What seemed like a portal to a fellowship like every other fellowship out there, with beautiful pictures of vivacious children appearing and fading, telling me to be a Fellow, I had no idea I would come close to becoming the face standing among those faces, beaming with the hope that "one day all children will receive an excellent education."
I'm a teacher and leader in the making, but I've been a student from the day I entered the gates of the institute in April 2019. These 16 months feel like a lifetime, a life filled with teaching, learning, imparting experience, values, and a mindset that will make these children citizens of tomorrow.
During the 6 weeks of teaching, I taught grade 7 with a strength of 10 students. For the Fellowship, I transitioned into grade 6 in a low-income PMC English medium school where I took the ownership of learning of 80 young and impressionable minds. In a school where the staff and the students any day preferred Marathi or Hindi as the mode of communication and expression, I was assigned the task to drive Reading Comprehension and Literacy of the English language on account of lack of exposure to the language and lack of opportunity to test and showcase their skills in the language.
The resources were limited and scarce, but I was motivated to make the most of everything at my disposal. Accessing the wide pool of RC resources curated into a curriculum, timely assessments, seeking support from my school team, the ex-Fellow who taught my class, my Program manager, my peers at the Fellowship, the content team, and to be honest, the list is never-ending. Every cog in the machine moved perfectly which made it possible for our class, the students, and the Fellows, to achieve the goals we had set for ourselves.
Another herculean task given to me was to drive a liberating subject as Social Science with a restricting curriculum among students who were always ready for 5 follow-up questions about topics that were not even mentioned in the textbook. It was this spark of curiosity that gave me the motivation to turn it into the torch of enlightenment. But it was also my responsibility as an educator to only impart knowledge that is free of bias so that these young minds can grow into their individual without any adulteration. I would have to fact-check everything I taught in class and prepare with the contingency of being bombarded with questions that will need to be answered.
As we were approaching the end of the academic year, and were preparing for the End-Of-Year assessments which would have been the litmus test of our progress, the global pandemic of COVID reached India and we found ourselves away from our classrooms and into the confines of our homes. Looking at the global progression of the pandemic, our team realized that the lockdown was not going to end anytime soon.
I teach in a community where most students come from families of migrant workers, with livelihood depending on daily wages. The first few weeks seemed like a bonus summer break for the students and gave us enough time to prepare for what was coming next. TFI had started a national level fundraising campaign, which did give us a ray of hope but at the same time made us reflect on how to make everything accessible for the families.
The families were running out of resources sooner than everyone had anticipated and the situation demanded that we acted fast. We rolled out a school team campaign using social media platforms to raise funds. Then we collaborated with the local ration shops to provide ration packets. Through this campaign, we reached out to 130+ families and provided 80+ ration packets.
After the campaign and a 4-week break, I found myself in strange waters of blended learning. Using a peer's teaching model, I introduced blended learning with my co-Fellow into our classroom with the help of WhatsApp, google classroom, and google meet. We used Whatsapp for communication, google meet to conduct synchronous classes, and google classroom to make asynchronous resource packets and submission of assignments more organized.
After three months into a virtual classroom, I've realized it only takes resilience to teach and learn. But while the experience of teaching from home seems rewarding, it is taxing as well. I'd often find myself simultaneously working on the class presentation for the next day's class, grading assessment, and filling the data in the tracker while moving things around in my calendar for the next scheduled session/meeting.
Through all this, my phone would always be buzzing with texts/calls from students/parents, notifications from google classroom, and work emails. I started tracking my screen time, which on an average was 12 hours on phone with 150+ notifications. I haven't taken into account the screen time on my laptop.
But through all this, the only thing that kept me going was signing into the google meet link and listening to a million "good morning didi!!!!!!" The surge of serotonin would make every feeling of exhaustion dissipate into the abyss.
What I've realized over my entire experience at the Fellowship is that to make anything possible is never a lone effort. It is always a collective effort. Be it our organization, Teach For India, which conducts training sessions to make us better equipped to create a holistic blended learning experience, providing recharges and devices for students who are in more difficult circumstances, or our parents who use every resource at their disposal to make sure their child can continue to learn and our students who always display an insatiable thirst for learning.
It was their faith in us that turned the sparks of our efforts into a blazing fire. Now I have more faith in the spirit of our movement that : ONE DAY ALL CHILDREN WILL ATTAIN AN EXCELLENT EDUCATION.