“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
― Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking:
Conversations on Education and Social Change
This blog entry is dedicated to the Most Improved Student of Summer (M.I.S.S.) of TMS 2013. Certainly, all 220 students enrolled in the program have made huge strides – all can confidently manage cameras and Flip voice recorders, compose a wide variety of shots, create props / costumes / sets, act, and capture abstract concepts with a still image. [see slideshow of "Scavenger Hunts" at our schools, below!] Perhaps it is because this particular student had so much to learn, but she has rounded the learning curve and made it to the finish line second lap. Nelle Owens Dunlap, you are the M.I.S.S.!
I am only joking. There are many others here who have come further than I, who truly deserve awards. However, as a student of learning, I must recognize how much my facilitating (“teaching”) has improved due to the challenges of teaching in a new language, culture, and education system. I want to recognize how much the unwavering support of my TMS mentors and colleagues, local AYV / AIF / DE coordinators, teachers at West Marredpally, Hill Street, Seethafalmondi, & Railway, and of course the students have helped me.
1. Communication. That which I used to call “The Language Barrier Situation” has been renamed the “Let’s-Make-Nelle-a-Better-Teacher Situation;” less catchy, but more true. In the past, my go-to teaching strategy has been a high-energy, fast-paced, joke-cracking, FUN! attitude; which often works, but always feels like a car chase. It leaves me exhausted, and doesn’t allow much room for quieter students. In Hyderabad, I have slowed my speech, changed my inflection, and increased the time spent thinking before I speak. At Seethafalmondi, more of my students are Telegu-medium than English medium, and so I put even more focus on breaking down concepts into simplest terms. I rely greatly on English medium students for communication, and incorporating communal translation into our routine has added a rich Three Musketeers attitude to the class. I still joke (Charlie Chaplin’s got nothin’ on my non-verbal comedy) and keep my energy up, but the slower instruction pace leaves more time for checking-in and space for questions. To support our linguistically diverse classroom, Seethafalmondi’s first video project is an illustration of Telegu, Hindi, and English poems.
When I rejoin a U.S. classroom, I may choose to complicate my speech with adverbs, prepositions, and contractions. But I will hold onto the power of being a quieter teacher. I no longer feel the need to channel a circus ringleader or an MTV VJ (that is still a thing, right?) to compel kids to listen.
2. Mindfulness. About a month ago, Nicole and I had a great conversation about the poor representation of girls in the media, both in the U.S. and in India. The subject was near and dear to me: I facilitated a media-focused art curriculum with teenaged girls as part of my thesis work. We both went into our West Marredpally classes with the same direction in mind. Nicole’s students connected to the subject instantly. Mine did not. Perhaps I was too complicated and presented too many intertwined ideas before asking for response (ownership, gender bias, the machine of capitalism!). Perhaps I wasn’t open – instead, too ready to hear opinions and ideas of 13-year-old Baltimore girls. Perhaps they just had other things on their minds that week. Either way, the first class ended without much headway, as did the next. Each time I brought in a new angle, but no takers. Halfway through the third such class, I erased everything on the board. I asked, “What do you want to make a movie about?” The response was instant – “money problems,” “child labor,” “child marriage,” “health issues!” From there, the process was beautiful and organic. After a few journaling prompts, they wrote a collaborative narrative and then a storyboard, broke into small groups and chose responsibilities. Festival season has me a bit nervous about time, but we are set to move into production next week.
Because the topic was so resonant with previous students, I assumed the right prompt would get West Marredpally on the same page. Maybe it was just a matter of time. But why push for one agenda when the students are so ready to take on another issue? Both topics provoke critical thinking, and both global dialogues can benefit from student voices. Graduate school left me fairly well-versed in Freire’s principles of liberatory education. I am resolved to forever eschew Banking Education (wherein students are empty buckets and the teacher pours knowledge) in favor of open discussions and reciprocal learning. My push for a media discussion led to too many classes of imparting wisdom rather than letting the students lead. Speaking about the media is valid and important. Down the road I may try another prompt. But it was an important lesson for me to let go of my personal passion and make space for the students to teach the story.
3. Overprepare / underreact. When I arrived at Hill Street on the first day I recognized no one, despite having met all parties only days before. Mind you, I have a really good eye for faces. I later realized who was missing: the HM, the in-charge, and both assistant teachers. I was passed along to the crafts teacher, who sat by, wholly confused, as I taught her students the tenets of TMS. The next time, I had an assistant but 80% of the students changed – so we started over. The next time, class had grown by 10 kids – so we half started over. The next time, class was canceled because of exams, and then because of a festival. The next time, I got two completely new assistants. The next time, half my students were abducted by aliens and transformed into mutant octopuses. They were slimy but could use four cameras at one time, so it was okay.
I don’t mean to be flip. I am constantly learning about the challenges faced by government schools, and the effort it takes to supply assistant teachers, consistent students, and a classroom for TMS; I am grateful for this undertaking! I am only noting that it is a new experience, and that I have become more prepared for teaching in unexpected situations than I would have thought possible. It’s also a total joy to be experience the sweet amenability of the students and the determined yet c’est la vie! attitude of the teachers. I can only hope that some of it rubs off on me.
4. Perspective. Students in Hyderabad seem at the same time older and younger than U.S. students of the same age. Younger in their manner, stature, and often timid attentiveness; but older in the serious and focused way they respond to responsibility. Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Tough! We expect a lot from TMS students, and it’s easy to forget awkwardness of the space between child and adult. On the first hectic day of production at Railway, as the actors changed into their costumes, Asma and I watched helplessly as the 14 girls in charge of taking photos and recording voiceovers also changed out of their uniforms into jeans and tees, brushed their hair into high wavy ponytails, and carefully applied liner and mascara. Yes, it was time-consuming and cut into productivity, but I was reminded how important these rituals were to me when I began to define my own adult identity. After all, it is the small connections between lives lived in different generations, and thousands of miles apart that makes the relationship between TMS fellows and participants so special.
Thanks for reading – don’t forget to check out the slideshow below