Today I didn't go to school because I had to go register my visa at the consulate. Except that I didn't have to register my visa.... So basically I just had to wait around some offices for awhile. I love India. My group has been talking a lot about how we are learning some of what it means to "be American," and one thing that we have decided is that we have an attachment to efficiency and order that is unshared by India at large. We are always thinking of ways to lessen the time spent in lines, at menial tasks, etc., but in India, most people seem to just accept that things are done a certain way. I think that a lot of this stems from the respect that people have for those "above" them. Nobody here would ever think of suggesting to their superiors that there might be a faster or better way of doing something. It is sometimes entertaining and other times frustrating to watch this play out in my school and daily interactions with people. So today, basically nobody thought that we had to register our visas because they were only good for 180 days and you only had to register it if it was good for more than 180 days, but somebody in charge suggested that we might have to register our visas, so we had to go ask if we could register our visas. Perfect. Less perfect is that at school nobody really questions the system of education. It is just the way students are taught. Now obviously just questioning the system is not how huge systemic changes are made, but it is a step. And, I am often so bold as to take my questions to my bosses and ask to try things another way. Or often, I am even bolder and just try things my own way even if I haven't been instructed to do so. This boldness is apparently much more American than it is Indian. Who knew?
School is going well. I am really enjoying getting to know the female teachers at the school. Because the staff rooms at the school are segregated by gender, I haven't really met any of the male teachers except in passing. The men generally teach the higher grades which I won't get to teach because of the pressure of their looming exams. I will be teaching the classes of 5 different teachers during my stay, and only one of them is male (the principal's only son). Rupa is my primary mentor teacher, and I have been communicating with her since April. I will also be teaching with Debopriya, Kamalika, and Joyta. They are all amazingly kind to me, and we had a really great discussion about how English is taught in the Indian vs. American school systems. It turns out that they definitely do harbor internal thoughts about the effectiveness of the system, even if they are not so bold to suggest reform. (Something that I find hilarious since their freedom fighters are the most admired of Indian figures). They teach 4 different courses of English - English Literature, English Language, English Poetry, and English Rapid. In Lit, they just read some short prose passages from an anthology put together by the Board of Education here. Almost everything is abridged, and it seems perfectly acceptable to the editors to just summarize the rest of the text in a paragraph or two. Odd. In Lang, they learn grammar rules separate from any writing instruction. In Poetry, again they read mostly abridged versions of longer British poems. So far, I have taught parts of the "Pied Piper of Hamelin" and this week I get to teach "The Road Less Traveled" (THE WHOLE THING!). English Rapid is the course that makes the least sense to me. Apparently, you just read and rapidly explain a piece of literature, usually Shakespeare, to the students. As far as I have been told, this involves no questions posed to the students or attempts to help them learn to interpret the text for themselves. It is just a lecture about what the lines that you have read them mean. I am teaching my first rapid classes this week, and I have been tasked with explaining "The Merchant of Venice." We shall see how this goes.
As much as I like the staff and students at my school, and I DO, I am a little overwhelmed by the system. There are at least 40 students in each class (no different than my school really), but classes for grades 6-8 (which is the level I am teaching) are only 30 minutes. Teachers are tied to the syllabus and must cover the poems and story excerpts chosen for that term. There is no group work and no creativity in planning. The expectation is that students learn primarily through lecture. Obviously, the students are wildly successful, but I am still struggling to understand how. I would have a mutiny on my hands if I taught this way in the States. I guess it is all about cultural expectations and norms, but it blows my mind.
I only have a few more minutes before I am meeting some teammates for dinner, so I wanted to brag that I finally got to spend some time by the pool today. It was heaven. Though we discussed that perhaps the daily juxtaposition of our luxury hotel and our less than luxurious schools might be screwing with our sense of normalcy, we immensely enjoyed our coffee milkshakes while perching on the ledge of the pool.
|My 7am Saturday morning drive to school was the only time that I ever saw empty roads in Kolkata. I almost wept for joy over how unafraid I was.|
|Team dinner at oh!Calcutta for Sarah's birthday. Sarah is in the red on the left. She got to celebrate her 30th her with all of us. It is a bit different from the 3M bar tour I forced you into to celebrate my birth.|
|Our waiter had me join the crew.|
|This is the movie poster for the Hindi movie that we went to see last week. Though we didn't understand all of the film, we loved the bits with dancing! Also, I befriended the guy in front of us who explained some of the political nuances.|
|The hotel staff surprised Sarah with a cake and some flowers for her birthday. The cake was delicious!!|
|Sarah with her goods before she served us all huge pieces of the cake.|