Being a fellow (teacher) at Teach for India was the best time ever. It was in no way ‘comfortable’ but definitely a short span of about 20 months that I would cherish all my life. I am here to share my views with respect to two major aspects:
a. When I say that the students I taught are inspirational and have a very challenging background, what do I actually mean?
b. Does a teacher really learn from his/her students? If yes, what exactly and how?
With 50 crore citizens below the age of 25, India is the ‘youngest’ country and will have a great future if the young India that we have turns out to be a Brave India too.
Presenting to you what in my view defines ‘The Brave New India’, borrowing a leaf out of the lives of a few Brave New Indians, I happen to teach!
Nitesh and Vaishnavi come from families that have a difficult time managing finances. What is inspirational about the two of them is how they join in to contribute to their family – financially and/or morally.
“I sold newspaper every morning” – common between Nitesh, one of my students, and his idol Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In a lot of ways he reminded me of our very own ‘People’s President’. Nitesh was brave – he never used this information for sympathy. He was proud of what he was doing to support his family and we were equally proud of his work, calibre and attitude. Understanding the power of math and science he once remarked, “Bhaiya, APJ did not fire a single bullet still gave our country a nuclear umbrella, something way more powerful and efficient”. On being asked if he supported Nuclear Weapons, to my surprise he called it a ‘deterrent’.
What Nitesh taught me: Be proud of what you do, work hard in silence and let your success make noise.
Vaishnavi Kapse would please everyone with her manners. Her mother is a single parent and works for about 12 hours every single day doing two different jobs (a receptionist at a Hospital in Mundhwa and Medical Coding at Kalyani Nagar) so that Vaishnavi has a comfortable life. Respecting her mother’s work, she would work even harder. She would be the first one to come to school every single day at 7:15 AM. She would remain in school for long hours and keep practising all that she had learnt. She would reach home so late at times that it got me worried.
What Vaishnavi taught me: Caring for someone who cares for you (like Vaishnavi genuinely respects her mother) only gets you onto a better path.
It is a huge loss when your loved ones pass away. Its an even greater loss for kids to see their father’s declining health and then his demise. Praful and Asmita had to go through this terrible time but it only made them stronger and made their fight for the rights of widows and against addiction a personal one. Their outlook towards society and its challenges changed and without even actually realising, they became responsible citizens at such a tender age.
Asmita was very attached to her father, Balasaheb Bhole, a very respected man in his community. He suffered paralysis when Asmita was in grade 3. She had been taking care of her father for all these years until one unfortunate day after being paralysed for seven long years, he passed away. Asmita attended her school even on that day. After a few days passed, she told me, “I need to work harder for my father now. I carry his name.” Math was never her strength but fortunately in her words “our connection” and her genuine commitment made her score a respectable 81 (the highest among all her subjects). Asmita’s mother works as a nurse and she has seen the trouble she had to go through just because Asmita’s father started keeping unwell. She has a brilliant vision on how she wants to help women like her mother.
What Asmita taught me: You believe the kid and he/she won’t disappoint. It would also help the student understand his/her own hidden strengths.
Prafull Dhiwar lost his father when he was in Grade 3. Since then life would have been difficult for him to a certain degree but he never made anyone feel so. The coolest student I had, he would always give the most intelligent answers in class. Probability attracted him the most and 21 was undoubtedly one of his most favourite movies. I saw Prafull giving up on education after he was asked to star in some local advertisement. We had long conversations and Prafull understood that one cannot be left for the other and that both were equally important. Taking lessons seriously and applying the best he could, he got an 83/100 in Math. Prafull lost his father to alcohol abuse, something he is sensitive about. He wants to voice his support for anti-addiction and has always vowed to use all his strength to help this cause.
What Prafull taught me: Choosing the right path is important. Being sensitive to a cause that has affected makes one a responsible citizen.
As the saying goes, health is wealth. Some of my students had a difficult time. I call them brave for a reason. I genuinely have the highest regards for Champalal and Vaibhavi as I would not have managed things so well had I been in their place. They fought their greatest fears and never complained. Leading by example is what they taught people who knew them!
Champalal Parmar was one of the brightest kids in the class having great command over all subjects. In grade 9th, when I had started teaching him, ‘Champ’ as I would address him, was the 2nd topper with 98% attendance. He fell ill in Grade 10th and had to miss 2-3 months of instructional classes. He never gave up! Resilience is his middle name. He kept trying his best to improve and despite health not supporting him, Champ cleared his Grade 10th with First Class result. I remember we had Math Exam close to Holi. I would conduct extra classes for both the papers (Algebra and Geometry). We would be in the school for straight 6-8 hours revising the entire book (that paid off). Given Champ wasn’t keeping well, I would tell him in private that he was free to leave if he felt uncomfortable. He NEVER did. He worked as hard as he could and did not miss out on a single minute revision on all the ‘extra’ 4 days of revision.
What Champ taught me: Never give up attitude is cool and equally rewarding. Chase your troubles and it never is going to haunt you again.
Vaibhavi Ahir had always been good with numbers to an extent that her classmates would say with pride that she had solved her entire grade 8th Math book all on her own (with almost no help from her teacher) in just a few months. Epilepsy had always troubled her, even during her board exams. Vaibhavi had always been very poised and a true fighter. Vaibhavi’s father was an artist and unfortunately, he couldn’t get the success he had wanted which made him quit his job.
Vaibhavi’s mother works for straight 11 hours as a therapist at Kothrud and Shivajinagar to support her and her younger brother. They have a beautiful relationship at home and empathy is a value to be learnt – they understand each other’s problems and genuinely appreciate the strengths each one bank on. Vaibhavi owes everything to her mother who was instrumental in getting her admission to a good school.
What Vaibhavi taught me: Understand people, especially the ones who are closest to you. Respect them for being there. Focusing on your strengths and knowing your weaknesses, help you make the best choices in life.
The students come from challenging background and the common trait is that they don’t complain or ask for sympathy. No excuse policy seems to present a very bright phase. They work hard, love what they do and keep fighting to get better. For me, them fighting against all odds makes them even greater achievers.
Dedicating this to my students – the face of ‘Brave New India’
Disclaimer: I, Satyam Mishra, have personally reached out to every single student of mine and got their consent to include the details of their challenges and their really inspiring reflections. I request the readers to be empathetic towards it. The video shared in the article was shot by Teach for India under it’s learning process – Transformational Impact Journey.