Let’s break some ice – A volunteer’s initial impressions

By Priyank Pillai,a newly recruited volunteer to MAD Mangalore.

I have always loved teaching.

Be it conducting review classes on Ordinary Differential Equations or elucidating the finer points of Van Gogh’s turbulent relationship with Paul Gaugin, teaching – particularly when it is done in the form of a Socratic seminar – has always been an electrifying experience for me.

To those who have never taught before, it is difficult to describe what the feeling is like, but imagine being directly connected to the collective brilliance of all the minds in a room – it is a sensation that is both transcendental and indescribably addictive.

I’ve known from a fairly young age that I was meant to be a teacher: I was the perpetual teacher’s the pet, the conscientious student who made sure the whole class was on the same page, the reliable friend who you could count on to explain things well, the guy who actually cared enough to work problems with you over and over until you were sure you got it, and as I grew older, the rebel philosopher who openly questioned things and steered entire discussions.

Naturally, the instant I heard about Make a Difference and the organization’s efforts to bring English to life for kids from struggling backgrounds, I simply knew I had to be a part of it.

And so, I applied.

What essentially followed next remains something of a daze for me –  I vaguely remember a series of interviews and training sessions in which we, the potential volunteers, alternated between states of excitation and apprehension, like some hitherto complacent group of electrons whip-lashed into quantal overdrive.

Memories of those sessions have grown a little dim with time, but every now and then I find myself recalling with absolute clarity the impressive – almost feral – presentation skills of our English Head, or the super-saccharine lilting voice of our Curriculum Trainer as she described the various levels of language proficiency and the goals assigned to each group.

Apparently neurologists have shown that hyperstimulation of your limbic system (a little-understood region of the brain) can leave you in a state of sheer stupefaction…

Anyway, fast forward a few weeks later, and I was in! I had been allotted to the ‘starters’ at the St. Alloysius Boys Home –news that sent me reeling off like a firework coloring the night sky!

The dreams followed almost immediately.

I was in a classroom, discussing the difference between the present participle and gerunds, while my perfect kids assimilated this information seemingly by osmosis. They then proceeded industriously to construct grammatically flawless sentences of their own using their keen sense of intuition, as I applauded them for their linguistic virtuosity.

Onlookers peering through the windows were stunned by how deeply engaged my kids and I were with the learning process; they fell into spontaneous genuflection as our classroom ascended into intellectual immortality..

At some point, I distinctly start hearing Tchaikovsky in the background, and then I wake up. My alarm’s been going off for the past half an hour. Sunday’s arrived. It’s showtime.

“Nanage kannada thumba kashta…”

What on earth have I gotten myself into?! The Tchaikovsky playing in my mind has dissolved into utter cacophony; the calming violin music has been replaced by the frenzied beats of a mridangam. I can make out sinewy limbs running around everywhere and blinding flashes of pearly-white smiles.. I’m so lost.

Wild gesticulations ensue as I attempt to get my kids to sit around in a circle with me. Already, I have been castrated –“Priyanka! Priyanka!” they chant in unison. Any semblance of faux authoritativeness or propriety was forsaken a long time ago.

I try to get my kids to say their names, and ask them how old there are – but my English seems lost on their ears, as they shoot me quizzical looks.

Not one to give up, I start again: “My name is Priyank… (“Priyanka” chants redouble in amplitude) What is your name?” Miraculously, I get a reply this time.. “Chetan!” blurts out one bright-eyed kid.

Finally… A connection. With this grain of hope, we go around the circle, and suddenly the kids start unfurling like flowers.. “My name is Manjunathan!” “My name is Joel!” “Hi, my name is Sharun..”

One by one, they introduce themselves, and I realize then that perhaps I can do this after all. To be sure, it’ll be an uphill battle, but I count myself ready to face – possibly quoting an  age-inappropriate further-emasculating teenage pop singer here – ‘the climb.’

Like a gypsy, I wander on and on.
By the end of the session, the kids plunge into their group activity and I pause for a minute to catch my breath. It’s been a wild sixty minutes. I reflect on how fortunate I am to have Aaron –Mangalore’s own bespectacled Kannada-speaking medical student – as my partner.
He largely took over the class after my first ten minutes of alone time with them, and for my part, I tried to support him as best as I could.
Today was a good experience overall, but Greeshma, the president of MAD Mangalore can tell that it’s been particularly taxing on me – a non-Kannada speaking Mallu vagabond from afar.
Regardless, the sun continues to shine through, and I personally connect with a few more students this time – like Jeevan, who’s in Std. 7, and can speak pretty good English and knows where France is. (Mind = blown!).
Greeshma, ever-omniscient, then decides that perhaps it’ll be a more enriching experience for both me and the kids if I were placed with the Level 1 group. I concede that this might indeed be a more functional arrangement, and then, throwing all caution to the winds, I reach down deep into my own inner-kid and join the other guys for a supercharged session of Dog and the Bone. The air crackles with energy, and all fades into a symphony of laughter –bright, uplifting, and full of hope.
Learning is a two-way process.
I’ve come to realize that I need the kids as much as they need me, and not just for the Kannada-English cross-pollination. My experiences in this country, with its growing bourgeois population of ultra-fuctional, yet culturally-vapid, career-obsessed men, and oversized-umbrella-wielding, plastic-smile-bearing, borderline-anorexic women, have left me feeling a little dejected. (An important aside: I’m not talking about my fellow maddies here! Also, if you’re still reading this with a cool mind and have somehow managed to endure my adjective-flinging tendencies, I’m majorly impressed! Trust me, it gets better.. I promise.)
However, it is these kids, with their earnest thoughts and unaffected behavior, who remind me that people are capable of becoming great forces of change in this world. They are the ones who chip away at the icy cynicism in my heart about the future of India, and inspire me to persist in my efforts to widen the reach of knowledge.. I will fight for these kinds until my last breath. I will give my all to make a difference in their lives..

These kids are my future –may their little lights shine on! :)

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  1. Kavyashetty says

    Beautiful Priyank :) Wat more Can i Say… As i always Mentioned…U make an Awesome teacher & d Kids r Lucky to hv u as one :) Get more MAD & Go on…. :) :)

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