Thursday, March 15, 2012

I don't want to be a "teacher".



Akash Pandey. Shrikant Landge. Shivam Unecha. Shivam Kanojiya. Jasmine Sangma. Pratiksha Meshram.

These are not six names that get the class data up. They are people. Brilliant, wonderful, pure-hearted, fun-loving kids. Being in Grade 6 in a low-income school located in one of the most violent communities in the city, they think, write, talk and perform at Grade 7 level. (Or higher. Or maybe they’re right there. I’m not too sure how to judge that.) And the best part is they do this without help.

I don’t let them sit in class anymore. During Math, they take a Grade 7 text book and leave the room. They sit outside in the corridor and figure out the new concepts themselves. Last week, I guess they got a bit bored, so they got up, held on to the bars of the window and gave us all a demonstration of the behaviour of monkeys in a zoo. Everyone laughed and I took the opportunity of explaining the meaning of “fence” to the class. “See, we’re visiting a zoo and this is where the monkeys are. What’s this wire that’s separating us from the monkeys? It’s called a fence. Umm.. Akash, I’m pretty sure monkeys don’t make that sound.” We then carried on with solving perimeter word problems, everyone having understood that when we ‘fence’ a garden, we need to know the perimeter.

And even though the fact that the kids outside didn’t get reprimanded by me for getting distracted from their “classwork” or disturbing the rest of the class was a very subconscious act on my part, it once again reinforced a rule that I have made for myself and my kids- “My kids will never suffer for being brilliant.

That sounds a bit unfair on first reading. Maybe this would be better explained with a quote by C.S. Lewis- “And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.” Fair enough.

Or best with an example- The six of them ace at all Grade 6 concepts. Weekly and monthly assessments show 100% mastery. But their brilliance is not limited to academics. They know how to have FUN. They know how to DO. They argue with me like any other 11 year old kid for their “PT period”. They scream when they’re happy, play like 5 year olds and love watching animated movies. Their books are up-to-date, their presentation flawless and I can leave the group of them unsupervised with the most important exam of the year and know their integrity won’t allow them to cheat. In one word, they’re BRILLIANT.

But what is the consequence of being brilliant. Academically speaking, here. Is it reward or punishment? If they can solve 5 out of 20 sums in a Grade 7 worksheet, should they be made to solve and excel at the remaining 15? And that’s where my rule applies. My response to such a situation would be- “What do YOU want to do? We could take those 5 sums you solved, make a worksheet of 30 out of those and you could perfect just these category of sums. Or we could try figuring out the remaining 15. If you want, we can move on to a new topic and come back to this later. Or do you want to just chill right now?” My response will NEVER be- “Look at your classmates. Are they allowed to leave a few perimeter problems because they can’t understand them? No! You HAVE to do what everyone else is doing.” Your reward is to do another harder deed.

I don’t want to be a ‘teacher’. My kids will never suffer for being brilliant.


I don’t want to be a ‘teacher’. We’re a team. That’s how I go into class every morning. “I am not their teacher. I don’t feel like a ‘teacher’. This is a team that I’m a part of.” Every morning, I’m scared of failing my team. We’re a team, trying to be better-equipped human beings and I, being already a little better-equipped, have more responsibility. But no, I definitely am not a ‘teacher’. And this, this “we’re a team,” plays out in many ways.

My kids are not afraid to question. And by question, I don’t mean questions like- “I don’t understand how good becomes better and not gooder.” I mean they actually QUESTION. And they know they can. They won’t take down a sum I solve on the board as an example; they’ll solve it themselves. And point out if I’m wrong. But that’s not even the best part. When they point out a mistake, they don’t do it with glee that their teacher thought that 1 multiplied by 2 gives 1; they understand now that mistakes are okay, mistakes help us learn. They know people are allowed mistakes.

In the beginning of the year, we read a story about a father and his son out on a lake shooting ducks. It took me a good three days to get them to figure out why exactly the two of them might want to shoot ducks. A week ago all 58 of them came up with- “The fly looking at a strand of hair which resembles a golden wire is probably sitting on Malinga’s head. So it also probably means that that piece of wire is curly and not straight.”

A question in a comprehension assessment I gave them two weeks ago asked- “Do you think people today are greedier or less greedy than the characters in this story? Explain your answer.” Aman, one of the lowest performing kids in the beginning of the year, wrote- “I think that some are greedier and les greedy because there are some of are have much money then they become greedier, and who are poor are not greedy. What they have they are happy in that only.

I was proud. But I felt a lot more respect than pride, because a team member had progressed so much. I felt pride because I had never taught them to answer such questions, I had never given them any strategies to think up of answers for such questions. But my kids knew they were allowed to think on their own, that trying was never punished and that they have to know that it’s only the lack of trying that was wrong.

I don’t want to be a ‘teacher’. We’re a team.

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