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One day, an excellent education – Today, an excellent educator

By Romana Shaikh

When I met Om, he confidently and curiously asked me questions about what I do and how I spend my time at my new job. He shared excitedly how much he enjoys school and learning new things and how much he has grown since his new Didi has started teaching him. ‘She is different from Sapna didi but is quite similar to you. Both of you are tiny and don’t get angry at us at all. You both have very similar personality traits. Are you sure you aren’t related?’ I once again assured him we weren’t and we continued walking up to class while he chatted on happily about how much more difficult 6th grade was compared to everything I taught him in Grade 2 and 3.

He explains how 6th grade works and the different systems in his class that make learning fun and ensures they waste noRomana 1 time. The classroom is a safe and joyful place with lots of colourful posters that show the learning and growth students have made and a clear track that explains all they have to do to be on the path to college. Indicating a clear goal orientation that Om’s teacher Bhavi didi has established in the classroom, like many Teach for India Fellows, is done to build in children a long term investment in education and to show them how what they are doing on a daily basis will add up to them achieving the aspirations of their choice in the future.

As the recess bell rings, the class quickly settles down and ignores my presence so they can start learning once again. I take my regular place in the classroom and settle down to observe the teaching – learning process come alive and interact with the children as they engage with the rigorous content being taught to them. By now the children are used to ‘their teacher’s teachers’ (that’s how they refer to our teacher coaches) taking videos of lessons, asking them questions, flipping through notebooks and leaving notes for the teacher – a regular practice that forms a core of our ongoing teacher support.

I watch as the 6th graders respect and celebrate each other waiting patiently when Ayush is thinking about an answer to an inferential question, Prajwal helps him out by giving him a hint but encouraging him to think. The students are aware of their behaviour and Bhavi didi constantly reminds them to stop and reflect on how they have been living their values. In fact before they started with their English lesson, they all took a few minutes to reflect on the first half of the school day.

As I leave the school building, I meet a few parents who explain to me how the new Didi has been very warm and welcoming to all of them and made all of them feel very comfortable.  Most of the parents are home-makers, work in other’s houses as maids or drivers or are employed as office assistants and peons. Some are daily wage earners too supporting joint families and saving money to pay the school fees is a huge investment when their family income ranges from Rs4000-Rs10,000 per month. For them, it means the world that the didi come home to visit, take extra classes before and after school and take the children on many excursions and field trips ranging from singing class to competitions to visits to the museum. They are all confident that their children will go to college and, although they worry about the scope of the syllabus that has to be covered, they understand their children’s  academic levels and trust the teacher completely. The parents go on excitedly about how much more responsible their children have become and how little they have to worry about their homework and their habits. The children have ‘grown up,’ they say and are very helpful with household chores as well.

Romana 4And this was last year. Now in 7th grade, after 6 years of intervention from Teach For India, this group of students have finished a unit of study on leaders of the world where they explored how different leaders have different strengths and how they too can leverage their unique strengths to make a difference. To further strengthen this awareness of strengths and areas of development, the students now engage in a practice of self evaluation and reflection in which they evaluate their behaviour on a teamwork rubric and they constantly call out each other for their strengths and areas of development using a special pocket-message system to exchange notes.

Om who started Grade 2 not knowing his alphabet gave a speech in September this year persuading parents and students of his community to be more responsible citizens and not pollute the waters of Mumbai during Chowpatty. Savita is working with a mentor, a Teach For India Alum, to do an input-output analysis of the school finances to better understand why there has been an annual increase in school fees. Through this Changemaker project, each student has identified issues that bother them in their own community and are working with mentors to change it.

More than half the class is now reading texts at their grade level and teachers are planning differentiated support for the few students who are struggling readers.

The students in this classroom like many others across Teach For India are on a different life path.

At Teach For India, we believe ALL children deserve an excellent education – an education that gives children the choice toRomana 3 be whatever, and whoever, they wish to be – an education that empowers student leadership towards a collective, contextual vision for India. We believe that the components of this are academic achievement, values and mindsets, and exposure and access.

  • Academic achievement that equips students with the knowledge and skills to be on a path of expanded opportunity
  • Exposure and access that leads students to discovering their strengths and attaining the aspirations of their choice
  • Values and mindsets that shape how they choose to operate in the world and contribute to making the world better.

Over the past 6 years, we have seen an increasing number of examples of classrooms and students who are on this path. From the moment you enter a Teach For India classroom and speak to any student in our direct care, you can see evidence of transformation. Transformation – not just in the children but also in the very Fellows who like Bhavi & Pragya are learning with their children. Learning about themselves and what they need to do for their children, learning about what it really means to reach every child in the classroom and making sure every child is growing and learning about what it means to build a contextual, collective vision.

Romana 2Our strongest teachers have been those that truly love their students and hold an unwavering belief in their potential to succeed. Teachers who have been willing to go the extra mile to build an enduring relationship with each child and their family and invest them in this journey towards collective impact. Teachers who are continuously learning and working on their own practice to be their authentic selves in front of their children. Be it the way Nalika brought her passion for the performing arts into the classroom and taught her children all about producing a play or Pradyumna, who is researching the growth mindset and how essential it is for us as teachers to adopt.

Teachers who do more than build literacy in students and instead truly understand what it means to develop and mould India’s next generation of leaders. These teachers we believe will build a brave new India.

And our students today will be a part of this movement of leaders for tomorrow. In this Movement, Teach For IndiaRomana 5 students, Fellows and alumni will inspire and catalyse the changes that ensure one day all children will receive an excellent education. Through their commitment to personal transformation and their relentless efforts to organize collective action, we will redefine the possibilities for every child. As we work towards building this movement, the Fellowship is where we serve and begin our journeys. It is where through working with children like Om, Savita, Uttkarsha and many many others, we learn and grow to be better people. It is where we try each day to be our best and remind ourselves – Today, all my children will receive an excellent educator.


Romana joined Teach for India as a Fellow in its first cohort in 2009. She has designed a framework for Literacy curriculum and instruction, general pedagogy, as well as the Leadership Development Framework for the training and support of fellows at Teach for India. She is excited to strengthen the program and continue to build leaders who will fight to give all children the excellent education they deserve. Romana holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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