After a lot of contemplation, I found myself back in my hometown after decades. I had just finished a fantastic tenure at a school. The work pressure was gruelling, but the challenges thrown at us chiselled and groomed me into a teacher of whom I am proud.
Here I am, at a place where the work pressure is not from management or administration. Instead, it is the system, the parents’ attitude, my co-workers and the general lackadaisical momentum you would expect in a town. The primary factor for the pressure is within me – Can I do justice to my dear students who reach out for a hand to lead them out to a place where they can be heard, understood, included, and celebrated?
When I relocated, the shift was not just my home, but my career choice too. I worked as a teacher in the primary wing of a posh school, where kids made periodic visits to Europe. From there, I moved to a school for children with hearing impairment. These students plough their way through their studies, while their parents try hard to make ends meet; giving their spare time and money towards the education of their children with special needs.
The ‘English’ language seems like a beacon of light to both the students and parents. It is a small school where the curriculum is taught in the regional language, and English has no presence anywhere. Six months back, I was under the assumption that I was a competent teacher who can handle challenges that comes my way. I had all the resources and experience. When I started this job, I found myself clueless, asking every morning, “Where do I start?” While I tried to look for lesson plans from previous years, I realised that there was no curriculum for English! Nor were there mentor teachers, guidelines, or textbooks. Yet, it was as exciting as it was frightening.
My students took to English immediately and joyfully. To them, it was thrilling to learn something that they thought was out of bounds. They beamed with pride when they wrote the alphabets or understood the meaning of small words. With the alphabets and a small set of vocabulary words mastered, the actual testing period started. I realised with a shock that their language foundation was weak, or in some cases as good as non-existent. I was teaching children in the age-group of five to fifteen, divided into smaller groups. The alarming fact was that there was no remarkable difference in language development across age groups. Yes, they were children with Hearing Impairment with varying degrees of loss. I knew that their language development would not be their strongest asset. It was the fact that a fifteen year old was unable to express his thoughts to communicate that was a setback.
It saddened me that the children’s significant chunk of their learning years had not taken care of this fundamental goal in their education. Questions haunted me, “How do we set this right? Is it possible to put it right? Is it too late?” I decided to start with the fundamentals. Using the language structure of their mother tongue, we began by identifying nouns, verbs and adjectives. It is an ongoing process, but we are focusing on what they know—questions and answers in their mother tongue to understand the function of question words. The process is slow, but I am sure that time will tell. I find myself doing a lot of research to find strategies to use in class.
After working under a strict, organised, compartmentalised system of teaching, this has been a completely different experience. I’ve turned into a learner all over again and on many days, a struggling one. Then I remember the sparkle in their eyes as they wish me “Good morning Miss/Ma’am” every day. I feel hopeful that all my work is worth it for a brighter path ahead.