As a kid, sitting in a small classroom, looking at the ceiling fan trying to gauge the time as to when that fan would fall on our heads, the one thing which kept coming back was, why am I here? Why am I in this classroom with 50 odd children with that one teacher talking non-stop?
What purpose was I solving by heeding to that algorithm on the blackboard or what was the relevance of history dating back to 7 B.C. that was being taught to me in the 21st Century? How would the fight between two countries teach me about my life here, now, in this moment as I was growing and about to go into what they called ‘the real life’?
It was after 10 years, after juggling jobs, teenager life, learning about the politics in corporates offices and the struggles of the heart, that I was finally able to meet 200 teachers in a span of 2 years. These were the people who taught me about the most important and relevant lessons of life, of education and of love that no one could have taught.
In 2017, I entered a classroom in East Delhi as a young Teach For India Fellow, with the vision to create change and impact in the community that I was a part of now. But the 200 young children from grades 5–8, challenged my learnings of 18 years! From throwing benches to tantrums, to asking questions about their personal life to mine, from learning about English to learning about their lives and interests, these 200 young children became my teachers.
It was while teaching them that I saw how they were the ones enabling me to learn the most important lessons of my life, lessons which no adult could have helped me learn. Every child created an impact in my life in a way that questioned my doings and actions, which made me dig deeper and reflect on my true purpose and at the same time, connect to my passion with my children.
Over these two years, there are the two lessons which summarize a part of my journey, the journey of madness, of love and of learnings with these 200 teachers.
1. It is okay to give up on the ‘I’!
For the longest period of time, I was told that whatever might happen in life, do not give up. My motto was to hold onto things with my dear life, because giving up would seem like a weakness, an emotional response to whatever was happening around me, rather than a sought out, struggled adult-like response. And that was what I did in the classroom too. I would bring in strategies and ideas which work and not work, which children would love and sometimes, wouldn’t. And the wouldn’t ones they would express more strongly, I tell you.
There were times when I would feel hopeless since I had been spending my nights on these ideas, trying to contextualize them for each child of the class. But when I would share with the children, they would out-right refuse to be a part of them. This would hurt me, emotionally as well as a human just trying to do something and I just wouldn’t let go of that idea.
But one day, a group of children came and started discussing how we together could create new ideas, and that my ideas were okay and that they might not agree with many more ideas to come, but it was only when one let’s go of the old ones, that we create space for some new magic! That how it was not ‘me’ that they are rejecting, it was just the idea at that particular time. And it was magic indeed. Though I had been trying new ideas for my children, I held onto the emotional aspects attached to each idea, as to how I had worked on them, how I had spent nights putting together charts which would be torn when I went down for assembly. I saw the ‘I’ in all these efforts. The efforts were for the children, to enable them for a better learning environment, but I could clearly see what was involved here.
That’s when I let go of my ‘I’. And it was a relief!
With every new effort that now emerged was not submerged in the ‘I’. It was through this particular learning that I was able to bring in my authentic self in the classroom and not the teacher that ‘ought’ to be. This created an open space of two-way sharing and learning.
Now, when my Teach For India journey has ended and I am part of another space, I still go back to this learning again and again. The question which I hold with me and I reflect upon, whenever I am on such a cross-road is ‘Who is playing the bigger part here? Is it the purpose of the action or the purpose of the ‘I’?’
2. Love is the answer. Always.
Nope! This one didn’t come easy. When some 80 children are screaming at the top of their voices or when one child starts a riot in middle of the English lesson or when new volunteers come to take a workshop in the class and at that very moment, a fight begins between two groups of 15 boys each, nope, love doesn’t feel like an answer.
During the classroom teaching or through informal conversations, I saw how difficult it was for children to receive or show love. I observed that their way of doing it was either through hitting someone or they loved also the ones that they got disappointed from. There were no positive reactions to even handshakes or high fives! The children wore their emotions on their sleeve and that included both the calm and peace as well as the intense emotions. I love my children dearly, and I got to thinking as to how do I manifest it or model it out in the classroom that it becomes a safe space for all children. I was trying to see how can these children, and not I, enable each other through love? What can create that space for them? What is needed to change the mindset that the children have towards not only themselves but each other?
That’s when we did our first classroom activity through a reflective learning circle, Life Maps. It was a Saturday and I had asked all children to get colored sheets and crayons or paints or sketches, whatever they like. They were brimming with excitement. You can try that too, tell any group of children to get colored sheets and colors and they will go crazy! You have my word.
As the children took out their sheets and colors, I asked them to sit in a circle, preferably with children who they do not interact with on a daily basis. They started looking here and there since this was the first time they were doing this and they probably thought that their teacher is making them do something that they would not like. But they trusted me and the process anyway.
They sat down. Took out their sheets and colors. And listened.
The next steps involved picking and drawing the three most important events from your life that changed it drastically. They could be positive and negative. They understood and we got to draw. The drawing could be anyway, in a pattern, through scribbles, through cuttings, whatever the heart and hand, wanted to draw.
After 25 mins, we all came back. And that’s when I realized something extremely important. It struck upon me that if I had to open their hearts to receiving and sharing love, I would have to break open mine too. And that’s what I had not been doing openly. I appreciated them, loved them and was proud of them but how often was I showing it? How clearly was I sating not through my actions but words and phrases too?
I started sharing them. About the first abuse on the hands on my cousin, the time when my parents got divorced and the time, when I met the most wonderful people of my life who enabled me to become a better and more self-loving version of myself. While I was sharing my story, I broke down. And my children started crying with me. They could relate, not to the situations, but to the emotions I was feeling.
We went in a circle sharing about our lives and I saw children opening their hearts like never before. Their eyes were truthful, their emotions too intense and their love, it was out in the open like a fresh wound wanting to be tended. As children shared, they learned about each other’s stories and what is most important to them.
After the session, they went forward and hugged each other. Now, that part I had not said, because I myself am not a hugger. But they came and hugged me anyway because I think they knew, that I needed comforting at that moment too. These lessons, of opening up and loving unconditionally, to share authentically and finding love deep within, I owe these to my children.
Community Manager, Slow School