We lay out these elaborate plans and set goals for ourselves, trying to constantly push our own capabilities and limits without ever stopping to consider if the end is worth it, or better yet, if we will be able to make it worth it. As is the norm (or the hope of a norm) for an Indian student, I too had laid out my life in front of me in the form of a checklist; I knew after my undergraduate degree in Psychology from Kamala Nehru College, I wanted to go for my Masters, and then an M. Phil and then a Ph.D. and keep working and continue learning. I remember the anxiety, mine and my family’s when I first considered deviating from this apparently fixed path after reading “One day all children will attain an excellent education,” – The Vision of Teach For India. In my final year, wondering whether I will truly be able to make the most of these degrees I want to pursue, I chose to hit pause for two years and join the Fellowship and tread unfamiliar waters.
I wanted to know if I truly will be able to make connections with children and their families if we will be able to relate with one another if I will be able to build a strong sense of emotional sensitivity and mental health awareness if given the opportunity if I will be able to… I simply wanted to put my abilities to the test. My motives for joining the Fellowship were centered on my own self and my own personal growth.
And yet, six months in and I’m choosing to stay for my girls. 150 brilliant, opinionated, sometimes infuriating, always loving and wonderful girls. Girls who have stood up to practices of corporal punishment, girls who have set boundaries with their classmates about body shaming, girls who want to see the world, girls who want to see beyond the world and into space, girls who want to support and uplift one another, girls who dare to dream for more.
If the Fellowship has taught me anything, it is that idealism is hard. To be an active participant at the grass root levels of educational inequity and not lose hope is hard, and yet, that is the challenge. Every day, when I see a student who was previously afraid to speak up in class raise their hand, my hope increases, and my desire for idealism grows. This is a space for idealistic and practical people to learn from one another, to grow with one another. Through the Fellowship, I’ve been able to play John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in my classroom and ask my students to imagine their ideal world with beautiful outcomes and build their ideal world through practical actions. I’ve learned that conversations are the most powerful tool in my arsenal that can facilitate change. I’ve learned how to set a vision and create goals to work towards that vision for my students. I’ve learned to make (in theory) Bihari delicacies, courtesy of my student’s parents. I’ve learned that children are capable of so much abstraction and wonder. I’ve learned that it is indeed possible for ALL children to attain an excellent education. All that is needed for this vision, are people- just like you and me- that are willing to try.
In the long run, two years seems like nothing, especially with the way time has been flying by, each month passing by quicker than the previous month. These two years of the Teach For India Fellowship will fly by and will leave you with transferable skills that any job would require, moments and conversations that seem almost surreal and most importantly, connections that would last you a lifetime.
About the Author
Saisha Shivkumar completed her Bachelors Degree in Psychology (H) from Kamala Nehru College, the University of Delhi in 2019. Today, she is in her first year of the Teach For India Fellowship, teaching English and Social Studies in a municipal school for girls in Sangam Vihar, New Delhi- to a 9th-grade classroom.