Tutoring an Einstein can change the world!
Can it? Well, to put that to test, I joined Teach for India as a Fellow.
I started teaching in Acharya Vinoba Bhave secondary school in Pune. This school run by Akanksha Foundation is unique in three ways:
- It doesn’t charge a single penny from students;
- It was created to help students continue their education – students who otherwise could have dropped out as there are way fewer schools in Secondary and even in a city like Pune students have to drop out of school after Grade 7 because of lack of schools;
- The students here come from very challenging backgrounds.
Today, whatever I know, it’s because I was fortunate to attend a school like Mount Assisi School. In about half a century, the school has changed the face of education in my hometown, Bhagalpur, Bihar. Before I was about to join Teach for India, I met my school’s principal, Fr Jose Thekel. He told me that my students would love the subject I teach ONLY if they love me!
Life should be about getting better. When I was teaching a group of students for competitive exams before joining Teach For India, I realised that anyone who has good command over Grade 9 and 10 Math could find it easier to crack competitive exams. With this observation, I joined Teach for India and requested that I be given Grade 9 and 10 to teach.
Math probably was a ticket out of poverty
One incident that had a very strong impact on my students was this: on one of the days, I had to travel to Bangalore to attend a meeting and then come back to school. I had given them a test, and they were aware that I was going to have a packed day – flights and meetings. When I came back the next day, I first showed them my boarding pass and the schedule in Bangalore. I then handed over to them their corrected sheets of paper. I can never forget the expression they had. Since they could see I was doing my best to help them out, they joined me.
Kids would invite me home to discuss math. In the last weeks to the exam, I would travel across the city to clear their doubts. In Somwar Pet, I would meet my student Awaze and his friends, clear their doubts and then rush to KK Market Lakshmi Nagar to clear Naveen and group’s doubts! Sometimes it would be over the phone. One of my students once asked, “Bhaiya, yeh toh Dangal style tha ek dum!”
When I joined Teach for India, I fell sick and had to take a month-long break. When I returned, I was committed to taking minimum leaves after that. So, even when I would be very unwell, had fever etc., I would still go to the school to teach. My students empathised with this. I feel blessed to have such students who cared for me as they would care for their family members!
Salman comes from a family of limited resources. He is good with numbers. He would share that he was ‘satisfied’ with 70-75 in Math. I could see he deserved a lot more. We started working on numbers. We spoke about IIMs and how speed mattered. The boy would work harder, and after a point, his speed and accuracy improved a lot. He wants to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I wish he does – he deserves it! Salman realised what he was capable of and that being ‘satisfied’ was not a virtue. We also worked on the ‘sense of possibility’ and what future holds for him if he has that hunger for it. Salman landed up scoring a 94/100 in Math in the 10th grade this year.
We all listen to people we connect with! A pat on the back, a hug, a greeting, visiting them, knowing their struggles and their moments of pride, letting them know that we care, that we’re there not to ‘finish’ the syllabus but to educate them – these things meant a lot to my students. On the last day, my principal told me that marks are a part of the journey, but the love that I have got from my students is the real treasure!
How did I teach Math to kids?
For both content and confidence, we needed to work very hard. When I had joined, even basic addition and subtraction was not in place for students. I salute my students for their hard work. They would even brave winters and be at the school at 7:15 in the morning for Math extra classes! They would be taking up tests every single day! Math became their favourite subject over a period of time.
Concepts are difficult to build. Personal connections have worked wonders. What matters equally is real-life connections over concepts. When I had to teach variables and constants, I simply wrote “1+4x=?”. I had all kinds of answers to it – 5x, 5, 1, 4x and so on.
I asked them if I had walked for 4 kilometres and drank a litre of water, would I say that I had walked for 5 kilometres? Or would I say that I have drunk 5 litres of water? I would say, 1 litre of water and 4 kilometres. Since ‘x’ is a variable and variables can take any value, the real value would not be decided until we have the value taken by ‘x’. Lots of real life problems on taxis and telephone followed! For example, an auto would charge Rs 18 for 1.5 kilometres and then Rs 2 per 100m. How much would one have to pay for 7 kilometres?
While introducing Coordinate Geometry, I was asked by a curious student why two axes to represent a single point. I immediately drew a rough sketch of the world map on the board. And a line almost through the centre was drawn horizontally. The students were shown how a HORIZONTAL line passing through say Delhi would also pass through a city in Pakistan, in China, in Afghanistan and further! So we also needed a vertical line to point a city. How co-ordinate and Geography were connected seemed interesting to them. It was easier for them to understand time differences and why 1-degree longitude represented 4 minutes’ time difference (also why latitudes did not influence time difference).
Comparing Nagasaki Nuclear Bomb to a lightening strike, they could calculate that one bomb released energy equivalent to 84,000 lightning strikes in a single go. They compared the energy released during the 2004 tsunami to a nuclear bomb only to find out that it was equal to 23,000 times an atomic bomb! That’s how exponents were taught to them.
In 1.5 years, the class had a 22-point jump! In their 10th grade exams this year, 15% of the class has crossed 90%, 35% of the class has scored 85% and above, 55% of the class has crossed 80%, and 80% of the class has a distinction in Math.
Right from using Bollywood songs to teach them Trigonometry to learning a little about ‘21’, hollywood movie for probability, interest levels were kept high in Math!
– Satyam Mishra was a 2015-2017 Teach For India fellow.