On Teaching

Teaching is so exhausting.

I only teach for about two hours a day (another 30-60 minutes for lesson planning) but it takes so much out of me that I don’t know how teachers do it all day. I have loads of respect to those that manage it. Particularly those who manage to go a whole day without some sort of liquor midday. Which I suppose is frowned upon in most cultures.

The classes here are very informal, so the students who show up might be completely different from one day to the next. Which means that half the time my lesson plan that I prepared for the day is useless because it was created with the students the day before in mind and the students I actually get aren’t at that level yet. Most of my actual lesson plans are improvised on the fly, with some mixed results.
Each class has about half a dozen to a dozen women in it, and if the children’s class is combined with the women’s class that usually doubles the amount (though we almost always have less than twenty people total). And every one of them is at a different level (spectrum ranging from has had several years of English in school to absolute zero), so I’m often teaching to two levels (sometimes more) at once. Many of the women are illiterate in Hindi. They can’t even write their own name in their native language and here I am teaching them English. It’s heart breakingly frustrating to teach the English alphabet as a second language when they can’t write and read their own. Which would probably be more useful to them, on a day to day level.

For awhile, we split the 10 am class into women and children, with one volunteer with each class. The 11 am class usually has less children, so they’ve always been together. After Dharmasala that was mixed up for awhile, then it was back to normal, but now with just me (which it looks like it might be like that for the rest of April), it’s back to being mixed up. I frankly don’t know why we’re teaching the children at all. I mean, I know why, they want to learn, but I’m here to teach women – and young women. Not children under 10. The children also continue to be the most frustrating thing about my job.
Many of them have had formal education so they’re more advanced than the women and like to show off, answer for the women, talk over the women, and interrupt me mid speaking/lecture with a “MemMemMemMemMem [Look at my Notebook] MemMemMem.”
If I never hear Mem again, it will be too soon.
(I’ll hear it tomorrow, and every day I teach, until I leave India.)
The young boys are particularly bad at this (and the usual culprits), though there is one teenage girl in the 11 o’clock class that is too advanced for the class and has a habit of teaching for me. She’ll translate the instructions, which is helpful, but what is not helpful is when she keeps on talking… over me. She’s often wrong, too, which is even more frustrating. I spoke sharply with her several times today and very nearly threw her out of the class when she didn’t change.
You would think throwing a kid out of the class would be the easy answer to them being disruptive: it’s not, their mothers are the women I’m trying to really reach. You might think I lack an ability to hold down a classroom. I’m not experienced, but I can imagine even an experienced teacher having difficulty doing it in a setting with no structure where you don’t [really] speak the language of the students. (Also, when you’re adverse to the common practice of so many Indian teachers which involves a bit more of a… uhhh, stronger hand. Some volunteers have had their Indian counterparts encourage them to hit the students. When that’s established as okay, it’s even harder to maintain control without that as a threat.)

Anyway. I do my best to teach something while everyone is talking and children are shoving notebooks in my face and babies are crying and toddlers are peeing on the classroom floor.
I get through to them, sometimes. I desperately wish that this project had more structure and truly was just women (and girls). I feel like I’d be able to make more progress. Especially since they really do want to learn. They’re the first students I’ve ever encountered that actually ask for homework.

And more people want to learn than I have time to teach them. I think the entire neighbourhood would turn out if they could. This morning I was walking through the near-slum alone, with the whiteboard tucked under my arm, deftly avoiding the cow shit (I care less about the goat pebbles) and sewage streams. They know me in both neighbourhoods. Or of me, at least. They know that I’m connected to some free English classes, they see me every day and a few of them try to chat me up a bit. Today I was stopped by a particularly wisened grandmother, who pushed her tweleve year old granddaughter toward me, gesturing and speaking in Hindi, asking if her granddaughter could join the class.

I felt my head wobble a bit (I’ve gotten that quirk down, it will be a bizarre one to have on the streets of Dublin or Paris). “It’s okay.” I said in Hindi. “Let’s go.” The girl kept pace with me for the next few blocks. “What is your name?” I asked her.
“My name is [I’ve already forgotten].”
“My name is Amy.”
She grinned. “It is a good name. Do I need a notebook and a pen?”
“Yes, if you have them.”
And then, I suppose assuming that because I had managed the Hindi thus far, she started chattering a mile a minute at the universal speed of preteen girls.
For once, I was kind of glad to say “Tora Tora Hindi.”


P.S. I’m feeling better.
As I told the landlady, Kamlesh, when she asked me in Hindi about my loose motion. I also said I’m feeling better when Mamta’s father asked me about my loose motion. And when Ashish, Mamta’s brother asked me about my loose motion. (Imagine: “[Hindi Hindi Hindi] loose motion?”)

There’s beans every day now! And fresh vegetables! Cucumbers are in season now. I didn’t realize how much I loved them until I saw them on the dinner table and nearly squealed. The current project is getting Mamta to set aside a bit of the cucumber and radish for me before she dumps salt and chat masala on it. Blech. All and all, it has been somewhat more healthy (a notable exception being the deep fried white bread she served for breakfast this morning), though I don’t know if that’s because of my email to the director or because both her brothers and her father are visiting for a week long religious festival that’s going on right now. Because of all the family, I’ve been using my Hindi a lot more than I usually do. I think that if I had been the only volunteer and living with that whole gang, of whom only Mamta speaks English, my Hindi would be a lot better than it actually is.

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