Sorry I haven't updated in quite a while! The internet here has been down and is still in the process of being fixed. Anyways, these past three weeks have been quite an eye-opening experience into the education system here in India. Before I begin with my personal thoughts and feelings, let me first briefly explain the structure of the Indian education system. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ellen and I are teaching at the Holy Cross School, consisting of a mix of local Bengali students and native tribal students. Ben and Aja are working at the Blessed Andre School which is 99% native tribal students. Keep those facts in mind...
There are many daily and independently run after school programs referred to as, tutions, where students' parents pay certain adults to re-teach their children the same material that is learned in school. Parents believe that tution solidifies their children's knowledge and ensures the passing of exams throughout the year, allowing them to move on to higher grades. Tution also relieves parents of homework and study duty. Only children who can afford these tution programs may attend (the majority of the Bengali students). Most tribal students are not as financially well off as the Bengali students; therefore, these children do not have the “luxury” of attending tution. The Bengali students who attend tution have no motivation or reason to stay attentive throughout the school day because they know that the material will be presented to them again in the evening. The majority of the students at the Blessed Andre School do not attend tution and are eager and willing to learn in the classroom. However, it is quite the opposite at the Holy Cross School. These children are attending tution on a daily basis, making it extremely difficult to keep the class engaged for even a 35 minute period. You can see that this system needs a bit of restructuring, but the four of us try to stay positive and overcome the tution interference.
I am teaching five English Language classes to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and one Moral Science class to a class of 7th graders, each consisting of fifty students. One teacher attempting to control fifty inattentive and rowdy students, let me tell you, is not a simple task. I should not say that all three hundred of my students do not pay attention to my lessons because there are a number of children who are eager to learn. I feel sorry for these students because I was brought here to teach, but some of their peers make teaching nearly impossible at times. This classroom atmosphere was nothing that I had ever experienced in America and it was extremely shocking at first, but I am adapting to the fact that the classroom will never be entirely silent for more than two minutes. The teaching aspect of this adventure has been quite frustrating at times, but it is also the most exciting. No day is like the next. Some days, I walk out of the classroom on top of the world and knowing that I connected with at least one student. Other days, I come home with a sore throat from hours of shouting and ask myself, “What exactly did I sign up for?” Although, to some degree, I suppose those feelings come along with any job. There are always going to be amazing days mixed with those that are frustrating.
Outside of the classroom, Ellen and I spend some of our mornings with the girls that live in the hostel and also with the little ones in the Holy Cross Nursery School. Since the classroom can be a bit difficult at times, I believe that spending my mornings with both of these groups will be the most rewarding and fulfilling part of my teaching duty here at the Holy Cross School . Spending time with the hostel girls allows me to have one-on-one tutor sessions and these girls are my teachers as well. I have gained insight into their specific tribal cultures, Indian dances, unique arts and crafts, foreign pop culture, etc. At the nursery school, the children are so young that their English is not at a fluent level; however, they are extremely adorable! The children sing, dance, color, play games, and are quite interested in the shapes of my Silly Bandz. Spending a morning at the nursery school is an uplifting start to the day.
Everything is going well for all of us in India so far! We are all adapting to the culture very quickly and are able to hail an auto-rickshaw (basically an open metal box with three wheels... kind of scary) and venture into downtown Agartala on our own. We even booked our first trip for our break in October. During this month, school is dismissed for two weeks for those of the Hindu religion to celebrate Durga Puja, the largest of the Hindu holidays (comparable to our Christmas). The first of the two weeks, we will be working at a peace camp at the Holy Cross School, while experiencing the festivities of Durga Puja. The second week, the four of us will be heading into the Himalayas to a city called Darjeeling. From there, we will be able to see some of the highest peaks in the world including, Mount Everest. Darjeeling also has world famous tea plantations, a variety of monasteries, hiking, incredible views, and based on restaurant reviews, we may even get the chance to experience many missed American foods and drinks! Lonely Planet categorizes Darjeeling as a “must see” so, we're excited to make the trip!