Why I Chose to Do it
Mine was an extremely impulsive decision, which in hindsight, looks like an extremely good one. Basically,I had two options in my final year – study abroad or apply for a job through the campus placement process. Although when I entered IIT, even my aim was to do an MS/PhD in a prestigious university in the US of A, the four years spent here exposed me to the ugly side of the world. I felt that most of the research being done was to publish papers in journals just for the sake of it. I want to add here that I don’t want to offend anyone who is actually doing or intends to do serious and meaningful research; all due respect to them, but then, that was my opinion based on what I saw around me. Now for work- my main motive was to work in an organisation where there are truly diverse people and where the work truly puts you out of your comfort zone. Although many companies which come to recruit from campus claim to have the first quality, all those so-called “diverse” people turn out to be IITians or engineers. And we can never deny the fact that even if we choose an extremely random sample of IITians/engineers, they will still think alike and have a very similar perspective on issues. Contrary to that, I could see that people in TFI came from really diverse backgrounds- writers, activists, engineers, bankers, dancers, theatre artists and so on. And as far as the comfort zone part is concerned, it dawned upon me during an internship experience with TFI during my second year. I taught in a classroom for a month and that was enough to show me that teaching was not an easy job, reinforcing my decision to apply.
What I Do
I am currently placed as a full time teacher for a period of two years at a low income private school – Ja’fari English High School, situated in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, Mumbai. I am responsible for teaching all subjects except Hindi and Marathi to a group of 32 fourth grade students. By the design of the Teach for India fellowship, I am accountable for bringing at least 1.5 years of academic growth in each student, as measured by standardised TFI tests.
A Typical Day
For me the day begins at around 9 AM, where I review my lesson plans and prepare lesson charts for the day’s class. Although school starts at around 1 pm, I leave for school at 11 AM to conduct extra classes for lower performing kids. I teach continuously from 1 PM to 6 PM (as I am responsible for all subjects). Then, I have an hour’s class for higher performing kids for their accelerated growth. This is sometimes followed by a community visit to a child’s house trying to invest the parent or keep him/her updated. Then, back home, I prepare the next day’s plans till around 8:30 pm and my day ends there technically. The school is open for five days a week though some TFI schools run for 6 days.
Why it is Different
It is different because it is a full commitment for two years, unlike other volunteering positions for the same cause. Furthermore, there is a definite target set for you to achieve every year – a minimum of 1.5 years of academic growth – because we believe that if the educational inequity is to be bridged at some point, a single year’s growth in 1 year won’t suffice. And above all – it is extremely demanding in terms of dedication and hard-work; not like your typical 9 to 5 job.
Why Should YOU Apply?
There are plenty of reasons for the reader to give serious thought towards applying for this fellowship, some of which I enlist below, in no particular order:
• Teach for India is not your just-formed NGO which is struggling to make ends meet and is based in some obscure place. It is a brand in itself and has influential stakeholders — Chairmen and CEOs of India’s top companies — on its board. In a nutshell, it is a very stable organisation with plans of rapid expansion. We are already present in five cities now in just 3 years – Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai. It is also a part of the ‘Teach for All’ network which comprises of similar organisations in 26 other countries.• The fellowship experience called the Teaching as Leadership framework has been proven to be successful in the USA as part of the Teach for America program for over 20 years and in India for the past 2 years. If they can do it, it is obviously not rocket science for you. Thus, there is no reason for you to be sceptical about whether you can teach or not. Be sure, you can.
• It helps you develop a lot of soft skills which are essential for you irrespective of your career path. No profession would enhance your communication skills as much as teaching English to a bunch of kids, none of whom have any clue about what language you are talking in. Further, your role is not restricted to that of a regular teacher, whose job is to just teach. Your skills of convincing are put to real test every day, whether you try to convince orthodox families to end their kid to school or school authorities to give a new bench to your class. Your organisation and time management skills will be in real demand when you have just 30 minutes to teach a lesson to kids with varying abilities and competencies.And it is these soft skills, not the technical skills that make you irreplaceable at any organisation you work in.
• And if you are thinking about your opportunities post the two year fellowship, you may apply to graduate school, work in the corporate/ non-profit sector, or work in TFI in a staff role or venture into social entrepreneurship. Teach for India has tie-ups with various schools for MBA, LAW or MS degrees. It also has its own placement process, akin to IITBs campus placement procedure, where companies come and recruit TFI Fellows for various leadership roles.
The idea is that whatever roles you get into, you become a leader in that role and advocate for the cause TFI is devoted to.And last, but not the least, instead of cribbing about the ills that are plaguing our nation, this is your opportunity to directly attack the problem at its root – education.
ASHWIN KRISHNAN, ALUMNUS OF 2011