Monday, August 1, 2011


So I realized that I didn't ever really write much about teaching in the slum school. Which is weird because it was clearly such a huge part of what we did here in India.

So we didn't originally sign up to teach and had no idea that we would be doing that, up until the kids arrived at the school. But somehow, Katy and I managed to wing it for a good 6 weeks. It was funny to see the other volunteers arrive; most of them had signed up to teach English, so they came much better prepared than we did. They brought paper, pencils, crayons, painting stuff, flashcards, etc. Either way though, Katy and I got to be pretty good with at least keeping the kids entertained for most of the time we were there.

At first, when we were with Telma and Rikke, we would try to split the kids up into an older group and a younger group. Because, in theory, we could have had different lessons for each group. That sometimes worked, but sometimes even if we split them up, we would still teach mostly the same thing to each group. We ended up teaching a lot of different things: vocabulary, geography, grammar, math, some history, some science, etc.

In the end, we're not really sure how much the kids learned. Some days it seemed like we were just telling them to be quiet and write things down the whole day, which none of them did. Not all of them (actually, quite few) spoke English very well. They mostly understood "copy" though, so when we would write words on the board, they would copy them down into their notebook. So at least they now have notebooks full of English vocabulary words.

I think it got so frustrating for a while because the kids who could understand what we were saying already knew most of what we were teaching, and the kids who could've learned something new, didn't understand English. So I eventually took to just talking with the older kids for most of the time. Katy was much better at being a "teacher" than I was. In fact, sometimes I was the one causing problems when I would talk with the kids (surprise surprise, right?). But, for me, I felt like it was just as beneficial to have conversations with them in English as it would have been to teach them geometry shapes. I think the combination worked well together.

So, since Katy and I were with the older kids who could speak more English, we were able to get to know them a little bit better. And being that I am a terrible teacher, I definitely played favorites. One of the first kids that we befriended was Dharmender. My homework the first week was to remember his name. He was maybe 13 or 14 years old and was a very very smart boy. He spoke English well, and was one of the few kids that also went to public school. He was always so well behaved and polite, which helped when everyone else was going crazy.  When we would get to school in the morning, we would go up on the terrace to call the kids to come to school.  You could see his house from the terrace, so we would always call for him and his brother Johnny to come.  Sometimes he would have to go to the market with his mom or something, so he wouldn't be able to join us, but even then he would often come by to say hello. 

This is Akhtar Ali.  Actually, I never remember if the "k" or the "h" comes first in his name, so I usually just switch back and forth whenever I feel like it.  He was one of our other favorites also.  At first, it seemed like he was going to be a troublemaker.  And sometimes he was, but we befriended him and got him on our side instead of him always causing problems.  We also gave that advice to the new volunteers, because when you first meet him, it really seems like he'll be difficult.  It was so worth it to put in a little extra effort to be friends with him though.  He also spoke English very very well and was very smart.  Again, this was because he could afford to go to public school as well.  So he would help us translate a lot of things. Also, because he was so loud and liked to yell a lot, he would help us to keep the other kids in line--as long as it wasn't him that was causing the problem.  Towards the end, he actually ended up just teaching for us sometimes.  And those were probably osme of the most useful lessons for the younger kids.  They actually paid attention and wrote down what they were supposed to. 

Ahktar Ali lived around the corner from the slum school.  So, apart from going on the terrace every morning to call kids to school, it also became part of Katy and my routine to go over to Akhtar Ali's house to get him for school.  His house was obviously very basic, but it was more comfortable than I would've expected.  They had a well/water pump when you first walked in, where they would get their water everyday.  I still think how different that is compared to the life of convenience that I have always known.  Ahktar's family did have a computer though, which he was usually on when we would come over.  He showed up pictures of all of his family.  He is one of 6 kids; he has 5 brothers and 1 sister.  His brother's names are : Ameen Ali, Samin Ali, Assin Ali, and Aman Ali.  It took me so long to remember all of those and keep them straight.  Either way, going over to his house and talking to Ahktar Ali before and after school was one of my favorite things.  We also met his mom, and they were always so welcoming and happy to have us over.  I think that is part of the reason we ended up feeling so close to Ahktar.  On our last day, Katy and I bought notebooks for Ahktar and Dharmender, and wrote notes in them so they would remember us.  We both told them that they were very very smart and that we really hoped and believed that they could achieve a lot and encouraged them to do so.

Johnny, Dharmender's brother also came most days. He didn't know as much English as Dharmender, but we were still able to talk to him  a lot.  He had one of the prettiest smiles I have probably ever seen.  He also had 2 thumbs on one hand.  When I would thumb-wrestle him, we would joke that I would feel extra accomplished because I would beat both of his thumbs.  I promise, it wasn't as mean as that sounds: Johnny was okay with it.

There were obviously a lot of other kids there too, but we weren't always great at remembering everyone's name.  Not all of them came everyday; some days we would have 30 kids, some days we would have 5.  One of the girls that came often, Annu, was gorgeous.  She had such a beautiful face and was such a sweetheart.  Unfortunately, she didn't speak English very well, but we still hung out with her a lot.  Her best friend, Subnum, was also very sweet.  She spoke English much better, so she helped Annu.

 Ramu (right-->) was one of the younger boys that would come.  He and his little brother, Babu, looked like Buddhist monks.  They were so small and would wear these tiny little shorts every day.  Ramu and Babu were some of Rikke's favorites.  Which was good, because Katy and I got annoyed with him pretty quickly.  He didn't speak English that well, but he did understand when we would tell him to copy something down that we were writing.  He usually didn't listen to us though, and would get up and wander around, or try to find chalk to write on one of the blackboards, etc.  So even though he was a cute kid, he got very irritating.  So again, its a good thing Rikke liked him. :)

All in all, teaching in the slum school was suprising in many ways.  Looking back, Katy and I just laugh that we were able to make it through 6 weeks of teaching, without ever really having any lesson plans or strategies.  And when new volunteers would arrive, they would somehow think that we knew what we were doing, and they'd listen to us. We had everyone fooled.  But really, we came in to a totally unexpected situation and ended up doing pretty well with  it.  We also really enjoyed it most of the time.  There were a lot of days when I didn't feel like going to school, but I always would end up going because I liked seeing the kids.  Not to be obnoxiously corny or cliche, but even though we're not sure how much they learned from us, we definitely learned a lot by teaching them. 

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