Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Library Setup - First Steps

One of the major reasons our kids are reading much below their supposed grade level is that their exposure to print after they leave school is almost negligible. Their only print sources are their school textbooks. No newspapers, no comics. Textbooks can be boring and some of their content is too high for independent reading. Some of them just do not inspire interest. 

Last year, Anish and I had participated in the Give India challenge where we wanted to raise money for our classrooms. Multiple people stepped forward and contributed generously. A lot of them contributed with books and stationery. Students of Bombay International school went ahead and even conducted a drive for us. They collected so much that I was overloaded with material. The auto-driver was scared that these big cartons wouldn't fit. We got Childcraft series, encyclopedias, story books, puzzles and novels.
Seeing all these books in a heap in my room, I kept pondering about a system to make all of this accessible to my students. I couldn't just go about handing books randomly in class. Where's the accountability? There's no way for me to see how much the kids have learnt. That's when I decided that I want to open a place where all these books are visible and accessible. They learn to read for pleasure, for information and on their own.

We did research, spoke to parents and searched for places in the slum to open a library. Accessibility was a major concern since people are apprehensive about sending kids (especially girls) in some farther parts. So was protection from rain (flooding and leakage). After months of deliberation, hunting and talks, we have finally decided upon a place. It's very close to school on the first floor. It's not very big. Maybe 10 X 15 feet.  
A coat of paint is definitely in order. We need to install a couple of tube-lights

We need to decide about layout. Too many questions. Cupboards, lockers or shelves? Tall shelves which next to the walls to increase seating or small, movable shelves for easy access? It has slabs for a kitchen which cannot be removed which we'll use as a table. 
Once we get this done, organizing books is something that I am really looking forward to. Though cataloging them doesn't look too tempting. We also need to decide on lists of magazines and newspapers that we'll get. Suggestions for children's magazines/newspapers are most welcome. Times of India is not allowed. :) 

Again, a big thanks to all the donors who contributed financially, in kind and in effort. Updates will be there when we get the library up and running. As you would expect, running a library is going to require money and man-hours. The rent for the place is almost Rs.3000 per month. The security deposit is Rs.30,000. Painting and layout costs extra. While I will be happy if you opened this blog once in a while, we need all the support we can get. If you would like to contribute in any capacity or have further queries, my email is prachur.goel2011@teachforindia.org

Let the show begin!

Part 2 is up. It's a photostory!
  1. We have signed the lease and are in-charge of this place starting today :-D
  2. One of my friends has agreed to bear the rent post October this year. Another good friend is sponsoring Rs.10,000 for other miscellaneous expenditures. 
These contributions really come to our help and we need a lot of those. All over the country.

There are a couple of new pictures.

A Better picture of the room

View from the outside. The orange door is the entrance and then a narrow flight of stairs.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Second year begins strictly

Second year of Teach for India fellowship started 3 weeks ago and I was looking forward to starting the school on the first day this time around. I saw the Ron Clarke story in April. I was inspired. The movie is fantastic. As we had differentiated our students on the basis of their English reading levels, the inspired me decided to spend more time with the lower group and get them closer to grade level. I wanted to build motivation and get systems in place starting day 1. And so....I started with 'We are all a family.'

I spent time on rules and my expectations. First 2-3 days were really good. The behaviour in my class was around the mark where I wanted it to be. I had learnt my lesson from last year and started the year on a much stricter note rather than a crowd-pleasing one. I was strict with my rules. I still am. However, the behaviour has not gone along the lines I had planned it would. There are times when it's downright chaotic in class now. I feel that I have gone wrong somewhere. 

One thing that I have stuck to is high expectations. At least academically. I am going to make sure that each and every child is working in my class. Unless you are sick or absent, there's no escaping work done in class. There are students in class who can't read (or very little) despite being in school for about 6-7 years. They have conditioned themselves to believe that they are not going to learn anything in class. Since they have been in Teach for India classrooms for the past two years which forbids corporal punishment, they have taken it as an opportunity to not even force themselves to do work. As a result, they wouldn't even bother to take out textbooks in class whereas the same kids will scramble to copy homework somehow for Hindi or Marathi. They believe that they are not even expected to do work or they can get away without doing it. (I wonder if we have somehow enhanced their lackadaisical attitude towards work and given them freedom.)

Well, they were in for a surprise. A luxury that morning school allows is that it's possible to hold the kids back after school. Something that was not possible earlier when school ended at 5pm and the building had to shut down. So.... If you have not finished work, you are not going home. Period. I explained this point to the parents during our parent teacher meeting and got their support. Let the show begin.

On the second day, I held back some students. They were surprised and wanted to go home. No way! We'll stay back and work until you finish your work. I don't care how long it takes. I am not going home. Neither are you. If you are hungry, let's finish work fast. If you plan on continuing like this, get extra tiffin from tomorrow. We can even do a sleepover. Let your parents come. They and I have a chat overdue anyway.

They were my weakest students. Until they had finished writing the 5 picture story in their own words (with my help of course), they had to stick with it. They complained, cribbed and sulked. Some refused to write. Some said that they'll do it at home. They were falling on deaf ears. Successes - Each one of them wrote something. They learnt new words. They tried spelling things. They drew. They wrote a story. And they went home.

It has happened few more times after that. I can see the kids learning when I spend time with them after school. Most of the time, it is just to get them to work. Some of them write in class now. After all, everyone likes their lunch on time. Especially if you are an 11 year old. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Terry-Pratchett go backpacking: 1-Snippets

During our summer vacation (perks of being a teacher), Tarang (hence referred to as TJ) and I went backpacking across Vietnam and Cambodia for 2 weeks. If you are confused about the title, read on - 

Velkommen Backpackers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia - 
TJ and I are sharing a dorm with a few British, an American and a Canadian. Inevitably, we ask each other's names. Tarang's name goes through many attempts of Traang and Taraang. One person asks if they can call him Terry. 
When it's my turn, they echo "Richard?"
Me - "I was born Hindu and in India. I am NOT Richard for sure." 
We go through a few more attempts until a close enough compromise is reached. 
One British - "You know, if put your names together, you get the name of a famous British author."
TJ and I - "Who?"
Answer - Terry Pratchett. Hence the title. 

Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai - 
Our flight's departure is scheduled at 6:35 AM. While giving us our boarding pass, the girl at the counter asks us - "Please board the flight at 5:30 AM."
I raise my eyebrows - "Ek ghanta pehle kya karenge plane me!" (What'll we do one hour before?)
TJ - "Arey! Late jaayenge re." (Dude! We'll board late man.)
The girl looks at us and starts to say something that sounded like we would get in trouble etc.
I look at her, smile and cut her off - "You didn't hear that."      
Smoooth, right!

Despite our attempts to explore the closed stores and go late for boarding, we still manage to end up sitting and waiting for the boarding to start. As is mandatory for idle talk between men, it shifts to women. TJ is talking about one of his recent infatuations. However, all is not perfect with her. There's one minor glitch. 
TJ - "Arey! Uska head is to shoulder ratio ajeeb hai."  (Her head is to shoulder ratio is weird.)
WTF! These are going to be very interesting next few days. 

Air Asia Flight to Hanoi, Bangkok Airport
We are sitting on the flight to Hanoi at 5:30 AM. After spending 2-3 hours at the airport trying to keep awake I am rethinking our decision to book morning flights. Add the fact that we had to change flights because the first flight had some temperature issues and we are late by one hour at the beginning of our trip. Since I have decided to try and maintain a travel journal, I take it out. (I don't think I have written anything on it after we left Vietnam. So much for decision.)
Me - "Arey Tarang! Aaj subah kuch interesting hua?"  (Tarang, did anything interesting happen today?)
TJ - "Bandiyon se baat karne ki koshish ki aur nahin hui." (We tried to talk to girls but couldn't.)
Me, in a very matter-of-fact, nonchalant tone - "So anything apart from the usual?"

This trip holds much promise. Let's see if we do anything apart from the usual. Coming up on next few Terry-Pratchett adventures - Encounter with Vietnam Immigration authorities, Creepy white guy in Bangkok (not at all unusual) ...