14th December 2008:
Shaheen Mistri came to college today to speak about TFI. Teach For India, it sounds interesting. Their motto comes across pretty strong-‘One day, all children will attain excellent education’. They don’t seem like just another NGO or program, honestly. In fact they call themselves a movement, similar to the freedom struggle of 1857, except this time they are fighting internal threats-threats of poverty and the resulting dearth of education. I still remember her speech, making the T.Y. students aware of the situation at hand, and that we could have a part to play in bringing about change.
“...We believe it’s going to take a national movement of leaders to solve the education crisis in India. We believe that education is the fundamental root cause of India’s problems, be it poverty, or corruption or hunger or crime. We also believe that to solve the problem, you need to first deeply understand it, and not just from a statistical, theoretical and analytical point of view but by actually engaging with it personally, being on the ground and getting our hands dirty...” I think I might just give this a shot.
17th January 2009:
Well she sure managed to convince me. I wouldn’t have applied, otherwise. I have a feeling this is a step in the right direction; I sure hope so, considering I’m investing two years in this fellowship. My interview is scheduled for tomorrow, and I’ve heard there are others who have chucked up offers in international companies and engineering firms to spend two years teaching underprivileged children in municipal and low-income schools. Wow.
20th February 2009:
My orientation was today, but somehow I still can’t believe I got in! Institute starts in May and will go on for five weeks, after which we’ll be assigned schools for the next two years. They’ve warned us of hardships that we could very likely face-the kind you see in Slumdog-type-movies and all; but this is the actual harsh reality. They say you’re lucky you have four walls and a roof for a classroom and a functional toilet. Often you have roofs that are thatched or leaking, windows that are broken and walls that are crumbling; classrooms lack basic furniture, let alone qualified teachers.
Institute is mad. I and some 200 other fellows are learning how to handle a classroom of children anywhere between the 2nd to the 8th grade. We have a full hierarchy of staff here who coach and mentor us according to strategies and teaching models that are based on the corresponding Teach For America models. We have learning sessions the entire first half of the day where we learn how to design and execute lesson plans, devise teaching aids, etc. and in the second half of the day, each of us actually goes to different municipal or low-income schools nearby to implement it all.
Okay, now I’ve always been one for a challenge, but this is nothing I’ve ever dealt with before. I have a class of 30 children whose lives are now a part of mine; like all other fellows I’ve begun visits to their houses to get to know their background better, after all our idea of ‘excellent education’ means that every child grows through academic achievement, values and mindsets, has exposure to the world outside and that we give them the same life opportunities that their peers in higher income communities already have.
Simultaneously I’m dealing with a culture clash with the rest of the teachers and principal whose textbook-rote-learning trains of thought clash with our methods, and with parents who don’t understand why their children are bringing home coloring worksheets instead of notebooks filled with sentences. Although it is a consolation to know that I’m not alone in this, and that there are a lot of fellows out there going through similar ordeals, if not worse.
This is that metaphorical crossroads they talk about all the time. I speak for all the fellows out there when I say that coming into the program, very few of us actually imagined that this would be a commitment that extends the two-year contract; most of us were eager to experience the program but still determined to settle down with the jobs we-or our parents in some cases-have had in mind all these years. But at the end of the term-here I beg allowance to be a tad bit emotional- engaging with the problem so deeply, and being so personally involved in the lives of the children and families you work with can be quite life-altering. It leaves you questioning the opportunities you’ve had; angry about the state of affairs and the complacency to more than half of the country’s population living below the poverty line and that fuels our decisions about how we continue our journey.
That’s why most of us have been intrinsically motivated to continue with Teach For India, or pursue an initiative in the social/educational sector. I guess we’re all working towards the movement, in our own way.
Gaurav Singh, 2009 fellow has founded his own school with the aim of serving underprivileged children along with 6 other alumnus working with him.
Romana Shaikh has stayed back to continue to build TFI from within by working on the staff.
Chaitra M. is working with Thermax Social Initiative Foundation to start a government teacher training program.
This has been a creative yet true-to-the-facts-representation of the journey of an average Teach For India fellow based on stories shared by 2009-2011 fellows Gaurav Singh (Founder and principal of 321 Primary School) Romana Shaikh, Director of TFI (starting August 2013), and Anasuya Menon (Personal Leadership Manager).
For more information about Teach For India and the work they do, log on to www.teachforindia.org.