhelming to see what a few fellows out here are able to accomplish in their classrooms. I guess only time would tell how things unfold…

Reflections by the roadside…

As I take one last gulp of hot tea from a roadside stall, Ronnie wickedly smiles and brings his hand forward with a congratulatory gesture. He just says – ‘One month’ and grins wildly! I wink back, pay for the tea and walk back towards the school gate. As we quickly make our way through the puddles and pits in the slight Pune drizzle, my mind wanders out in search of those small moments that I could call ‘achievements’ of the month thats been from my one month of teachers life. Sadly I get to recollect just a couple of them. And then it looms on me again how important it is to appreciate minuscule milestones in this journey – Something which I’ve been working hard on ever since the summer school.

Today for some reason, I’m not really as happy as I should have been. Administered a diagnostic test today and a perfunctory look at the sheets sunk me deeper in the gravel. These kids are just not able to answer even bare simple questions. I’ve spent about 23 whole days with these 46 kids and things do not really seem to be on the green side. Classroom and Behavior management still seems to be an issue and objectives wise I haven’t progressed much. They seem to understand Math concepts but for some reason that is just not translating onto the answer sheets. Collectively they seem to know how to reach to the solution but when asked individually they just put up a poker face. English for them seems to be a magnanimous monster lurching right round the corner. I’m yet to figure out where that small invisible spark exists so that I can magically tap it on and fire them up to speed. A couple of strategies to be implemented and a lot more are to be learnt.

Tomorrow marks a new beginning of looking back and taking the best of what worked; of paying attention and appreciating the minute ‘eureka’ moments in the classroom and not to forget – of understanding how close I could get to build the bridge between possibility, predictability and uncertainty.

The Induction wave…

It’s been close to two months that I’ve been with TFI. 1 week of induction, 4 weeks of summer school and 2 weeks of Placement school.  There’s quite a lot that’s been weaving around here. I initially had planned to document most that’s been happening right from the first day but failed miserably.  The ‘induction’ wave just swept me off the coast and kept me in the waters for close to a month. The rigorous schedule during the institute and other things took priority and I just couldn’t fit in time to sit back and write what’s been brewing out here. Things slowly seem to have fallen in place now and I’ve decided to be a bit more regular on my site.

For the next two years I would be a class teacher for about 45 second grade kids at the Epiphany school at Guruwarpet, Pune primarily focusing on their English and Math. Going by my preliminary analysis – None of my kids can speak even a basic English sentence properly, Most write in incorrigible handwriting, 2 have been passed on to the second grade despite failing in the first, Just 8 of them understand my English class instructions, Only 4 can differentiate a question from an answer, Average reading fluency stands at about 15wpm [Expected – 40wpm], 3 always retort in Hindi/Marathi when asked a question, Only 6 can add single digit numbers having carryover, 5 cannot even decipher numbers written on the board, 4 just do not want to attend school and 1 girl has this superfluous crush on me! A diagnostic test due later this week would actually bring about how many grade levels my kids are actually lagging behind.

Couple of months back when similar statistics was put up in a presentation, I just couldn’t buy it. But today when I look at it manifesting in my own classroom, I’m sheerly overwhelmed. Each of my actions in the next two years would in ways impact how these kids perceive things and how their lives transform. In the next two years, one of our main objectives would be to plan and execute each of our lessons such that each one of these kids gets on par with their peers and stand to compete with other ‘advantaged’ kids from the private schools. Things are getting interesting by the day!

Looking back, joining TFI is probably the best ever decision I’ve taken till date. The commitment and zeal with which people work here, truly amazes me. It just doesn’t feel like working in a non-profit organization. The meticulous planning, professional conduct, transparent execution, the numerous sessions, reflection and de-briefs that keep everyone on their toes day through night simply floors me.

One month in the institute starkly redefined what working hard/smart meant. My regular day used to start at about five in the morning with a half an hour run around the I2IT campus and then a dash for the morning breakfast. At about 06:45am buses would transport the 100 odd first institute fellows from the I2IT campus to the summer schools at Somwarpet. At about 12:00pm once the summer school gets over we’d be taken back to the I2IT campus for various institute sessions and debriefs till 20:00hrs. Rest of the day is spent on lesson planning for next days classes or other activities that may go on till 21:00 or 22:00hrs. At the end of the day, you’re literally exhausted. There used to be so much to learn and do, at times I just did not understand what was happening around me.  There were times when I’d question the very logic of lesson planning and the innumerable sessions. But over time as we saw the progress made by the kids, things slowly sank in. The only source of motivation is the amazing staff and fellows we have here [and not to mention the kids]! At times, even at about 12:00 at night you’d see these folks planning out sessions or logistics for us the next day. They’re just SO much dedicated towards this movement that at times it all looks to be a dream…

Summer School – Class 3D

Summer schools was probably the best that could have been planned for us. For kids this was a summer camp and for us quite learning experience. All through the four weeks, Staff, Program managers and Fellow advisors would constantly watch us while we deliver the lessons to the kids and provide critical feedback. About four fellows handle a class each taking about one or two sessions everyday. Pre and post Diagnostics help chalk the progress made by the kids during the summer Schools. At the end of the four week camp, the kids are better prepared to get back to their schools and so are the fresh fellows to enter their Placement schools where they would be fulltime teachers for the next two years.

At TFI, one centric belief is that we as a movement can bring about a transformation/change in the society only if there’s a transformation in each one of us as a person. I wasn’t really appreciative of this till late. I just couldn’t find the ‘aha’ moments in my summer school while most around me seemed to be really enjoying their journey as a first time teacher.  Later over time I realized, I could/would never look at the minor accomplishments that my kids had. I never took stock of the small things that happened every day in the class always concentrating on the bigger picture. Only after making a conscious effort to let loose, I really seemed to be involved and connected with the kids. Teaching only got interesting after that! Ever since, I make it a conscious attempt to see what each kid has to offer every single day and appreciate him/her irrespective of the scale of the progress and make note of it. Things have definitely changed. Now I think more than I used to think before and plan more than I used to plan before. My kids progress seem to have taken a higher seat than anything else and I’m more than happy to do anything that would help them inch that extra step forward.

Tomorrow by this time, fifty more fellows [The second batch of fellow/Tenners for this year] would be entering their own classrooms where they would teach and train for the next four weeks. They would co-incidentally be teaching in my placement school [Epiphany]. Time seems to have simply flown by! I remember myself in that position just about a month back…

Between, over to my other passion of trekking; I managed to do the Katraj-Sinhagad moonlight trek twice again  over consecutive weekends. This was during the institute and I still am surprised how I managed to pull it through. Last week I headed out to Kenjalgad with the DH team. Turned out to be quite an experience to start off with. I’m not really sure how much justice i’ll be able to do to this aspect going forward…only time will tell…


Connecting the dots…backwards


Two more days and my vacation comes to an end. A lot was planned for but not everything worked the way I wanted it to. The North/NE trip didn’t materialize, the bamboo shelter remains an open chapter and the Kanyakumari-Delhi ride somehow just cascaded into oblivion. But a lot DID work out of the blue – I had an amazing trip down south, got a hang of living on a restricted budget, walked a couple of nice business deals to closure with a decent profit and also earned a couple of bucks by just reviewing stuff. I now have the confidence of eking out a living by doing meaningful things than just doing some mundane job! And an icing on the cake – The research proposal clicked. I just couldn’t have asked for a better vacation!

Looking back on other aspects, I definitely have slacked a bit in terms of the outdoor activities. I’ve not been running and cycling as much as I wanted too. Probably it’s just the heat thats keeping me indoors. I definitely don’t want this to be on the downswing so I’ve revisited this years targets. Last year I’d ridden about 1300kms so this time I’ve set my target to 2500kms. On the running front I need to finish a Full Marathon in about 3h45m. – The August Hyderabad Marathon should be a good target. Given that I’m heading out to Pune these numbers should be pretty much reachable, but only time will tell.

Coming to think of it, I am going to miss Hyderabad badly. It’s not that this is the first time I’m moving out of here. For four years during my undergrad and one year during my Infosys work life I’ve been away from the city. But then, I did have scope to head back as and when I pleased. This flexibility I’m sure not going to have for the next two years considering the kind of work I’ll be doing in the fellowship. I guess this time its going to be a long good bye to Irani chai and the Hyderabadi Hindi! I got to know quite a few interesting people through the Infosys journey and it’s sad I’m having to part ways just three years through. But the amazing time I’ve spent with them will truly remain embalmed.

In the month of July, most of my family would be coming down from the States for a  long vacation in India. I’m afraid I would be able to spend just a day or two with them. Opting to stay back in India, I just didn’t get to see the kids grow up and its sad I will not be able to be with them when they’re here. The way things work!

All this aside, I hope to make the next two years, one truly memorable journey. A journey figuratively interspersed with stations big and small, transgressing routes known and unknown. A journey that would ask of me in giving my ultimate best in understanding, motivating and hopefully transforming the lives of the kids out there. This part of my life, this little part, I hope marks the beginning of a fresh story. A story that gets the pages turning on and on. Fingers crossed…