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Last Day of Institute…On the Path

The final day of Summer School at Institute has dawned. I don’t remember the last time I woke up to so many mixed emotions. I am glad that the intense schedules are going to ease up a little after today. I am tense about how the kids are going to handle the Performance Task for which I feel so unprepared. I am feeling sad that I have no clue about when I may get to meet the kids again, and about whether I will ever get to meet them at all. I am mildly frustrated about the fact that my laptop has crashed and I have not been able to blog for over ten days now. I am already feeling some premature nostalgia about Institute. And on top of this, I am also feeling a bit sleepy given that I have continued to sleep so little over the past few days. But anyway, I woke up a little past 5.30 am and got ready quickly.

The morning huddle before we got on to the bus involved the Fellows listing out the things that we’ll miss when we leave campus in a couple of days, and the things that we’re looking forward to when we get back to the city. Well, that didn’t help my premature nostalgia. However, I quickly recovered, since the Performance task was due to happen in about an hour from then.

The performance task is basically like the final act of the summer school – the culmination of all the learning that has taken place in the classroom over the past twenty days. An act that the children perform for their parents, friends and members of the community. Honestly, I believe that I could have done so much more for the children had I been at my best. The children are to present a plan of their dream city, and explain the features of the city, and why they planned it that way. My team also rewrote a few lines of the song ‘This little light of mine’ to align it with the theme of the presentation. The kids have barely had time to practice, and most of my children are not very eloquent when it comes to the English language. I wasn’t sure about how much of the content and context the children were able to absorb throughout the summer school because half the time was invested into behaviour management issues in class. But, boy, like most things about Institute, was I in for a surprise!

The parents assembled in class at the designated time. The first child who was to start off the presentation stood up and started talking in the best English he could. I was standing outside the classroom and nervously waiting and watching. And then, the children just rocked it! Ashok sensed immediately that most of the parents were not able to relate to the language he was using, and immediately started translating the content to Hindi, on the fly! I was clapping like a kid watching his favourite cartoon. The kids who we had trained to speak only that morning just stood up and delivered their bits with utmost confidence. When one child struggled, another child just stood up, volunteered to help and helped her complete her sentences. All of this was happening off the script. And then they sung, and oh they sung so beautifully! They were so adorable! And then, it got better! I opened up the forum, in my broken Hindi, for the parents to ask the children anything they felt like asking. The parents were quiet, and then one child after another stood up and fired away questions at the parents. “What did you like about the presentation we did today? We are willing to go out to the community and clean it up, will you join us? You heard us sing about cleanliness, now please join us in singing the song and we will teach you how”. I was awestruck, mind blown, and full of emotions when that happened! I could not have asked for more! I felt so proud of what the kids had done. And the icing on the cake was when a parent walked up to me and said that his child had learned more during the twenty days of summer school than she had learned over the four years of her school education. I am sure that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was the first time he had ever seen his daughter stand in front of a crowd and speak up, and with such conviction. I could relate to what he felt. After plenty of hugs, selfies and wishes later, we moved on to the bus and headed back to the campus.

Summer School

Doctor Dream Cloud

I sat on the bus and connected back to the Leadership Development Journey conversation my Program Manager had with me the previous night. It was a lot about what my experience at the institute was, what helped me through summer school, what could have been better,and about what my areas of strength are and what my areas of development(AoD) are. We discussed about how I can use my strengths, work on my AoDs and planned out some concrete action items to work on the same.  This actually followed another activity called ‘The story of us’, in which each of us narrated out experience at Institute to our Learning Circle members in the best way we can. There were powerpoint slides, videos, dance, poetry and narrations. And that story, combined with the LDC really helped me to reflect on what I’ve learnt at institute over the five week period.

My learning from the institute revolves a lot around two things – teaching and people.

I have had some experience of standing in front of people, delivering speeches, facilitating workshops, presenting business plans, selling products, and compering for events. But nothing compares to the feeling of standing in front of adolescent kids and trying to help them gain new skills and knowledge. Never have I planned and struggled so much to hold the attention of a few people I am addressing. I am so glad for the highly structured, engaging and focused IT sessions that helped me get a hang of what teaching is like, before I walked into the classroom as a full time teacher. As much as we all despise the highly detailed Lesson plans that we do for every single class that we conduct, there is so much thought and structure that has gone into formulating it, and it is worth it’s weight in gold. I’d be lost without it. The heavy emphasis on understanding adolescent children, their experiences, the way they relate to the world, how they respond to various things and the issues they face, is one of the most insightful things that I have learned.

The community visit and overnight stay helped me tremendously to understand the context of where the kids are coming from and the different factors that influence their thought process and actions. I can say with conviction that it is one of the most productive things I’ve done over the entire five week period. And now that I know which school and class I am going to teach in Chennai, community visits to understand the children is one of the first things I’ll work on. I’ve been having several conversations with the previous fellow about the same. To summarize, the knowledge and skills that I believe I’ve acquired in terms of teaching, has set a great platform for me to launch myself into the Fellowship with utmost confidence.

And the people! There’s just so much that I learn from every single person I meet here. Like I’ve mentioned before, I can be in any kind of mood at any point of time in the day and walk up to someone and strike a perfect conversation about whatever is on my mind. There’s just so much acceptance, support and alignment in thought among every person here that I almost feel that I do not want to go meet the outside world anymore. I could just go on and on at Insti, and be perfectly happy. Be my Fellows from my city or other cities, or TFI staff from any city, everyone is just so open to feedback and learning that this feels a bit like the Narnia of education! It just feels too good to be real.

But given all of this, I think that the one core message that I will be taking away from my institute experience is the fact that learning can never be restricted to a certain set of people or to a set of experiences. Learning is not a destination, but a beautiful journey, with a fair share ups and downs and roundabouts. But, when you are taking the road less traveled, you might as well be prepared for the most unexpected, yet brilliant experiences. And so I begin my lifelong journey of learning. I believe that I am well and truly, on the path.

Originally posted on Arun’s blog: http://amselvan.info/. Visit to read more about his experience at Institute. All photos taken by author. 

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