Reflections on India

Hello! I think this is my current trend now, blogging once a month. I always feel the urge to blog more when that specific time rolls around so here’s a good long post about what I’ve been up to! (+tons of pictures)

So last month, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a really awesome conference in India! It was a conference under Teach For All, so we got to meet all the other teachers under the Teach For programs from close to 26 different countries!!!

India was an eye-opening, heartwarming, breathtaking experience for me. Before I went, my boyfriend warned me that I will see and learn so much from India, and I’ll experience the best and the worst of humanity there, so I was definitely quite prepared for it. I was very cautious with my food and drinks, and survived on trying to refrain from street food as much as possible (which was super hard for me).

6

we were very very fortunate to be able to stay in a REALLY awesome hotel. This hotel (Kempinski) just opened, and gave us a really good rate so it was truly a blessing 🙂

8

This is an autorickshaw, and was my absolute favourite thing ever! They don’t really have taxis there, and the streets are packed with these. You can fit up to 4 people in here (sometimes even more, people will sit on laps etc) and it moves really dangerously on the streets, but definitely an incredible experience.

I was in the auto late one night, zipping around the streets of India with the wind blowing in my hair and the cacophony of chaos around me, and I looked up and saw the full moon shining brightly on to the messy landscape down below. That was when I realized that I’ve truly fallen in love with this country.

10

and all its amazing children!

I met some of the most wonderful children on this trip; all of them so bright-eyed and eager, so enthusiastic and full of live despite all the challenges they face.

This kid was explaining to me a project they did in the classroom, and he was so SO full of energy! I was just walking around when he came to shake my hand and to introduce himself *impressed

Teach For India has done such amazing things with their classes and is definitely an inspiration for all of us here too 🙂

11.5

and this is the ugly part of the country, which I was not quite prepared to see. Children begging everywhere on the streets, slums and slums painting the sidewalks, poverty staring blatantly at everyone.

It was hard to train myself to ignore the beggars but it was so hard when they are very young children with huge sorrowful eyes.

16

This is one of the classrooms we visited and it was amazing to see how possible it is to really change lives with a really good strong teacher.

And on our final day, we visited…..

18

The Taj Mahal!

What an incredible sight!

I mean, I’ve seen so many pictures of it before, but to see it with my eyes is a whole different experience. It was majestic and soooo beautiful too!

26

And the whole Malaysian delegate wore sarees that night! 😀 (i’m the one in light blue in case you’ve forgotten how I look like T__T)

I was really inspired by my India trip, and I came back feeling like I’ve definitely NOT worked hard enough to ensure success for my kids. There are just so much we can do and I really want to go all out before my year ends!

(this bit might bore readers who are not teachers)

I realized one of the most important things we have to instill in our daily lesson plans is the concept of values. Not just using the term “values” as a catchphrase, but truly internalizing it and getting the students to embody it with their actions.

I’ve been trying to do that more now because I believe that teachers, especially those of us who teach kids from underprivileged and more chaotic and challenging backgrounds, have the biggest responsibility to ensure that our kids turn out to be good people.

Sure, grades are important but I need to make sure that when I leave after 2 years, my kids are on the path to be successful people with strong values, not just A-churning robots.

image (1)

Trying to internalize the concept of values in my classes is really not an easy task, but completely do-able. For example, we were learning about road safety and I got the students to stand on both sides of the “road”.

They closed their eyes while I played them a video of a horrific car crash (with super dramatic sound effect – idea taken from my other awesome Teach For Malaysia fellows). Then I read them an excerpt of a news report on an accident, and we stood in silence for a while mourning the death of the people in the accident.

We spoke about the fragility of life, about the real importance of taking good care of ourselves and people around us. I don’t want my kids to just learn about road safety because it’s a topic in the textbook, but because they truly think it’s an important issue to discuss.

image

(this was another class but we were learning the same objective)

After all that seriousness, we took a 5-minute break at the end of class to play “On the line”, a game inspired by the movie “Dangerous Minds”

So basically students will be on both sides and there’ll be a line in the middle (the road drawn in the beginning of class). I will read out statements and if anyone agrees, they’ll come forward and stand on the line for a few seconds, then move back for the next statement.

The statements got deeper each time and I encouraged the students to be honest but it’s really up to them if they want to walk forward.

“I have many friends in school”

All of them came forward.

“I like coming to school”

All of them came forward too. This is a pretty good class so it’s not surprising.

I love learning English”

Threw this in just for fun and immediately they all RAN to the line (*heart leaps in joy!)

“I have a boyfriend/girlfriend”

Hehe I’m so sneaky. A very small handful came forward.

“I’ve lost one parent”

About ten kids came forward.

“I’ve seen my mother/father cry”

Half the class came forward.

“Sometimes I cry myself to sleep”

This was a tough one but I was surprised to see about fifteen kids come forward. The other kids (boys especially) started laughing at the fifteen kids. Good, because this is exactly what our lesson is about.

I told the fifteen kids that I cannot believe how brave they are to admit something supposedly so shameful as this, and only the strongest people admit their weaknesses. The other kids stopped laughing.

Now this is where it gets tougher.

“I get abused at home”

Half the class came forward.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a useless person”

Almost ALL the kids came forward.

“Sometimes I feel like I have no hope for a better future”

A handful came forward, some on the verge of tears.

“Sometimes I feel like killing myself”

This was the most surprising one for me. More than half came forward and my heart stopped. These are 13 year olds! It breaks my heart knowing this but I took mental note of this, definitely something that needs to be addressed.

When the game ended, the kids told me how much they loved it because they got to know more about their friends and about themselves too. Though it wasn’t super explicit, the objective of it was to get the kids to realize that despite all their physical differences, beneath everything, they’re all made up of the same thing: flesh and blood. They all experience happiness, heartaches, sadness and pain, and should learn to be there for each other.
image (2)

The value that I love the MOST is definitely perseverance. Last week, I went on a Bollywood binge a little and sang “We Shall Overcome” (the song in My Name Is Khan) with the kids.

This week, I gave them the reading diagnostics and it has five levels and it gets harder with each level. I was expecting this class to only reach level 3 or 4 before they give up, so I didn’t print level 5 for them. But they surpassed my expectations and almost all of them asked for level 5!

Although maybe 1 or 2 of them managed to actually do it, the rest worked relentlessly to finish the questions. One boy had his head bowed, brows furrowed, and started singing “we shall overcome..we shall overcome..” while doing the paper.

Amazing. My kids give me so much hope to push on everyday!

Wow ok this has been a crazy long post, but I hope you enjoy a short glimpse of my classes!

Will blog again in a month hahaha (ok joking ha ha ha)