Written by Ashish Sharma
As a child and in my youth, I would always feel uncomfortable looking at the kids who were deprived of education. I remember having a self drawn picture of children being taught in a village environment. And a thought – that – if I ‘have’, I have the responsibility to ‘give’.
Quitting a lucrative career in USA was however not easy. None of my friends and family members approved it. But the sheer urge to serve the children back in my home country took me through all of it and I was back in India in search for the opportunity.
Opportunity thus came in my first Art of Living course when someone told me about a group of underprivileged students and need for a computer teacher in an evening school. There were than 15 such children from different age groups.
As I entered the class on my first day of teaching, I saw those lovely kids lined up to welcome me. The spark in their eyes was unshakable. They had a hope and a zest for learning. And this very thought that someone who studied in USA is going to teach them computers had brought a great joy and inquisitiveness to them.
And for me, standing in front of them. It was a zeal to help them in their lives through this 1 hour of teaching everyday. I felt responsible for all of them at once. And that was my first lesson in my first class of teaching:: As a teacher I am responsible for them. For what I say, how I carry myself in front of them, how I handle them when they make mistakes. Whatever happens in class and outside as a result, I am responsible.
Those children were not conventional students who would get first class education. And teachers were teaching on volunteer basis. Being from the village, they had a deep respect for their teachers. It reflected in their demeanour in the class. Challenge was to keep them regular and motivated for learning as there parents would often see them as an immediate source of income. And education was given second preference. It made me aware, caring, patient, creative all at the same time. When, years later, I joined Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir Trust, I felt happy with the same principles inbuilt into the education for Teachers as they were all made to compulsory go through the Art of Living Happiness Program and the signature Shraddha Training program specifically designed for SSRVM teachers.
As I kept teaching them, my classes grew in numbers and interest. I was now teaching them science and math along with computers. Best of our classes were what we called as “Khichdi Class” where we would combine ideas from different subjects into one class. For example: drawing a number line on Microsoft Word. In later years, during my travel to SSRVM Indore, this idea was taken by than principal of the school. This was another lesson I learnt in teaching:: As a teacher we have to be creative and develop novel ways to promote learning. SSRVM’s Shraddha Training has one complete session on this aspect.
It was sometimes a challenge to balance the class mixed of different age groups. To keep them focussed in their studies was another challenge as they were often pulled back from studies due to external factors. Engaging parents was the key and it required immense patience and team work. Imagine effort that would have gone in taking SSRVM Dharavi, the school in Asia’s largest slum, to over 400+ students now and growing every year.
When exams were near, I called for extra periods. And as it happens, the authorities were anxious for senior kids. But I saw the kids smiling and giving their 100% as they were taught. Rule no. 6 as we named it – “Don’t take yourself seriously. Yet give your 100%”. Results were good and many of the senior children took commerce and science for their major and supported their education with a part time job. Today one of the senior students is a medical graduate and others are having qualified jobs.
SSRVM Dharavi and Art of Living free schools have similar numerous such stories of change where volunteer efforts have uplifted lives of thousands of children.
Even today, when I think about my stint with teaching, I remember the thoughts written outside the classroom which are for every parent and teacher:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
– Kahlil Gibran