Monday, June 15, 2009

The first day of School: A Challenge

June 15th, 2009- Day 6 (Mon)
Today was a challenge for sure. We decided to work with the ‘older’ children who study in the second half of the day i.e. 1-5pm. Since Parivartan has 2 centers, we decided to check out both to get a feel for both set of children so we spent 2 hours at each center. We went there without a plan, without any expectations. Today was supposed to be a day of observance.
Ofcourse, that’s not how it turned out to be. Once we reached the classroom, Gangadhar met us and introduced us to the new teacher (who’s been working for Parivartan since approx 3 years, but we hadn’t met before). She was inviting but I sensed an unsure atmosphere in the classroom- from the students, the teacher as well as Gangadhar. So once we introduced ourselves to the teacher, we explained our purpose and project.
There were some students in class who landed up an hour before class started and helped the teacher clean the room. However some turn up many of the children don’t turn up to school regardless of reminders sent to home. The teacher decided to take a leave and call those children to school while we played with the kids. Since we didn’t really have a plan or discussion, we the four of us stood in front of the kids, introduced ourselves while they stared at us with wide and expecting eyes. This bothered me since I felt a lack of confidence and direction in what I was doing. The four of us looked at each other for what felt like a really long and quite 30 seconds. Finally, to bring up the energy in the room and some informality, we got the students to stand in a circle in order to see each other. We played a game which required them to say their names and do an action. We started with Zohar and worked towards the rest of the team so that the kids got an idea of what to do and were comfortable with making noise. It started off well until we came across two girls who refused to say a word. I realized they hadn’t repeated anyone’s names the entire game. We didn’t force them so we went to the next people.
Like any given classroom there was atleast one kid who talked the most, one mischievous and some that were to shy to say anything. What surprised me here is that everyone was extremely respectful and followed instruction without much of a push. There seemed to be a tendency of the ‘herd mentality’. In one of our games, where we named an animal and made that animal’s sound, if one started with a cat, there where atleast 4 that followed with the same animal. One kid would change the animal, say to a dog, and then another 5 kids followed suit. When the teacher finally came back from ‘looking for children’ she asked the students to write their names on the board to see how much of their studies they remembered from before vacation. You could see a direct correlation between the students who were the most confident with how much they knew and between the most quite and the new. Combining the two, explained why those 2 girls didn’t say a word.
In the second center, we walked in again with the intention to just observe. But ofcourse, that didn’t work as the children seemed too curious. This time, however, the teacher was familiar and she stayed with us the entire time. We did the same thing with the circle and realized the students were much more vocal. The teacher asked them to sing songs they remembered. After some encouragement, the students started singing, sometimes alone or sometimes in twos. After a few more games we tried to play dumb-charades. Once again, we felt like the energy level got low so I asked the kids which was their favorite game and to teach us instead. That worked great as we passed a whole half an hour playing that.
Overall, the day was challenging in many respects. I still don’t feel a complete connection with the children, but it was only the first day so I have hope. I have many concerns like if the kids have high expectations and we let them down, and if we get too boring and they decide not to come to school. It’s hard to always entertain at the same time keep focus. Maybe I’m thinking too much, but it’s always sensitive working with kids and I don’t have much experience here that makes it a bigger challenge.
We spent 2 hours reflecting our day with Manjul later in the evening. That definitely helped me clear my thoughts and leveled some of my concerns. His calmness and confidence transferred over to me as it did before. What I like about him is that he’s perceptive and works through the team members as required and in a strategic way. Not that my concerns have disappeared, but I know we’re being guided. And that helps.

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