In 2006, TNT released a television movie called ‘The Ron Clark Story’, based on the life of an American educator of the same name. The movie touched a chord with several for its humble yet touching portrayal of the unflinching faith of a teacher in his students and his unique perspective on learning. So when a student comes up to him and says, “Everyone says we’re losers, Mr Clark”, he immediately retorts with a resounding, “No, you are not” and takes it upon himself to not only teach his students what is in the syllabus, but takes on the tougher job of instilling in them what the harsh public school system of segregation based on merit has snatched away from several students-complete belief in oneself. So when a volunteer from Pune wrote to us about her experience with a similar person, this time not her teacher, but a co-teacher for a class they taught together, it got us thinking. Here is what she had to say,
“Amelia and I used to be co-teachers for 9A in 2014, for most of the year. Everything mentioned in the story is true asI know the children myself and I can vouch for all of it. Make A Difference had just started out at St. Michael’s, Pune the previous year. Both the student and volunteer base were both new. 9A had five students- Ayesha, Najuka, Rahel, Sweety and Varsha. All four of them had different learning capacities, and in the very first class where we conducted a small test to gauge their level, we realised the disparity between their individual grasping abilities. But as the classes progressed, this difference ceased to cause an issue. What we had in hand was a bigger problem.
Children are meant to misbehave and these 14 year old girls were as notorious as any other 14 year old would be. They would walk out of the class whenever they felt like, distract others were unwilling to study because they didn’t “have” to. Amelia and I came up with endless activities to keep them engrossed, but it would only appeal to a couple of them at once, and the others would still get bored. That was the first time when we realised and appreciated the effort our teachers put into educating us.
After a few months, Amelia had to assume full responsibilities of the class as I couldn’t teach on Saturdays anymore. Amelia was right to be scared and I was scared for her. We couldn’t find her a co-teacher because all the teachers had already been assigned classes. We wanted the kids to grasp the most they could of each lesson and we were absolutely petrified thinking that we weren’t doing anything to reach that measure. There was always so much to cover and such little time and with breaks for Diwali and Christmas and exams and what not, we felt like we were always running short.
But Amelia is an angel who turned things around. During the Dream Camp, she was the mentor for most of the students that she taught and I was the buffer mentor. I watched how she was with the kids and how the kids were with her. They got so close; it was like watching a small family grow. It was wonderful. After the camp, the kids came to respect for person she was rather than fear her as a teacher. Things were improving over time. Slowly, they started to listen to her more and more and pay attention in class. But then before she could get a real breakthrough with the kids, their school ended for the summer and we had to wait for the next year to see them again.
She got assigned the same class (now, 10A) as last year and on the first day itself she noticed the change. The students had significantly improved. In the first class, it was the students themselves who told Amelia to make the ground rules for the year. Last Saturday, they brought the question paper of the Unit Test that had just taken place to discuss it without being asked. Now they finish their work on time without any incentive required. They go up to her with doubts and things that they want her to teach during the class. They have interactive sessions where every one of the students participates in the discussion. It is a wonderful change to have observed over the period of one year. “The best thing is, is that they wait until the class is over to disperse. There is no running away anymore. They stay till I say that the class is over,” says Amelia, overjoyed.
What I observed was being consistent with the kids was what actually made them stick around and get more serious about their education. Now they not only take us seriously, they’ve started taking English as a subject seriously, and they genuinely want to do well in their exams. I know this is kind of a long story, but the impact Amelia has had on them is really significant and I am SO PROUD to have had her as a co-teacher. Also, I am proud of the students to have come this far. And I am proud of MAD as an organization for doing this. I might be getting a little sentimental, but the proof is right in front of my eyes, so how could I not?”