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The Setup

Continuing from the previous post, let me write down everything that defined my work setup.

The Curriculum

This is where the fun starts. I worked with two different curriculum throughout the year. The school wanted me to teach the mandated Samacheer syllabus and the organisation that I work for wanted me to teach to the Common Core Standards. The Samacheer part contained the Social, Science and the “English as a subject” subjects to be taught, the organisation gave me Mathematics  and “English as a standard” subjects to teach. It is actually painful to be a teacher and teach language either as a subject or as a set of standards. More on that separately sometime later (which is almost never).

The Red Ink

There were 37 notebooks for each (3) Samacheer subject to be checked and corrected 3-5 times in every term. Each term itself is about 3 or 4 months. And there where 2 mid-term term tests and 1 end of term test for each term. For the organization’s part, we were supposed to conduct Unit Assessments, which is one in 6 weeks, Weekly assessments and if possible Daily Assessments. I just did the Unit Assessments. Tried Weekly assessments but dropped it after a couple of weeks, it was getting out of hands. English made up for it, by making me correct a set of at least 10 questions every alternate day. I remember sitting, standing, sleeping, walking and even jumping on/off trains with my bag on the shoulder, papers on the left hand and red pen on the right.

The Sessions

The organisation’s way of making sure we are fully equipped to handle everything in the classroom. It was usually planned in the evenings after school when we are in our lowest glucose levels and looking out for a corner to curl. The sessions did make a lot of sense to the people who were organizing them. They were usually about how to teach, how to handle kids, how to understand a particular area in order to deliver it the way it is supposed to be. But one thing no one seemed to care/understand/grasp was there was no single way to do stuff.

The Printer

Canon LBP2900. One trademark of being a TFI fellow is we print more paper for each kid than what government or the school would. Having a laser printer really does help. One can be free of the timing restrictions imposed by the Xerox shops and save a lot more money. I printed about 8000-9000 pages in the last 4 months alone. 1500 rupees for all that paper and 400 rupees for the toner and the immense flexibility of being able to print whatever and whenever.

The Travel

The travel was two/three legged. I usually started off with short bus ride 5E/23C/49 from Adyar depot to Madhya Kailash, took a train from Kasthuribai Nagar station to the Beach Station, and then finally took 44C from Beach Station to the Power House stop. Sometimes the 5E-Train combo was replaced by the 21H/PP19 from Adyar Depot to Parry’s Corner. Initially used 6D from the backside of Adyar Depot, but extra 300m walking and having no alternate buses made me switch to other options. One thing good about the train travel is I always found space to sit and even work on the laptop if required. Having a monthly season ticket for just 105 rupees was another boon. Never had to worry about tickets/queues and oversleeping during return journeys.

 

These define the physical boundaries of how I worked in the past one year. But how did I actually work? What was “The process”?

After 1 Year

Sitting on the rope cot in my grandparent’s home near Kodumudi, Erode, listening to Rainbow FM staring at the laptop screen is where I am, when I write this. Very far away from anything related to school, students and teaching – Physically. Teaching is a job that grows on you and you grow over until both becomes indistinguishable from one another. Looking back after one year of being the worst possible teacher in my own rating, I think I have also become the worst possible blog writer in many people’s rating.

The first blog post was written well before I became a teacher and it turns out it has been 364 days (so not 1 year really). I have written about 5 posts excluding “Hello”, of which only 3 during the Fellowship. This points to the very obvious fact about the Fellowship itself – it is hectic and mad at the same time. It also points to the fact that I never took time to unload myself as often as I should have done.

So, I am going to write down a summary of what all I can possibly remember in a subjective manner. This blog was not meant to be subjective in any way, it was supposed to be a place where things will be recorded as is without analysis or perspective. But with such a big backlog of about a year, I doubt I can write anything objective as-is here.

The Setup

School

ECI Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Tondiarpet – that is the name of the school where I was placed as a Teach For India Fellow to teach a set of 37 students in 4th grade. The school is run by a trust run the Evangelical Church of India, hence ECI Matric. It has about 900+ students studying from Pre-KG to 12th standard. There is a church in the middle, the Academic block is to its left, the Office and the hostel are to its right. The standard size of the classrooms is about 30×30 ft (guessed never measured), which is kind of crampped when you consider there are 77 students, desks, bags, cupboard, and a divider wall in the middle to distinguish Section A and Section B.

My Class

My class was made up of 38 poor souls who did not know what they were doing, which included 1 adult trying to make sense of whatever was going on. The class had about 19 boys and 18 students from middle class backgrounds, so wide and varied that I actually don’t exactly remember what middle-class is now.

Timings

The school opened at about 8.30AM and the staff are supposed to sign the attendance register before 8.55AM. There is a morning prayer meeting at 8.55 in the church for all the christian teachers and at least one staff member of each grade are to be present, if they are non-christians. So I experienced more religion in my one year of fellowship than what I have seen in my 25 years of existence. The School gets over by 3.30PM and the tuition(s) are over by 4.30PM. Generally I left the school by 3.30PM.

I lived about 90 minutes away from the school, so my day generally started by around 7.15AM when I got out of the house and ended by 5.30PM when I got back to the house.

………………….. to be continued .,

Pampering kids

There are two kids in my class who have better reading, writing comprehension skills that half the class, which should make them “above-average” in conventional sense. Both have a problem – attitude. Their parents tell me they were the toppers of the yesteryear. I had given C-D grades to them during the 1st term exam and the parents were very upset. I didn’t know the kids this well back then and thought them to be just normal kids. As the parents coming barging in with complaints and pointing fingers at me, I was taken aback thinking I was perhaps not seeing them as to what they are capable of doing. I was apprehensive of meeting their parents thinking that it was my fault. Perhaps I have made a bad evaluation of their papers. I was just three months into being a teacher.

Recently an incident put things in perspective. I have taken the kids to play in the ground, while I was keeping scores and overseeing stuff other kids were doing, these two have sneaked up to the first floor and have gone to the classroom. I was perplexed when I found this out at the end of the class. When I reached the classroom with the other kids, one of the two has hit the leg on the desk and has been crying.

The parent was furious – obviously. The parent went on to praise the child to be the one who always gets the first rank, scores well in everything, has got a shield for something and the other kid was the one who was always a competition to the first kid. These two were supposedly the toppers of the class. Now a days the kid is not willing/interested to come to school. Doesn’t seem to eat the lunch properly. Handwriting has deteriorated. Looks dull in the evening when the kids returns home. All symptoms of kid not enjoying the school and then the word came “teacher not taking good care of the child”. I was left wondering for a second what the parent actually meant. These kids are the ones who always create problems in the class. The kid in discussion has been said to be a great pain in their team and the kid barely pays attention in the class to what I am saying. Most of the time I get distracted trying to bring their attention. Slowly as the conversation progressed one thing became clear. These were kids who have been in the limelight most of the time in yesteryear(s) and here is a teacher who refuses to accept the fact and give the attention they think they deserve.

I am thinking about a number of other kids who are attention seeking as well and get themselves a place in the class. They get more warnings and consequences in the classroom than others. But there is one categorical difference with them and these kids. Their parents don’t praise them as simple as that. No pampering whatsoever. Their parents talk about what the kid should improve but not how great they have done. When these parents were told their kids have secured “A”s their reply was “OK”. Didn’t utter a “very good” or that “He/She reads well” kind of comment.

Such a difference in behavior.

Impact of Cinema

Impact of Cinema – One can write reams on it. I will stop with the incident in the classroom in which I teach.

The Incident

First to the as-is version of the happenings of the day, without any personal bias, adjectives, adverbs or any modifier that challenge reporting fact.

The occasion is Children’s day. The students are given a chance to dance and sing in the classroom. Initially, there is the chaos of 4th graders who are told to self organize themselves. After the initial phase of confusion clears and the performances start to flow. Boys sing songs which are aimed to tease girls. Songs like “இந்த பொண்ணுங்களே இப்படித்தான் தெரிஞ்சு போச்சுடா” “ஊதா கலரு ரிப்பன், யாரு உனக்கு அப்பன்?” flows from the boys and Church choir songs from the girls. One of the girls point out that songs by the boys are aimed at teasing girls. The guys decide to tease during one of the choir songs and start making dance movements which are done by actors drunk on the screen. The teacher has to intervene and warn them not to do it. The girls decide enough of Choir and sing a Cinema song. The song is “வேணா, மச்சா.. வேணா, இந்த பொண்ணுங்க காதலு.. அது மூடி தெரக்கும் போதே உன்ன கவுத்தும் கோட்டரு..”, for which the movements breakout in the boys ranks, for which they are warned by the teacher again. A girl reaches out to the teacher, to ask, why the boys are being shown a hard face on a good day. The teacher explains that the boys are teasing them and the girl retorts “So what?”.

My thoughts

I am not sure what to write here. Are they supposed to be the questions that I have now? The fears that sting me? The irritation that angers me? I really don’t know. I am suppressing my overflowing urge to deconstruct the happenings of the day and relate it to the effects cinema causes on little children aged 8-9 yrs and draw conclusions on gender bias, inequality and impact of culture. Because, I don’t want to draw any conclusions here, now, at this point.

The Two Men Inside a Man

இந்த கதை என்னுடைய கதை அல்ல, சிறுவயதில் “Solidaire” தொலைக்காட்சி பெட்டியில், “DD1” ஒளிபரப்பிய பொழுது பார்த்தது. யாரிடமாவது சொல்ல வேண்டும் போல இருந்தது. இந்த வலைதலம்தான் செவிசாய்த்தது.

ராமசாமி தன் ஆடு இரண்டையும் அரமனசா ஒட்டிகிட்டு வந்தார். இருக்குற ஆட்டையும் வித்துட்டு என்ன பண்றது? வைகாசி வந்திருச்சு. காட்டு வேலை இருக்கும், தெனமும் கூலிக்கு போன ஒரு மூனு மாசத்துல எப்படியும் ஒரு ரண்டு குட்டிக்கு காசு சேத்திரலாம். பேசாம இப்ப ஒன்ன மட்டும் வித்துருவோமா?…. இப்படி ஆயிரம் யோசன மனசுக்குள்ள ஓடிகிட்டு இருக்கும் போதே, “சீக்கிரம் வாப்பா, நாம போய் சேர்ரதுக்குள்ள சந்தையே முடிஞ்சுருமாட்ட இருக்குது”ன்னு பெரியசாமி கத்தரது கேட்டுது. தலையத்தூக்கி பெரியசாமி பக்கம் ஒரு ஆட்டு ஆட்டீடு, இழுத்து எட்டி வெச்சார்.

இன்னும் கொஞ்சம் சாவகாசமா வந்திருந்தா, பெரியசாமி சொன்ன மாதிரி சந்தை முடிஞ்சுதான் போயிருக்கும் போல. இப்பவே ஆளாலுக்கு வாங்குனத இழுத்துகிட்டு போய்க்கிட்டு இருந்தாங்க.

“என்னபா, சந்தைக்கு வங்கவா வாரோம்? பொருளக் கொண்டாறோம் சீக்கிரம் வந்திருக்கனும், பாரு எல்லாம் இப்பவே நடையக்கட்ட ஆரம்பிச்சுட்டாங்க”, பெரியசாமி நொந்துகொண்டு திரும்பி பாத்தார். ராமசாமியின் கவனம் முழுக்க ஆட்டின் மேலேயெ இருந்தது.

“இந்தாப்பா ராமசாமி, தேவைன்னா வித்துதாம்பா ஆவனும். ஆடுதான? நாலு மாசம் போவட்டும் இதே சந்தைல வங்கிக்கலாம். ஆட்டப் பாத்துகிட்டு இங்கையே நில்லு, நா போயி ஆள் யாராவது சிக்குனா கூட்டியாறேன்.” சொல்லீட்டு பொரியசாமி நவுந்தார். ராமசாமி மனசுல இப்ப ரண்டாயிரம் யோசன.

பெரியசாமி ஆளோட திரும்பி வந்தப்ப, ராமசாமி ஒரு ஆட்டோட தலைப்புடிச்சு, கண்ணப்பாத்துகிட்டு இருந்தார்.”ராமசாமி, இவுரு ஆடு புடிக்கத்தான் வந்திருகாறாம், ரெண்டு பெரும் பேசி முடிவு பண்ணுங்க”. “நாம்பேசர மாதிரி இருந்தா உங்கள ஏங்க இழுத்துகிட்டு வர்றேன்? நீங்களே பேசுங்க.” வாங்க வந்தவர் ஆட்ட புடிச்சு பல்ல பாத்தார், கால மடக்கிப் பாத்தார், அப்புறம் எந்திருச்சு “சரிங்க பேசலாம்ன்னார்”

வாங்க வந்தவரும், பெரியசாமியும் கொஞ்சம் தள்ளி போயி துண்டுக்கு அடீல கையவிட்டு, பேரம் பேசுனாங்க. ஒரு கட்டத்துல, வாங்க வந்தவர், “ஐயா பொண்டட்டி தாலிய வெச்சு காசு கொண்டாந்திருக்கேன், இதுக்கு மேல முடியாதுங்கா” அப்பிடின்னது கேட்டுது. பெரியசாமி திரும்பி வந்து, “ராமசாமி, இவ்வளவுதான் இருக்காம் என்னப்பா உனக்கு சரியா? குடுத்துரலாமா?” “அண்ணே, ஒரு சின்ன சிக்கல். ஆடு வர்ற வழில வெசச்செடிய மேஞ்சிருச்சு. ராத்திரி அசப்போட்டுதுன்னா செத்தாலும் செத்துரும். அதான் … விக்க வேண்டாம்னு …”ன்னு இழுத்தார். பெரியசாமி அதுக்கு மேல அங்க நிக்குல. ஆட்ட, வாங்க வந்தவன்கிட்ட ஓட்டி உட்டுட்டு, காச வாங்கி ராமசாமி சுருக்குப்பைல துணுச்சுட்டு, ராமசாமிய தள்ளாத கொறயா கூட்டிகிட்டு ஊட்டப்பாக்க நடைக்கட்டீட்டார்.

இந்த ஒளி(லி)நாடா முடிந்ததும் திரையில் பெரிதாய் ஒரு பத்தி எழுதி slide போட்டிருந்தார்கள் – அதில் எனக்கு நியாபகம் இருப்பது.

ஒவ்வொரு மனிதனுக்குள்ளும் ஒரு ராமசாமியும், ஒரு பெரியசாமியும் இருக்கிறார்கள்.

The Idea of Democracy

Before I begin, (can be skipped)

I have a few things going inside my brain as if spun like the saw dust in convection experiment. Though mostly ignored, these things tend to jump in between a conversation or tend to pull conversations towards them so that they can show themselves. This has resulted in a number of “long pause” moments in my conversation. This poor blog is the place where I decided to pour them down, so this process of convection can stop.

The Scene

Most Indians would have had “democracy” explained to them them, as such, in their schools via the standard definition of “by,of,for the people”. What it means in real life, though is understood later in life when circumstances set right. I understood it when I watched a 70s, probably even 50s or 60s, movie. I don’t remember the entire story line, but the scene which gave me idea of democracy sticks to this moment. The scene unfolds as follows:

A group of rebels fight for the freedom and liberation of their land from the clutches of the king, they call evil and his rule tyranny, and establish democracy. On a particular day, they get hold of a bodyguard of the king. He is brought in chains and made to stand before the council of the rebel leaders, who are sitting over a table, discussing strategies. The bodyguard reveals nothing to the council’s questions and proclaims his loyalty to the king. The head of the council tells his men to throw him in a dark cell. As the men holding the chain wait for the council members to leave before they can take the bodyguard away, a man brings dinner to the leader and places it on the table and spills the drink on him. The leader becomes furious at this indignation in front of a enemy and beats the man (a servant in his mind). At this point, the bodyguard laughs aloud and asks:

“Is this what you call democracy? Is this the new world order you are fighting for? If this the example of the society you are fighting to create, my motherland is better served by my King than your democracy.”

And is pulled out of the room as soon as he finishes his rhetoric. The leader stands at the now empty hall, except for him and the servant now curled in a corner, stunned at what has just happened. He turns towards the man in the corner, goes and hugs him uttering “We are all one, we are all equal..” and the scene fades away.

The interpretation

No other song, no other writing, no other painting, no other teaching, and no other anything has made me understand the meaning of democracy as this scene from an unknown movie. It essentially captures what every true believer in democracy fears, “autocracy”. Although none of the governments in the world would accept it, each one them is autocratic with varying levels of autocratic influence. Things like occupy movement have tried their best to expose this wolf in sheep clothing, little has transpired to reality.

Having said that, I do not mean to take the stand of a socialist by condemning free economy and enterprises, nor do I support the capitalist propaganda of talking in terms of wealth. But I believe there exists enough moral ground between the two in order to explore and settle. And probably the correct interpretation of democracy lies somewhere in that space.

Indecision and Enterprising

Trains journeys are quirky, just like India. I happened to meet a bank official of a nationalized bank in the last journey. He talked about a lot of things from UPSC exams to anger management, credits to my other co-passenger. If one wants to understand the status of economy, among the many people to meet should be a bank official. The following accounts from him tell a general tale of how India is today.

Account 1: The bank is planning to construct housing for its employees so that it can do away with the monthly Housing Allowance (HA) it pays. The management team has done the math and has estimated an amount under which it is economical for the bank to build housing, above which the bank is better off paying the HA. Tenders were issued and it attracted only 3 bidders. To be a reasonable they need to attract at least 6-7 bidders. But it simply doesn’t happens. Moreover, the three who have bid have a nexus. The bid amounts are so high that, if any bid is accepted, it becomes uneconomical for the bank. So the team talked with the bidders to get the quotation down, for which the bidders impose terms so all three can benefit. If the terms are accepted, it becomes illegal. This has been repeating year after year. The only things the team has to offer is – indecision. Simply the team cannot decide.

The official tells that it is not a unique case in banking. The problem persists at all levels of decision making in the economy right from the ministerial level. The example he gives is the famous 2G Spectrum case. While the CAG quotes a presumptive loss of so much crores due to illegitimate issuing of licenses, what has the redone legitimate 2G licensing done last year achieved? Certainly it hasn’t brought the exchequer the intended amount. If audited, it may even turn out the present income from the licenses, may even be less than the “tainted” money. In the bank’s case they have opted for indecision rather than either loss or a tainted profit.

Account 2: In theory, the education loan is the most ideal form of borrowing. One doesn’t pledge anything or provide any 3rd party surety.  The bank simply keeps entire trust on the borrower and his commitment to repay. In reality, rarely there exists a ideal system. He says the percentage of loan repayment is somewhere between 15-20%, in student numbers not in the amount repaid. The catch here is the lower the loan amount, the more likely the student is likely to pay. So technically the unpaid 80-85% are the heavy borrowers. Why doesn’t the student pay? The reasons vary from inability to pure greed. Some interesting reasons:

  • a girl student has been married to a person, who demands the entire salary to be given over to him. So the girl is willing to give in writing stating something like, “Arrest me if you want to for defaulting. I am better of in a jail than with my husband”
  • another girl’s husband simply considers it a matter concerning her father and warns of legal consequences if troubled by the bank again
  • a medical student in Australia simply wasn’t interested to pay even after settling down there, the case was pursued throw embassy and notice served before the parent coughed up
  • an engineering student earns 18,000 per month in Chennai, what is left of personal expenditure and family commitment is too little even for the interests
  • one doesn’t simply wants to repay the loan as the government is busy waiving them

So what does the bank do? How do they recover the money? The solution again is indecision. The new manager comes pushes the repayment period for a six months further and leaves the office without showing bad loans and the next manager repeats it. Because in most cases, the student simply has nothing in his pocket to give.

Enterprising

While I am not a economist to even the smallest of measures, this is what I observe. Of all the posh talk regarding FDI, market liquidity, global cues, blah blah persists in economic strengthening of the country, hardly any thought is given to the strengthening of local enterprises. It is hard to tell when our Finance Minister last talked about anything other than foreign investment and global market cues. While the situation, in terms of laws and regulations, for IT services and tech startups seem conducive, with introduction of things like within-24-hour registration, there is hardly any push in other sectors. Hardly anything fresh comes out from India. Even in crown jewel of Indian enterprises the IT, the industry is largely based on services and the lookout for an Indian Google or Facebook (I am not talking about a equivalent service) hasn’t ceased yet.

This sluggishness in enterprise is the one of the big reasons, that fuels the indecision in India. Had the entrepreneurial scene been better, the dilemma of the housing construction for the bank wouldn’t have existed, not all students would have been made to pre-sell their labor in the name of loans, or even better, they wouldn’t have a hand to mouth existence like a daily-wage laborer. While I wouldn’t argue lack of enterprising is the only reason for indecision at various levels in the economy, it does have a undeniable connection when dealing with the development.  While there are a multitude of reasons for this slack, it is important to recognize the impact it has on the economy and accept the fact, no matter how much the FDI is, whatever the global cues are, we have approached a point where economic growth is being held back by our indecision and the lack of home grown enterprises solving local problems.