Nothing makes you feel more like a giant than sitting on small wooden chairs surrounded by tiny first graders in their classroom. For a classroom observation, we are supposed to slip into a class quietly and just sit in the back. We’re not to make any comments and neither is the teacher supposed to pay any attention to us. The idea is, of course, to observe a class as would be without your presence.
My favorite class to observe is always in the pre-primary section where the students weigh almost the same as their chunky book bags and want at any point in time to color in their workbooks. The children are curious and bright-eyed, they keep peaking over their shoulders and giggling when they catch my eye. “Are you our new teacher?” they would often ask (in their minds all females on school premises are teachers).
There is one special memory from these classroom observations that sticks out and makes me smile even now. The teacher was walking around the classroom, talking about plants or insects when this cheeky little critter raised his hand – “Teacher! There’s someone in our class!” he pointed out the obvious.
The teacher smiled sheepishly. “Yes, that’s okay,”
“But teacher, you aren’t even looking at her! She’s right here, why aren’t you even talking to her or even looking at her?” he persisted and both the teacher and I burst out laughing.
I was so happy that the boy had noticed something and had the comfort and confidence to say it out loud in his classroom. In that locality, the only options for education are government schools, where the best case scenario might be a classroom without any teachers and the worst case scenario where a teacher kills the curiosity and creativity of her students, discouraging any critical thinking or questioning.
Working at The Citizens Foundation has given me this very special album of memories that I can sift through and feel a happiness that brings tears to my eyes. More than that, the organization has given me something that too many people never experience in their lifetime – a purpose, a feeling that my life has meaning. I am eternally grateful for that. For someone who was always angsty – as a teenager I teetered at the edge of the existential cliff, and growing up the inequity of life along with the emphemeral nature of everything always prodded at my heart. Joining TCF gave me an answer to the question of “but what’s the point?”
The point is, of course, to strive. It is not to make the world perfect but to continue to try and make little pockets of life around you better.
I was working at the TCF Head Office, which is full of good people led by great people (you do need good people to do good work – you can’t have one without the other), and for the annual results’ day everyone is required to go visit a school.
On one of these visits, the principal made a special mention of a student whose father had died recently but his mother had hung on and supported her son through the tough times and that day, the boy had achieved the highest marks in his class. As he went up to the stage to get his prize the mother stood up and clapped the hardest any mother can clap, her eyes shining with tears. The pride of the mother was palpable and it hit all the surrounding hearts with its strength. The principal called her up on the stage and later congratulated all the parents for their role in their children’s success.
Moments like these are not exceptions – the network of our schools is peppered with stories of success, struggle, love and labor: principals who have turned entire schools around, teachers who talk about their students with such affection that it melts your heart, students who are confident enough to come to the front of the classroom and talk about their favorite pet or to the front of the entire schools and debate on the rights of women.
I was blessed to have worked for an organization that gave me the chance to be surrounded by such hope. I listen to my family and friends talk about unfulfilling jobs, the stresses of waking up every day for something that your heart doesn’t participate in, and I think – well, yes, I do not like waking up at 7:30 am … but whenever I enter my office, the sight of our tea stations and the realization that there is great work to be done, makes it worthwhile.
And if I need to be reminded of it, all I have to do is book a rickety Bolan van and zip across the potholed roads and dirt-strewn streets to one of our beautiful schools. And therein lies something even more beautiful than our school buildings – hope in the form of honest principals, hardworking teachers and brilliant students.