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WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE A TEACHER IN YOUR 20s?

There was a time when most of us cribbed about going to school. The incessant ring of the alarm clock would begin at 6am and with groggy eyes, we’d step out of bed and find our way to the shower. Soon, we would gobble down hot idlis, drink milk and hop on to the bus. Not much has changed for a bunch of 20-somethings even years after they finished school, except that they no longer sport a blue or white pinafore but a salwar set or a saree, as they head to their classrooms to teach young minds. Belonging to Gen Y, these youngsters are open-minded, a little low on patience (mind you, they end up really working on that) and a bundle of energy that’s seldom out powered by the jumpy, bright faces of second and third graders they teach. Their fresh, out-of-the-box method of teaching tiny tots seeks to shape the children into curious human beings with a strong conscience.

Celebrating the lives of these teachers, is a three-part series of articles that I’m starting on my blog, which will feature interviews with three teachers sharing their experiences about teaching and working with little ones. Peppered with sweet and heart-warming anecdotes, the blog hopes to open your mind to this wonderful profession of teaching and how, if it’s done right, it can significantly impact young minds. 

We begin with an interview with Shreevidhya Ravi, who teaches a group of enthusiastic third graders in Chennai, India. From answering questions on why the sky is blue to cleaning up paper balls thrown in class, Shreevidhya has her hands full with her ‘rainbow kids’, as she calls them. With most of them coming from poor families, their parents find it difficult to make ends meet. And yet, this background sits lightly on their shoulders as their smiling, giggling innocent faces will reveal. Free-spirited, fiery and happy, they teach the otherwise anxious adult to enjoy life as a child again.

The interview below is rather long, but these are stories that are worth your time. Take a look.

Spilling the beans 

  1. Did you always want to become a teacher? If not, what made you take up teaching?

I’ve never really given much thought about it. I’ve always fancied English and Art enough to think about teaching it, but I never thought about it seriously. Teaching, in particular Teach for India was something I took up after wanting to give back to the society. I’ve always believed that education is of utmost importance and after having finished my high school abroad, I couldn’t help but think of the stark contrast of how education works here when compared to abroad. I genuinely believe that I was privileged enough to obtain a wholesome education and so, I wanted to try and be the reason of someone else’s wholesome education.

  1. How was your first day at class? 

My first day of class was a lot of ruckus, sprinkled with generous amounts of helplessness, self-doubt, frustration and bleakness. I could not manage the kids, I couldn’t wait to get home and get a good night’s sleep.

  1. How difficult/easy is it to teach young children?

Teaching children is the toughest job. Teaching is one of the few professions where it takes your whole self to believe in something before convincing children that it is worthy of belief. It is a profession where you cannot afford to preach something and practice something different. It takes a lot of patience, kindness and a genuine will to stand by your words and demonstrate the same.

  1. Did you ever think about quitting? If yes, what made you stay? 

Yes, there are days when the pressure has gotten to me and I’ve thought about quitting. At the end of the day, teaching someone is essentially the task of making them see who they are and how nothing can stop them from being anyone they want. The joy that lingers on a kid’s face when he smiles after knowing how to read a particularly difficult word or the loud and the immediate sorry that comes so easily out of their mouths after having done something particularly awful, that look of admiration and joy that comes on their face when you accomplish something because you are their miss, the kids; they made me want to stay.

What makes it worth it

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  1. What makes teaching a rewarding experience?

When you see your kids grow daily, over a period of time, cultivating and inspiring them enough to want to grow; that makes teaching the most rewarding experience. The joy that comes from a parent’s smile when their kid speaks English, defeats the toughest math problems and most of all, becomes someone with a strong moral conscience and an ever curious brain that is ready to learn – that is priceless.

  1. You always share anecdotes and incidents from your classes on your social media profile. How important is it to get these stories out there?

I think it is very important to get these stories to go out there. I haven’t come across many youngsters who think about taking up teaching. If not for a lifetime, I think every youngster should experience being a teacher and how challenging it is, at least once. It makes you re-evaluate your priorities, reshape your perspectives and helps you to become the best version of yourself.  I think we do not appreciate teachers enough, it is high time we recognize the challenges behind being a teacher and it is time we inspire people enough to take up teaching.

  1. As a teacher, what have you learnt from your students?

I’ve learnt that one can never be too old for learning. Students always amaze you with their ability to be curious and to find joy in little things. My kids have inspired me to make the best of every opportunity and they have taught me to embrace people and always see the goodness in everyone.

  1. Has this experience changed any of your past perspectives on life, communities, people or even the teaching profession? If yes, in what way?

I used to be very wary of people. I was always very defensive about my personal space. Now, I’ve gotten open to letting people into my life and embracing them. I was not a kid’s person, I didn’t particularly like them, but now I truly like spending time with kids and I believe that it is one of the best things ever; to be surrounded by kids, almost always. I was a pretty easy kid to deal with, it didn’t strike me that most of my teachers went through quite a hassle with those being difficult; both academically and behavourially, this put things in perspective.

The fun moments 

  1. What was the craziest thing one of your students told you?

I remember sweeping my class once and I found a lot of paper balls. I had three classes that day, so that explained it. When I went around asking did anyone see who made those paperballs? Here are some of the replies I got:

1- Miss, not paper balls, the class laid eggs and now class babies will come out of it.

2- Miss, they are dragon eggs.

3- Miss, they are hard idlis full of carbohydrates.

  1. Did you revisit your rhymes and read up fairy tales for class?

My kids were 7 years old last year, so I couldn’t do rhymes as such. But I’ve made my kids watch some of my favourite Disney movies. So, I did revisit a part of my childhood with them.

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  1. Do share a couple of anecdotes with your students that you will always remember? (As many as you’d like)

I’ll always remember how they made it a point to treat me as an equal. If they got candies for all their friends, they’d get me a candy and if someone hit me harder than usual while giving me a hi five, the whole class will give him accusatory glances. At times, I feel like I’m training my own army, if I misplace something as small as a marker or a pen, when I ask if anyone has seen it, my whole class will rush to help me find it. I can never forget how mischievous and funny they can be, they’d start lying down on a bench randomly and three kids would come up saying miss, he’s crying and I’d run to find that kid laughing and saying April Fool. Most of all, I cannot forget how sincerely they love me and make sure they take it on themselves to take care of me. Whenever I recall having a fever or a throat problem, you can find 2 to 3 kids saying “Miss is fever, please silence and low volume”. I love how they look out for me like I’m one among them, no discrimination, just love and friendship.

  1. A touching, heartening moment when you saw one or more students put into practice what you taught in class? (Anecdotes will be great).

Incident 1:

Gopi wanted to gift something for my birthday and it took him a month to think of what to gift, but all is well because it is THE best gift I’ve gotten till date. So he kept asking “meeeees what do you want? what do you want?” I said I’d want him to be the best rainbow kid and I never really gave him the answer that he was expecting. So, he gave me a marble. He said,”miss, na vera ethuvum kooduka mudila, appa amma ta kaasu illa, aaana intha goli thaan miss en lucky goli, enakku romba pidikum, ithan enkita iruku, Happy Birthday late miss” ( I cannot give you anything else for a gift because my parents do not have the money for it, however, take this marble, this is my lucky marble and this is all I got for you ) I repeatedly asked him to take it back while thanking him profusely, he refused to take it back because “best friend ku best gift miss”. To think this li’l human thought that his miss was completely worth his lucky Goli!

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Incident 2:

I noticed a lot of boys in my class going “Ayo, ava girl, she can’t run” and the girls going “Ayo, sweeping is girl work, cleaning fan is boy’s work* (implying the difference in height and strength, supposedly). Every morning we have some discussion in the class regarding a topic, it was “pollution” yesterday, today it was about the concept of “refugees” and day before, it was about gender equality- boy and girl same same, friends together- essentially the crux of the discussion from a third grader’s perspective.

The next day, Tinku and Sheriff started embracing the gender equality trend by wearing their sister’s slippers. As much as I found it funny, I also found it extremely amazing that they had found a way to express their take on gender equality. They actually managed to convince their parents that it is okay to wear the slippers which is not “boy slippers” because “boy-girl same”, so it does not make a difference.

Tinku- Sheriii, girls slipper nice no?

Sheriff- Yes, so big, nice to skate with.

Tinku- why girls no skate da?

Sheriff- I no know, but girls can skate, boys also skate, everyone skate, everyone friends.

They both realized that girls don’t skate with their slippers because they have been asked not to, as it typically does not exhibit how girls are “supposed” to be. I saw Sheriff and Tinku teaching two girls in my class to skate outside school because skating and running is no no in my class, because class =/= playground.

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So, seven kids in my class have vowed to not celebrate Diwali with crackers. This is a collage of the pictures they drew telling me why they wouldn’t celebrate Diwali with crackers. 🙂 [Explanation for each is given below.]

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Purple paper- Sheriff does not want to celebrate Diwali with crackers because the people who are involved in manufacturing the crackers will have health hazards as they are exposed to chemicals. (Pictured are the wounds in their hands)

Green Paper- Gopi thinks the crackers will go “domal” while causing hazards to the vehicles and the people on the road, thereby causing inconvenience. (Pictured- vehicles, a person promptly named Gopinath IAS and a flower pot labelled domal)

Brown Paper- Deepak feels strongly for the kids who won’t be paid what they deserve while being involved in producing the crackers, so he said that by buying crackers he’d be supporting the kids not being paid for the work they have done and that is not right.

Grey Paper- Sri thinks rockets are a hazard because they have a high probability of ending up on trees and causing them to burn. Sri is extremely passionate about the environment and he grows 2 plants in his house. 🙂

  1. A conversation with your class or a particular student that made you see things differently?

My kids have changed a lot of my perspectives. I remember having a conversation about refugees and the sufferings they were going through. After the discussion had ended, I remember when a couple of my kids came around and asked me whether I can show videos of how these bombings take place, who does them and why do they do them. I remember them asking questions about what will they do if they have no house and no books and no school. I remember kids telling me that they wouldn’t hesitate to make them stay in their house until they get their houses back. It made me think of how in spite of growing up in communities where violence and abuse is a common day to day reality, these kids have so much compassion in them. A part of me believed that a lot of who you become is based a lot on what you see when you grow up and where you grow up. My kids countered my belief with such compassion and love, it left me awestruck.

What’s the magic?

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  1. Young minds are said to be very impressionable. Do share a couple of examples on how you broke down complex subjects to get across the message to the little ones?

I don’t think there is anything too complex for kids to handle, provided the kid has the curiosity to want to know and learn and connect the dots. I remember talking about the concept of confidence and how it forms an inherent part of you. The formula for being confident was

           Effort+Hardwork

I CAN  ———————–  > I WILL

I also recall talking about the concept of coexistence and asking them to imagine a world where trees used and misused humans. The responses I got ranged from this is wrong to I think trees are very strong. A lot of breaking down in terms of illustration and charts- carry the point home.

  1. What are the different tools you use to teach them? (Art, theatre, dance, music, etc.)

So far art and theatre have proven really effective.

The message back home

Usually, what a child learns in school. he/she takes it back home. Are there any instances where parents have told you about changing practices/attitudes after ‘learning’ something from their children?

I’ve had a parent who told me that their kid wants to know more about the world, so he watches news everyday so that he can ask me as many questions as he can before I’m done with my fellowship. I’ve also had parents who told me that their kid has stopped wasting food, fighting with siblings and watching movies because we have discussed the pros and cons of all these topics back at school. There have been a lot of heart-warming instances when a lot of parents would tell me their sense of what values are have changed over time.

How you see it

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  1. What’s your message to youngsters and peers of your age based on your teaching experience?

Every youngster should try being a teacher, at least once. It is one profession that will make sure you never have a boring day, ever. It also teaches you about challenges, people and mindsets. Most importantly, it lets you see how amazing kids are and how much more amazing they can truly grow to be. All it takes is a whole lot of patience, love, effort and kindness.

  1. Would you like to continue in this profession? 

In the long run, I don’t think I’m carved out for this profession. However, I’ve had thoughts about pursuing a diploma in Montessori education. I really love spending time with the kids and watching them learn, growing with them has proven too addictive and magical.

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