My first time visit to a Teach for India classroom
I joined Teach for India as staff this week and as part of induction to the organisation, the HR team organised a classroom visit for me at National English School located in Lallubhai Compound, Govandi.
For those unaware about Mumbai’s Govandi area, it mostly houses low-income people and also constitutes one of the metropolitan’s oldest and largest dumping grounds. National English School is located in two separate buildings of a rehabilitated slum compound and with the heavy downpour of rain that morning, I was required to ask for directions until I found Building number 19.
There were two neighbouring rooms on the first floor that were rented out to the schools. The first classroom I walked past was not being attended by any teacher and so I peeked into the second classroom and this is where I met Roma Kalani. Roma is a second year fellow and was simultaneously managing the two classrooms of Std 8th and Std 9th as I walked in.
While Roma seemed quite comfortable with the scenario, the task of managing two classrooms of 40 students single-handedly sounded challenging to me. She explained how she had grown accustomed to this situation as the school is short staffed and sometimes the other teachers called in sick.
As I entered the class all the students stood from their benches to greet me Good Morning and I spent the next 3 hours observing Roma teach Geometry and English Grammar to both her classes, but more amusingly, in my time I learned about the cordial and multi-faceted relation that these kids had developed with their teacher.
At first, just after the students sat down after greeting me they followed a drill of counting down to 10 and clapping their hands until the last person removed his or her book to start studting the new subject. Similarly I noticed how Roma had created a drill for most of the routine tasks and after their mid-day break, the ritual for the students was to close their eyes for about 2 minutes before resuming class again. As all the students were included in performing these together they were all on the same page with what was going on in class and so was I!
The students were all attentive and participative in class. They raised their hands to ask questions and instead of referring to Roma as Miss, they called her ‘Didi’. This in itself reflected the connection they had developed with their teacher.
During class the kids were assigned to work together and peer to peer consultation was encouraged. While I was overlooking some of the geometry the kids had been tasked, or let’s say just making sure they don’t hurt themselves with their tool kits while drawing lines; I saw some family members come visit Roma outside of class to have a word with her. Now this told me that she was not just involved with these children in her classrooms but also outside her classroom.
During this time the noise from the neighbouring class was on the rise but a few drills and tasks assigned by Didi, they seemed to be back on track.
As my visit was just the day after the demise of Former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Roma had prepared a special class to talk to the students about the man. As part of the session, she showed a video by holding her Macbook up in front of the classroom and all the students came forward in their 10 seconds clapping drill. She focused on the value of ‘perseverance’ from the video and during intervals had open discussions about the subject after which they all observed a minute of silence to pay respect. I was explained by Roma that ‘Perseverance’ was the value picked by her class.
Just in her second year at this school, I was left amazed to see how skilled Roma was in her inculcation and dealing with her students just so that the students make education their utmost prioroty.
At one point the noise from the neighbouring 9th Std Class was getting louder and this time Roma had to intervene a bit more seriously. After a logical debate about a trivial issue and some emotional talk the students were back to their books.
In the last 20 mins of school, students picked their own subjects to improve on and I sat reading English outside the class to a few students who had joined school recently and needed to bring their level of English in par with the rest of the class.
After school was over, another ritual takes place where some of the students walk Roma to her rickshaw and according to Roma they do not miss a single day.
I jumped into the rickshaw too and went along to a nearby restaurant in Chembur where she sometimes treats her students.
Over lunch we spoke about how both of us came to start working with Teach for India and after learning about Roma’s journey I wondered if all Fellows were this interesting?
Just to take her for example, prior to teaching in a low-income school she was working at one of the top consultancies in the world and holds degrees in Computer Engineering and Art Direction. Now that she had discovered her love for teaching, she plans to study further in the field of Education.
Now after that morning I couldn’t help but be awe-struck by what I had experienced.
Teach for India aspires to solve the education crises in our country by building leaders for tomorrow and after my first classroom visit, I can surely say I have met one of the future leaders of education.