Going back to school
This is my journey up till now being engaged with an NGO called The Apprentice Project(TAP).
Why did I want to go to school?
During my school and college life, I studied just to pass the exams. I wanted to score good marks but rote learning was something I couldn’t do. I found the classroom sessions to be lame and boring. Anyways, as they say, all’s well that ends well. I got placed in a software MNC.
Still, I always thought if schools/colleges could be fun?
I wanted to enter into schools to prove schools can be fun. I volunteered for Teach For India, an NGO which runs classroom sessions in low-income based schools. However, I could not continue after a week. Because, as a working professional I could not go to the school on weekdays. I thought — maybe, I will do this afterwards. The good part was — I got exposure on how the NGO works and their attitude towards the issue.
After months, I checked my inbox, it was an email from The Apprentice Project. At first, I felt I won’t be able to pursue this too. But, their model was to conduct classroom session only on weekends. You need to teach for two hours every Saturday. On top of it, it was not about academics. It was about hobby classes. So they needed facilitators for art, dance, drama, public speaking, coding, electronics, frisbee
My reaction to the mail
I was like — Yes, that is what I wanted. I could have taught students according to the syllabus. But, where is the fun in that? Here, I could tweak the curriculum according to me and my students. So I applied for it. Later, they took a telephonic interview. It was not that hard. They just want to know if I was passionate enough to teach. I was selected. They called all the selected candidates for a full two-day induction workshop.
Is it worth my time?
The day of the induction workshop was coming near. I was excited. But, a thought was running in the back of my head — I am good at coding. I work in ThoughtWorks. Should I really teach at school? I mean teaching students could have been done by a graduate student too. Should I be rather doing better things? I didn’t know what I wanted to do else. But, was not sure if teaching at school is worth my Saturdays. Probably, these thoughts came to me because my telephonic interview went very smooth and no technical questions were asked.
I thought it is not good to overthink about the decision that I have already made. The fact was — I wanted to teach at school. And that’s all matters.
NGO’s Induction Workshop
I went to their induction workshop. It was a great experience. I met with so many dynamic and self-motivated people. People from all walks of life were excited to teach students at school. There were actually some graduate students who turned up for this. But, most of the volunteers were working professionals. I met someone who was banker, other was a software developer, businessman etc. I wondered — what has brought all of them together here. They all appeared that they are in a good position and probably could have thought the same what I was going through. But, yet they had come there and so had I. There I realized, it was foolish of me to think that teaching student is a small job. It was the cause that drove everyone together.
How does it feel to be at school?
We are agile
We in TAP, are not tied to a syllabus. We do plan and prepare for every class. But, at times the plan doesn’t work. Rather than giving up, we experiment, we take risks. We take control of the situation and maybe do something that no one could have expected.
Coding Lab is Locked
What do you do when you find the computer class locked. You could have just waited. But no. Let's play a silly game with the students. The goal is not to teach, the goal is to make them learn. If playing games in the class and outside the class keeps them interested then do it.
Opening and Closing Circle
We start our day with an opening circle. This is a huddle with other volunteers and the school’s point of contact in the staffroom. Where we give an update on what we are going to do for the day and in case we need something.
Just after the end of every classroom session, we again huddle up for closing circle. We discuss what went well and what went wrong during the classroom session. And then accordingly, come up with action items to tackle issues in the next class.
This structure is also followed in the classrooms. We start the class with why and what are we going to teach. Students feel important when we discuss our classroom plan with them. As a teacher, I am open to any feedback and suggestions a student wants to give for the class session. At the end of the class, we spare 5 minutes for the students to reflect on what they learned in the class. Keeping students engaged like this, make them feel that it is them for whom I have come.
Challenges that I face
Getting their attention
Students are under no obligation to hear from you. Because you are just there for a hobby class and you can’t deduct their marks. So you have to get their attention with a catchy phrase. You shout Idli and they reply with dosa. In my class I say “Chaiya, Chaiya” and they reply with “Eyes on Bhaiya”
You have to give explicit instructions. Once my class was over, I said, “Ok, the class is over.” All the students got up and were leaving the class. But that is not what I intended. I should have instructed them as: “Ok, Class I want you all to be seated. Till the next Bhaiya comes in. Keep your voices low. I am done for today’s session. Bye.” Don’t leave a chance for any ambiguity.
Kids are mischievous. When you tell them to be seated properly. Chances are 50% of students will only follow you. You would have to go further ahead and repeat your instruction. At last, there would be one kid, that you would have to go personally and request him/her to sit.
Adjusting the pace of the class
Because my class happens only on Saturdays, I have to recap what has happened in the earlier class just as a revision. There would be students who might have been absent in the previous class. There would be students who would grasp the concept quickly, some would take extra time.
Someone from staff would come and ask if they can use a computer. Some students’ guardian would come to hand over tiffin. Students just love to go to the washroom and drink water. It breaks the momentum. But, you have to bring back the momentum of the class.
Lack of resources
As these are low-budget based schools, out of 12 computers only 5 would be operational. You will have to convince students to pair. For art and electronics classes, the materials could have been misplaced. And then you would have to play a treasure hunt.
You might think a topic is so interesting. But, it might turn opposite for your students. It happens because you have the prerequisite knowledge for the topic, but they don’t. One student might not even know how to type a greater than sign (>), using the shift key. But you want them to learn conditionals.
There are many more challenges I could talk about. But, that would take you an hour to read.
Impact of these challenges on me
I have really grown a lot as a person. The classroom sessions have taught me how to be patient. Even in when things don’t go my way. I never lose my calm. It has also let me witness the other side of the classroom — the teacher’s point. It is hard to handle 15–20 kids at a time. Probably, I would be much better at parenting my kids.
Why am I sharing this?
Good things rarely make the news. You would come to know about children working in tea-shops in the newspaper or television. But, some good things like TAP won’t be broadcasted. After all, the world is not too bad to live in. I agree the truth is that most of the Indian graduates are unemployed because of our faulty education system. But, there are NGOs which are giving us hope. And when you find even a small hope, let's cling to that. Let it not go. Let it not disappear.