Teaching the tough lessons


Suman Barua, is a teacher at ‘Teach for India’. He gave up a full time corporate life to take up the social responsibility of teaching children who are not entitled to right to education as they belong to the lower strata of the society.

I face two kinds of regular problems, first “What should I wear today?”, and second “My students are beaten up everyday at home. What should I do, so that my kids know that violence is a bad thing and when they grow up they shouldn’t use it to control their children or family?” Most of my days are spent in answering the second question.

I teach at a low-income school at Govandi to students of class seven. As a Teach for India fellow, we receive a lot of training and support. But honestly, nothing prepares you to deal with your class unless you enter it. My first week was a mixture of devastatingly low failures and few lucky successes. There were times I nearly walked out of the class, and times when I wanted to adopt few kids, but I never felt like quitting. One thing I learnt is that as a teacher you should make your class a happy place for the students and for yourself. I started with playing my favourite music during recess and dancing around the room. When I saw kids complaining a lot about each other, I started a complaint letter system which in turn pushed their writing skills. I saw that my students needed to learn self-control and I taught them that. I taught kids Feudalism in class by implementing it and appointing nobles, knights, and peasants and use them to carry out classroom management activities. As a teacher one of the things you must do is tell them what inspires you and how it has changed your life. For me it was my favourite quote, “People can take everything from us, but not our Knowledge”. After sharing this with the kids they started using in their letters or cards they wrote.

Every kid behaves or does things the way he/she sees it. Their parents hit them so they feel it’s a good thing and use it in class. They are punished with more violence when they are caught committing violence. It absolutely makes no sense to the kid. So, we focus on making our classes violence free. We need to think from the child’s perspective, negotiate and bribe them with non-materialistic rewards. We really need to know each kid and must understand his/her psychology.

It was my favourite quote, “People can take everything from us, but not our Knowledge”. After sharing this with the kids they started using in their letters or cards they wrote.

Someone once told me, “Till you don’t find a good job, you can be a teacher.” She gave me a concerned look, when I told her I actually left my well-paying corporate job to teach. This stems from the mindset that you become a teacher when you have nothing else to do. How is a job, in which you are directly shaping the mind of children and indirectly responsible for the kind of person they become, looked down upon?

There are so many ways to work to make the world better. A dear friend of mine says, “Education isn’t the only way to impart a change in the society” and he couldn’t be more right. You have to first identify your skill set and passion, and figure out in which way could you contribute. It could be by donating huge amount of money to a cause, or by running a cross cultural lab to inspire leaders, or by working with minorities, or bringing facilities to the people who cannot afford it. The list goes on.

If you ask me, I feel teaching is an incredible job. We face extreme responsibility and pressure but I think everything worth doing in life, is difficult. You must be passionate to bring about any kind of change. You can clean the mess only when you enter it and get dirty yourself, but remember how to clean up in the end.