From Port Blair to a South Mumbai Community
2015 Teach For India Fellow Vishaal, working in a school in South Mumbai, shifted into his students’ community, Jijamata Nagar slum area in Worli, earlier this year in order to deepen his impact as a teacher. Vishaal, who grew up in Port Blair, rented a modest place in the community to allow him to continue to support the children with their education outside of the limited school hours and gain a greater understanding of the challenges the children face in their community. He took with him educational materials and games to support the children, and a few possessions to make his place comfortable.
Vishaal described his primary aim as to establish his place as a work centre, where his students could come do their homework, play a few vocabulary building games, and seek clarification on elements of the lessons they had not understood in class. Vishaal said it took a few weeks, but soon the kids started to use his place effectively, using the encyclopaedia he brought with him and getting together to play a game of ‘Taboo’ or read a few books.
Vishaal is always looking for new techniques to support his students- and one such technique is forming after-school study groups that foster student leadership. He divided his class into study circles of 6-7 based on geographical proximity. His vision for study circles was for the students to meet at a student’s house, revise what was taught in school and complete any homework. Any doubts which they may have had in class would be cleared in the circle. Initially the study circles had facilitators to lead, but the ultimate goal is eliminate the need for a facilitator. Vishaal piloted this with one group, which in itself was challenging but he eventually helped the children to understand the purpose of the group and after some weeks the study circle was functioning effectively. He maintained rigorous data collection and found, after mapping this study circle’s weekly test averages against the rest of his class students’ averages he found significant growth amongst those children.
Vishaal embodies the commitment and leadership that Teach For India aims to develop in all Fellows. Vishaal chose to move into the community, and has overcome considerable personal challenges in order to achieve his goals of creating a greater impact on the children’s education. He has piloted new approaches and uses rigorous data (he is from an engineering background) to create evidence for what he creates.
Here’s his account of his journey:
“I live in Jijamata Nagar, a community in Lalbaug which is as Marathi as an area could be. I decided in February 2016 that staying far away in a swanky apartment was not going to bring a life-changing impact for my students. I decided to move into Jijamata to ‘listen’ before I ‘speak’ and hence to ‘learn’ before I ‘teach’. I’ve learnt more about my country in past 8 months than in my previous 22 years.
Apart from the students themselves, even the families have started responding to my presence. For about a week after moving in I ate dinner at a student’s place everyday. The students did not realize their parents were cognizant of the fact that me moving in was a sign of wanting to make a difference. They started sharing their problems with me and now often seek my advice when it comes to educational decisions for their children
However the biggest impact of me moving here has been on me. It’s the context that I have gained that has changed me and the type of teacher I am today”