Ajitha teaching her students
We, at Teach For India, constantly strive to ensure our supporters understand the value that they are adding to the lives of our students. The following is a note of gratitude from Ajitha, our Fellow from the 2016 Cohort.
It was in the month of July 2016, when the 40 students in 4th grade were expecting a new teacher- ‘to be called English teacher’. But when I just came into the class they quickly found that I can talk in Tamil as well. They found that I can do tricks that they enjoy. They found that I teach more than English. They found that they can talk, sing, dance and sit freely in class. They slowly found that classroom can be joyful. When we were discussing what we should name our class to be, a kid raised hand to say, “Miss! We are like Dora. We move to new, new places in learning and know many things. We help our friends and earn your stars so we must name our class Dora the Explorer.” Most others agreed to this kid and yes, our classroom is a space for Exploration. Hence we have named it ‘The class of Explorers’. Since then Dora and friends have been our mascots. We have been exploring ourselves, our friends, family, school and community since then. I can clearly draw an exponentially growing curve on graph to signify our journey. There is no ‘my’ journey and my students’ journey. We feel our class room is our family and trust me, I treat the class of Explorers as the first family. Most of the students do too. This is a significant change! From a place where I was running behind the students and their parents to come to school, to a place where many students come running and jumping to school and give me a huge hug every day.
Our happiness- of how the class of Explorers has grown from a bunch of stumbling readers and writers to budding readers and writers; of how we moved from not having personal values and bullying each other, to how we use our values even without the teacher reinforcing in school and outside the school; of how we started to explore our own strengths and weaknesses to helping our school and community to leverage our strengths and overcoming our weaknesses. Over the one and half years with me, the students have developed interest in learning and we are working to take our interest to a passion. I personally feel proud of my growth from an ‘intimidated and calm person’ to a ‘talk to anybody for good’ person. I was a person who never wanted to go out alone, especially during nights. Now I am the ‘climb all mountains and cross all oceans’ star, especially when it comes to educating students. I began my journey thinking only about myself! How I would learn to tie a saree? (Our HM has mandated wearing saree as a mark of professionalism!) How I would teach a bunch of students? Will the students like me? Then I grew to think of my class! How can I make my class enjoy learning? What and what not to focus in class?Where and where not to push the students? Slowly,when I got expertise, I moved to think for the School! What can make this school the best place to learn? How can we bring this School as a unit of Change, in the community, for the community? But now I think about the landscape I can extend my impact for and it’s not small community, school and classroom. I think about what I shall do to make our vision come true that “One day ALL children will attain excellent education”. I have become a Fellow Advisor and work towards strengthening myself as a teacher and also help other Fellows in the city who needs support. I work with Teach For India alumni - Nisha & Gautam, who are now Educational Directors for 5 schools in Tsunami Schools of Cuddalore district to train teachers of these 5 schools during my holidays. I am looking forward to trigger the change in my hometown Villupuram, starting from the school where my mother works thereby, moving towards 3.5 and more in the Fellow commitmentScale.
We have faced tonnes of challenges on our path here. In classroom, the students’ literacy rate was threatening to showcase their potential and thus I worked on certain new strategies like reciprocal reading, Buddies to help, writing through drawings and cartoons etc. Our classroom attendance and homework returns were never full until I tracked every students’ attendance, homework, punctuality, cleanliness and uniform, performance on Samacheer objectives. And the tracker ends with exciting student friendly gifts every month. Now we are moving to the next level of thinking where the students don’t have to work hard to please others but to please them; the students don’t have to follow rules but be considerate about others, the students own their action and words and work for new rewards. I research, plan and relentlessly change it to make the lessons inspiring for all students in the class. The students started liking Math, Science and Social with a lot of games, activities, experiments and virtual lab experiences. Otherwise in school, I had trouble investing the school team in gaining our HM’s belief, to invest her and other teachers. Initially I have been doing what I must do and share not much with my school team but I understood how that is plaguing the ecosystem of growth. Now, we work as a ‘Trio- Superwomen’ with 100% transparency and support each other. We see great mind-set shifts with the students as well, as they take us as role models to grow. We have extended support for the parents to invest themselves in their students’ learning. The parents have also shifted from the lame meaning of ‘Education is to read and write’ to themeaning ‘Education is to learn living’ through a number of house visits and one to one meetings. We are planning to have learning circles for the parents, teachers in school and Co-teachers working with TFI fellows across the city to deeply drive investment in excellent education.
Of the many achievements over the past 6 months with the Class of Explorers, I would like to mention few inspiring ones. The students performed their own musical drama for the teacher’s day function. A few students were able to perform well on ‘on the spot extempore’. A few students have won state level prizes in Speech competition and drawing competition. They work as a team to share their story of change on many schooland communal issues like their father’s drinking and smoking, improper use of toilets in school through ‘Design for Change’ projects. They have given their best ideas and painted the entire school walls with inspirational quotes, and values to inculcate good behaviour and a better school culture in our school as a part of our ‘Student led -Be the Change project’. They also take baby steps towards creating a sustainable organic garden with greens, veggies and medicinal herbs for which we are struggling and exploring with what’s working and what not in the limited space and so limited fund we got. Another venture in baby steps to mention is that the students are trying to explore and take forward some self-employment opportunities like growing mushroom, picking, creating toys and home decors out of waste materials etc. to help increase their parents’ income and to tackleunemployment.
The city staff team and two of my ‘close to heart’ Program Managers, (Elizabeth Samuel and Ishwarya), have helped me and supported me a lot on my journey. I actively take inputs from a number of opportunities like city conferences, learning circles, Tarot Tuesdays, Workout Wednesdays and many more for the betterment of my classroom and our community and for ALL children.
If I could relate myself to be a little drop in the mighty ocean, I feel like you are the strong wind that pushes many little drops to create the mighty ocean. Of all the impact that I have created and will be creating, will be a hard possibility without supporters like you and hence I submit a huge heart of gratitude from the Family of Explorers and Teach for India.
Thank you and we look forward to your constant support!
Ajitha's student participating in a debate
Training teachers at Cuddalore- Kannarpet, ASSEFA