Monday, November 26, 2012

Thoughts on Teaching - By Angela

Teaching in India is a very different experience than teaching at home.

There are a few reasons for this:
1. India is a collectivist society.  They consider the group before thinking for themselves. As an American educator a lot of the habits they have formed in school- things like sharing answers, shouting out an answer for another student, looking at one another’s papers- seem like cheating.  It is taking great effort for me to understand how they collectively have class, without assuming that they are not individually learning, or otherwise cheating.  
Some aspects of the collective approach to teaching are fun; they are very good a choral response.  When I say or write something on the board for them to repeat, the room rumbles in a rhythmic beat of syllables, it makes me feel powerful, like a high ranking military officer. They also genuinely want to help each other. I see no pride or arrogance in ones efforts. This is both good and bad for me, as a teacher. I like their humble and caring hearts; but, at the same time, I really do not know who originally came up with the answer written on everyone’s paper across the row.  I want them to understand that at this point I could care less whether or not the answer is correct, I just need to know who is getting it correct and who is not, and what I need to go ever again.

2. India is a respectful society.  Like in Spanish, the Telugu language has set apart words for respected people: elders, teachers, mothers, fathers and respected people in society.  It is a wonderful tradition and aspect to language that I feel we have let slip in our society. Never do I hear, “ma’am,” and the only time I hear children calling adults Mr. or Mrs. is in class to their teacher. 
When I walk into my classroom the students all stand and say “Good morning madam”  (I have been called madam more than I care to count-it makes me feel like an old woman or a brothel spinster).  Anyway, it is a sign of respect here and I appreciate it!  If a student is late to class they do not speak, they only stand at the door and salute until you invite or wave them in.  These are two simple examples of many that show the utmost respect these students have for adults, teachers, and education as a whole. 

3. Indian boys LOVE to dance.  Not much to say on that, other than that I have never seen a SINGLE boy in America as eager to dance as EVERY boy is here.  The kids, boys and girls alike, are truly enjoying Renee’s dance classes.  She is so good at simplifying the choreography to counts that language is not an issue. 

4. India is a society hungry for education.  Many students at home roll their eyes when they are assigned homework, dislike going to class, dislike their teachers, complain about the long days, fake illness, find any excuse not to attend school….I know, I was one of them! 
Schooling in India, in this area, for this caste of students is a PRIVELEDGE!  The students look forward to coming to class, they are as a whole eager to complete their work, and they appreciate their teachers. At home, even teaching kindergarten, I struggled trying to make the learning fun, relevant and entertaining.  Here, we have a chalkboard and crappy white chalk; no technology, no manipulative, no cool art supplies, and the students are enthralled with learning. Simple strategies like charades are a welcome break from day to day class work, and even then I feel that at home charades might not be enough entertainment for some. 

All in all, I love teaching here and I have a lot to learn!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thoughts on Holidays and Diwali

In America, we have weekends.  The rhythm of the work week says that we work Monday through Friday and we don’t work on Saturday and Sunday.  Indians don’t have weekends.  In India, you will see children going to school six days a week.  During exam times, they will go to school every day of the week to prepare for the exams.  People who own shops go to work every day of the week.  Some workers will work 6 days a week.  Churches start late because people need to work in the morning on Sunday and then will come in at 12 or 1 PM.  

During one of the first meetings with Suresh, he asked whether we wanted to have weekends.  We said that we did.  This seemed like it would be important for our sanity.  Some of the Harvest India staff will ask us to do something on Saturday, but then will stop and say, “Oh wait, you have holiday.”  The staff members refer to our weekends as holidays.  

I wondered how Indian workers keep their sanity without weekends.  One important thing to note: the people I work with are very depend on their daily wages.  If they don’t work, they don’t make money and they don’t eat.  Weekends wouldn’t be helpful for that.  Another note: they have so many national holidays in India that they don’t need weekends.  We’ve been here six months, but there is at least one large festival every month.  October had Dusserah and November had Diwali. 

Hindus celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, as a very important festival to worship the goddess of weath, Lakshmi.  The Hindu celebration focuses on the victory of darkness over light.  Hindus will say special prayers and go to special services on this day.  They celebrate Diwali by buying new clothing or jewelry or automobiles on this day.  In effort to make Lakshmi feel welcomed in their home, they will light small clay lamps and set them up outside their house.  They will also clean out their entire home and repaint it if they can afford it.  It is the beginning of the fiscal year for financial businesses.  Finally, they will light off fireworks (also called bombs) all over town to scare away the evil spirits.  To learn more about the celebration, please visit the Wikipedia page.

Our team got to celebrate Diwali.  Christians don’t really celebrate Diwali, but Suresh invited us to eat a nice dinner and shoot off some fireworks for Diwali.  I had to think about why we would be celebrating Diwali.  We don’t want to impress upon other Christians that we are acting Hindu.  We also don’t want the Hindus to think that as well.  I asked Suresh why we were celebrating Diwali.  He said that every year, people will just give him a ton of fireworks for free.  He won’t waste them, so he lets his kids and the house workers light them off.  He does it for his kids.  Thinking about it, it seems similar to Non-Christians celebrating Easter or Christmas with gifts.  If you use Diwali as an opportunity to light off fireworks and spend time with family, then how is it different than the Fourth of July?  Anyways, from my experiences here in India, I think that Indians will choose any opportunity to light off fireworks.  

Before we went to Suresh’s house, we checked some prices on fireworks.  Fifty Rupees (about $1) bought a package of 10 boxes of sparklers.  Twenty Rupees (less than fifty cents) could buy a bag of 100 small fireworks that look like mini sticks of dynamite.  Fireworks are CHEAP and legal here.  

When we got to Suresh’s house, there were a ton of fireworks and bombs.  Bombs are an appropriate name because when they light off they explode and make loud noises.  There were small sparklers that came in boxes of 100.  They were great, but short so some of the arm hairs feel singed.  There were some fireworks that went into the air and exploded.  There were some rolls of fireworks that were hundreds of small stick fireworks that when lit would set off a chain reaction of lighting up and exploding.  There are spinners that are attached to sticks similar to sparkers.  There are fountain fireworks.  All of these are really fun to use.
The Canadian team joined us as we lit fireworks.  It was amazingly fun yet super dangerous to American standards.  Bombs were lit and exploded a little closer than they should probably have.  Fountain fireworks were lit by other fountain fireworks.  I had a close encounter one time when I lit a fountain and it didn’t look like it lit up.  The whole thing was caught on video that can be seen here.  Cory also had a problem with a fountain firework.  You could light the fountains and then hold them as the sparks came out.  One Cory had exploded in his hand and burnt it.  We put ointments on it and prayed and it was healed within two days.  
Renee, Angela, Mercy and Kacie with sparklers.
I had so much fun lighting bombs with some Harvest India staff and then running the opposite direction for cover laughing the entire time.  Looking around, there were scenes of fireworks going off.  There was joy on everyone’s faces.  Suresh’s wife, Christina, looked like a little kid lighting off some of the fountain fireworks.  Suresh’s children and house staff were so excited and having so much fun.  During it, I realized why Suresh celebrated with fireworks for his kids.  It was a wonderful time celebrating together as one big family.  We weren’t celebrating Diwali with family, we were celebrating family with fireworks!