Memoirs from my two years of teaching in a Delhi communityUsually in making life choices, we find money an easier alternative to invest than years of youth. And degrees, promotions and paycheques an easier alternative to achieve, than skills, self-awareness, values, and personal growth. When in 2013, I chose to spend two years with a well-known education non-profit, I had no idea of the extent to which experiences and choices could change me, my life and my philosophy, irreversibly.
From June 2013 to May 2015, I served as a municipal primary school teacher in an underserved community in Shahdara, Delhi. My class of 50-odd students have — as the refrain goes — taught me more than I could ever teach them. So did my colleagues at Teach For India, who came from diverse backgrounds, and were the best 6–7% of the thousands who applied for the prestigious Fellowship. They had skills and mindsets as similar to mine as they were different. I had just abandoned a successful content-based venture and an IIM offer (which I had a hard time explaining to friends and family) — here, I met far more intense daredevils.
I made friends who I could connect with far more than I had connected with anyone else. These were people who had dared to spend two years of their life differently. We all were here because of a certain set of shared values despite all that was different within us: selflessness, eagerness to learn, achieve, and lead, and bring change. We had ideas and conviction.
Being a teacher is extremely difficult, but how difficult it is, is underrated, primarily because we as a culture have not known the possibilities and scope of great teaching for decades. Poor quality of teaching has led to prejudices that make even the best of teaching sound easy. As I explain over several articles (links below), teaching is essentially a tough form of leadership, where you help yourself and your children battle fixed mindsets, difficult households and communities, poor curricula, and diverse learning abilities, to help them discover their own selves in a defeatist and incompetent system and society that is skewed against them.
As a society, we put very little emphasis on living a life that is philosophically stimulating and stirring. Nor is it easy. Once while discussing my career, my mother expressed the wish that since I have got the best of education and access as a student, it would just be logical that I get settled into a successful, secure career as soon as possible. I said, “Since I got the best education and facilities always, I should be the one taking risks and feeling free to do unconventional things to change the status quo.”
My life goalpost since I joined the Fellowship has moved: from doing social good towards influencing lasting reform — in mindsets, most of all. This led me to become a journalist in 2015. Over the years, I have compiled my stories, reflections and thoughts in several pieces, which are listed below.
A Year at Teach For India (In this piece, written after my first year, I look back at the year gone by, the organization, my initial experiments in teaching and leadership, and how they were beginning to change me.)
Exploring Excellent Education (I describe a parent-teacher meeting I called to explain the vision I had for my students, and how excellence in education means we must settle for nothing less. The background of these students may just make the path to excellence tougher; it doesn’t lower the bar of excellence itself.)
The Education System is not the Problem; the Education Culture is (End-of-Fellowship reflections about the government school system and the problems with how we perceive education.)
Teaching Our Children Self-Awareness is Essential to Education (I explain why an education cannot be excellent unless it teaches children self-awareness.)
Seeking God with nine-year-olds (I describe a lesson I had in class about faith, and how to question it.)
Learning the Art of Conversation — Part 1 (Through a story of six difficult weeks I had at school because of a hostile schoolteacher, I come up with two basic rules of leadership, and the Art of Conversation to solve problems.)
Learning the Art of Conversation — Part 2 (I continue my illustration of the Art of Conversation, through more instances of my interactions with the school and parents of children.)