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The diversity in unity.

At Institute 2012, you often heard this line:

The ‘how’ of what we do something can differ, but the ‘why’ of what we do shouldn’t.

Which in its essence means that we’re all different people, and therefore have different ways of solving different problems, but what we must have in spite of all that diversity, is the understanding that we have all come together to solve a common problem – that of educational inequity in the country.

And the understanding of that is particularly important; because god knows that we do all have different ways of looking at things. For instance, as a teacher, I may personally decide to leverage my students knowledge of Hindi to teach them English and therefore use small bits of Hindi in class, whereas you may strongly endorse not speaking in Hindi class, because you feel that by not giving them the option of using an alternative language, you set higher expectations in your class for English, and therefore your students learn faster.

The how of what we do it may completely differ, but why we’re doing something (to ensure that our children learn fluent English) shouldn’t.

Core Values, really? 

And that brings me to ‘how’ the organization itself goes about solving the problem at hand, and whether I agree with it. It was actually a question that I often found asking myself through Institute – whether I really agreed with how we were going about doing something.

And I found clarity reasonably early, after a particular session on the Core Values during the first week of Institute.

(For those of you who in the dark, Teach For India has certain core values (like Excellence, Resourcefulness, Integrity) that they expect their fellows to embody through the fellowship)

How they put this across to us, was actually something that gave me my answer, and stood out starkly to me during the first week, because most importantly – it also set the tone for the coming weeks.

The sessions where we discussed Core Value were often juxtaposed with sessions that required us to identify (as teachers) what values/qualities we wanted our kids to embody at the end of the 2 years. During those sessions, we often used words like respectful, hard-working, helpful, kind, punctual etc, and slowly it began to seep in to me and everybody else, that for me to expect my kids to embody these values at the end of two years, I would exemplify them myself in front of my children, because after all the kids would be a reflection of me, two years down the line.

And it was only with these sessions, were we introduced to the Core Values of the organization – values that we were ourselves expected to embody, and the values went hand in hand, and it now made sense to me to embody the core values of TFI.

How they did this, could’ve been completely different. They could’ve shown us a slide of these values and said, here, these are good qualities, so they obviously make sense to embody, so go ahead and do it.

But instead, by making us look at where we wanted our kids to be at the end of two years, and then asking us how we planned on getting there, and then showing us the values meant that we not only understood the core values, it also meant that we saw sense in it, because suddenly from what-the-organization-is-telling-me-to-do, it became what-I-wanted-to-be-for-my-kids.

And that is what I mean when I say set the tone for the coming weeks. It was never about doing this or doing that, it was about whether you saw sense in doing so, and if you frankly didn’t, you didn’t have to do it.

Of all the things that I believe so strongly about TFI, this culture within the organization was what stood out to me through Institute.

My favourite part about TFI

Which brings me to my next favourite point, about the staff at TFI. At the outset, I just want to say that the staff faces considerably more pressure during Institute than the fellows, because if a fellow is expected to exemplify the Core Values, as staff member, had to be 2 notches higher because you were teaching the fellows themselves, and they were learning from you.

And thus, some of the people I met on staff, are by far the most inspiring people I have ever met in my life and by no exaggerated means. Not by what they spoke about, and/or what they had done, but with how they went about  doing things.

To have the energy Venil did at every point of the day, through the 10 weeks of Institute 1 and 2, working 20 hours a day was phenomenal to watch and get inspired by, and no one who saw her through those weeks would disagree. The staff slept idontevenknowwhen, because they were there through every session, and after that, late into the night when fellows would go to them with concerns regarding the class/organization. I’ve had a conversation with some of them until as late at 2 am, knowing they had to plan after that, and yet I saw them ready and raring to go at the breakfast table at 7am day after day. At times when it got hard, I just had to look at one of them work, to feel a gush of energy and inspiration to get through the day.

Even in terms of the push back that they face from fellows, and how they handled it, I realize requires a great amount of grit and patience – 2 qualities I’ve learnt to value just by looking at staff through Institute. Small things I’ve picked up (every time you speak to Maureen/Anna/Venil notice how they look at you right in the eye, unwavering, when they are talking, and when they were listening for the whole of the conversation and how much of a difference it makes) at Institute, I realize I couldn’t have learnt it anywhere else, otherwise.

Bringing it ALL back to the kids

The most interesting part of this, is that it roots right back to Core Values session, and how it ties in with what you expect our of your kids in class.

All of the staff members I have spoken about, have done the fellowship either in India, America or in The UK for 2 years, and as I begin to put 2 and 2 together, I wonder if they exemplify these qualities, because it exactly what they expected this out of their students at the end of two years.

It gets me thinking of where I am, and where they are, and whether the difference really is just the 2 years of fellowship. Because it’s not a co-incidence how all of these guys that I spoke about, have ALL finished the fellowship, and I really begin to think about how deeply the fellowship affects you as a person, and the change that you will see in yourself as a person, because of the expectations that you set for your kids, and because your kids push you so hard to want to be a role model that they can look up to.

And, all of what I have said, brings me to what Institute 1 fellow, Zafar had written on his wall the other day, where he articulately sums up why you should join the fellowship, which in its essence sums this blog post, in fact even sums the purpose of writing this blog for me –

“ If you feel this is a selfless act, you’ve got it a little wrong. You will gain a lot more personally than what you will be able to give. Apply for It. Now.

And I think that it ALL comes back to your kids. Consciously, or unconsciously, they teach you things, they make you a better person, they make you want to be a better person, and I daresay we all saw the end product of what that looked like, at Institute.

And maybe that is the power of the fellowship. Maybe you do learn more from your kids,than you can ever hope to give them back.

So thank you kids. We do our best to teach them Math, English and Science; but as it turns out, you leave us having effortlessly taught us things far, far more important : )

Happy Friendships day : )