my work at Nirman

Alright, time to explain my service work in more detail. All five of us work at different sites—mine is a school called Nirman or the Southpoint School. “Nirman” means progress, but I’m still working on figuring out the second name.

Nirman has two campuses, one in the city of Varanasi and the other in Betaver village, about 45 minutes drive outside the city. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings I take a cycle rickshaw to the city campus, and at 8:30 Sunita ma’am (another teacher) and I get into the school’s care and we make the trip to the village campus, picking up some students along the way.

The school in the village is spacious and right on the banks of the Ganga River—absolutely beautiful. The school day begins with an assembly where the children sing and hear any announcements. Then my first class starts.

The village school is small, so the students are combined into just 3 classes; my morning class is grades 1 to 4. Besides the varied ages, the children also have a wide range of English skills, from beginning three-letter words to writing full, mostly correct paragraphs.

We start our morning with one minute of silence, then go over who is in charge of different duties that day—opening windows, sweeping the floor, cleaning the blackboard, handing out pencils, putting up chairs, and overall in charge. Then it’s English time. The students are split into three groups—Peacock, Tiger, and Cobra—based on their English skill level. Sunita ma’am takes the Peacock group to work on very beginning English. I teach the other two groups, giving one work while talking to the other, back and forth. We read stories and base grammar work, vocabulary, and projects on their subjects. Recently they’ve also done work writing about current holidays and their experiences on those days.

Around 10:45 we switch to science class. I teach using the blackboard, stories, pictures, their workbooks, and little experiments. We’ve covered insects, the weather, spiders, birds, dinosaurs, and plants. Our current until is about water—how we use it, the water cycle, and water pollution issues. As I teach I translate the information and questions into Hindi, often stumbling over word order or verb tenses, and my older students help me explain what I’m really trying to say.

All this sounds very fluid and organized, so now I’m going to admit—it’s not. I am still a very beginning teacher, and while I do have decent knowledge of fun writing projects and science activities I am still below novice on issues like long-term planning and classroom management. Which means that no matter how hard I work, on any given day there is always someone who is bored, someone who just can’t understand, occasional small fights, and a fair bit of talking while I’m trying to teach.

I tell myself every day that I am getting better, and tomorrow will be better, and someday, some year I will have enough experience to be the teacher I wish I could be now. And I work really hard to make up for my shortcomings.

12:15 to 12:45 is tiffin time; I keep confusing people by calling it “lunch”. Mondays and Wednesdays I spend this time being a house advisor—the school is divided into four houses who compete in environmental work and various competitions for points (think Harry Potter). My free lunch times I talk to the other teachers as I eat my often very spicy sabji (vegetables), dhal (lentils), rice, and rotis (flat round bread).

After lunch I teach the other class, grades 5 and 7 (there is no 6th grade for some reason). Again, much of their English studying is based on stories, although sometimes I choose grammar topics they seem to need help with. So far we’ve covered irregular past tense, possessives, and some parts of speech. This term I decided to have them tackle actual chapter books instead of just short stories, so 5th grade is reading the first Magic Tree House book, and 7th is reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Last period I teach social studies to just 5th grade. I’m effectively a long-term substitute for this period as one of the teachers left a few months ago, so we’re mostly just continuing work in their book. At 2:35 school is over and I go back to my younger class to help them pack and clean up. We get back in the car and arrive at the city campus around 3:30, and if I’m not completely exhausted I meet with the principal, plan, or do library work (or help Joe and Andrew teach basketball on Wednesdays) before going home.

On Thursdays I don’t go to the village school. I stay at the city campus and help the houses with their various projects during their environmental work period, giving ideas and making sure everyone has something to do. The rest of my time varies: I do some planning work, help set up science activities, sub classes, or work in the library. I generally work about four hours on Thursdays.

And Saturdays are teachers’ meetings and planning time from 8:00 to 1:00. It’s a little odd to be the only student in my group who works on the weekend, but I’ve gotten used to the schedule, and the block of time to talk about upcoming events, issue materials, and plan is incredibly useful.

So that’s my week, as far as the service work goes. I’m gettting so much out of my time at Nirman; I can only hope I’m giving them some small help in return. The kids I work with are absolutely amazing, and even when they’re driving me crazy I love them so much. It’s hard for me to accept that I won’t be coming back to teach them next year.

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