Thursday, July 25, 2013

Time is flying

My time in India is almost over, and that seems INSANE to me.  In some ways, it feels like I have been in Kolkata forever and in other ways it is still so new.

The past week has been crazy busy.  I have been teaching tons of classes, including some classes 12th grade!  I really loved getting to interact with the older students.  The younger ones are so sweet, and I love their faces, but I will always prefer the content of older classes.  Mostly I got to teach Macbeth and "The Fly" to the "big" kids.  Love.  I have also been busy presenting and preparing for presentations for teachers and students alike.  Luckily I have been so well received at my school and elsewhere.  In fact, today I went to Modern High School to observe a fellow program participant, and the principal presented me with gifts (a mug and yearbook) before I left.  How amazing?!

Last night, I was invited to dinner at my assistant principal's house.  It was quite the affair.  She told me to go home and take a nap after school because we were going to party like they did in The Great Gatsby, and she wasn't lying.  It was quite the wild time.  My principal and his wife, the 3 office men (administrative assistants?), Ruby (the most senior teacher at my school) and her husband, Rupa (my primary mentor teacher) and her husband,  Arunima (the school magazine editor), Shevanti (the director of USIEF), my assistant principal and her husband, and I all shared a meal and lots of conversation.  My principal is quite the character and dominated the show by quizzing me on my knowledge of American presidents.  I am afraid that my lack of knowledge was a bit upsetting for him.  Perhaps I should visit some history classes when I return to the States.  Side note: Caitlin thinks my principal looks like an Indian Tom Jones.  There are a couple of pictures below, and you can judge for yourself.

There is really no way to describe the deference that those in authority are given in India.  Sir (this is what we call our principal) is revered by the staff.  Once when Debopriya and I were walking to class in another building, she excused herself for a moment.  I had no idea where she was going, but I paused in the middle of the assembly hall to wait for her.  It turns out that she had caught a glimpse of Sir from across the room and wanted to go wish him a good afternoon.  When she came back and told me that it is appropriate to "wish him" every time you see him, I was blown away.  Sure, we say hello and good morning in the States too...when it is convenient and we have accidentally made eye contact that makes impolite not to.  I have never walked out of my way just to stand in a line of other well-wishers who also happened to glimpse "the man" out of the corner of their eyes.  So far, nobody has accused me of rudeness for not "wishing" Sir when he is far away but visible.  I also sometimes forget to stand up when he enters a room.  I am working on remembering that one.  All these outward signs of respect have really made me think about equality and respect in my school at home and America at large.  In India, every time a teacher walks into the room, all the students stand and say "Good morning/afternoon, maam/sir."  EVERY TIME.  I find this really endearing at the beginning and end of the classes.  At the end they also stand and thank you for teaching them.  LOVE.  However, I find a little disruptive if another teacher, the principal, etc. walks into my class to observe.  Then they have to be greeted and sent off with standing and words.  Perhaps it is beneficial to create distance between teachers and students with these constant shows of respect, but at the same time is it too much distance and too much blind respect.  Sure, sometimes I complain about disrespectful students, but at the same time, I still want them to question everything I say and learn to assert their dissenting opinions.  I am not sure that there is a lot of emphasis on questioning authority in the Indian educational model, and I wonder about the dangers of the blind trust students put in their teachers. I am not saying that the teachers here are not worthy of respect and admiration, of course they are, but when students must value the opinion of the teacher, does it restrict their ability to think independently?  In a previous post, I talked about a lack of efficiency due to respect, but I am starting to suspect that the consequences of rigid rules of hierarchy might contribute to a wider range of problems.

Some students in my VIA class.  I adore these kids.

They love when I take "snaps."

One of my VIA boys will be playing his guitar during the Independence Day celebration on August 15th.  Too bad I have to miss it.  The younger kids are too cute.  The little boy in white just celebrated his birthday, and the tradition here is that the kids bring in sweets for everyone, so I enjoyed some treats to celebrate his life. 

Dance rehearsal in the library.  The little girl in the foreground is my FAVORITE.  Her name is Sweekriti, and she is in 4th grade. She wants to be an astronaut, and she is a gifted singer, dancer, and artist.  She reminds me of my sister Dani, and I told her so.  She was so touched that she made me multiple cards to express her appreciation.  On one of them, she drew me, my dress, and my braid perfectly.  The only thing I didn't understand was why my hair was blonde in the picture.  However, students often tell me that I am beautiful and that I look like a Barbie. I used to think that they were a little crazy, but now I am wondering if I really do look like Barbie.  I have definitely come to terms with the fact that I am beautiful here.  I think the sweat shows off all my best qualities.

The "Mission for a Better Kolkata" has many suggestions that I wish people would follow.  After looking at these signs, I spent 2 minutes counting the helmets of every biker (motorcycles only) that I saw driving past.  There were 31 with helmets and 17 without.  Oddly, while paying such close attention, I noticed some trends.  Usually when an entire family is on the bike, the father(driver) and mother (in the back) will have helmets, but the children who are squeezed in between them will not.  Usually if there are 3 men on a bike, none of them will have a helmet, but usually if someone is a alone, they will.  Often the men who are driving around their ladies will wear a helmet, but the woman (who is sitting side-saddle on the back because she is wearing a sari) will not wear a helmet.  Also, how funny is it that 3 men will share a motorcycle.  That would never happen in the USA.  People here just don't have the same issues with personal space that we have.  To date I have not seen a single person on a bicycle wearing a helmet although I would suspect they need them most.  Ditto for rickshaw "drivers."

Me with some of the VIA boys.

Me with some of the VIA girls.  

We tried to take a VIA class photo.  I will miss these dears.

Me with Rupa!  I need to get a better one.

Me during one of my two workshops with all 4 sections of class VI.

I am counting the words of the 6 word memoir that the little boy with the microphone wrote about a character from David Copperfield.

It is hard to know who to choose when 125 students raise their hands at the same time.

I love think, pair, share time.  

My boys were so excited to show me their "formation."  I didn't know that meant pyramid, but now I do.  

Me with my dear Sweekriti.

Me with Shika in the staff room.  She is a total sweet pea, and she grabs my arm everyday to beg me not to leave.  She thinks that she will miss me too much.  She also thinks that I haven't learned enough Bengali (her subject) to leave yet.  She is right on that account.  Next time I go abroad, I want to know the language.

Me with Mita.  She is one of the more senior teachers at the school, and she has been so kind to me.  Once during assembly, she told the children that I was a great person and that is what makes me a great teacher.  People in India are far too nice to me.  How will I ever feel so loved at home?

In the staff room with Joyshree (in red) and Kamalika (tan scarf).  Joyshree teaches grade 5 and some senior psychology classes.  Kamalika teaches English, and she kindly let me take over some of her senior classes.  She is also the sponsor for the debate club, the school paper coordinators, etc.  They are both darling.

Unfortunately, Sir and his wife (in the chairs) just lost their Great Dane, so Mr. Roy brought out his puppy to play with them.  

From left to right:  Shevanti, Mr. Roy, Mrs. Roy (my assistant principal), and Rupa's husband (I have no idea how to say or spell his name).  

Sir telling some stories.

Shevanti was leaving as the men returned from having a smoke on the balcony.  

I squeezed in an hour of pool time this morning.  I only got rained on 3 times in my hour.  I moved to these chairs from the loungers because they are covered by an umbrella.  

I went to visit Dan at Modern High School for Girls.  He was using some manipulatives to teach fractions to the girls.

Students solving some problems.

Dan helping the girls explain their work.

She knows that after 2 hours of the party there was only 1 and 1/8 a pizza left.  Yikes.

2/3rds of the classroom.  

Dan teaching some history.  

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