Rising sophomore Melissa Chuang traveled to India this summer to teach spoken English to third through 11th grade students. During the experience, she saw the lines of teaching and learning blurred together between teacher and student, as she gained a better understanding of the Indian culture and the hope many young students hold.
Included are a couple of photos from Chuang's trip.
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“Hope” is a thing with feathers.
The first day on campus was a day to get familiar with the school, to walk around, visit classrooms, and introduce ourselves to the other teachers. But halfway through the day, one of the teachers asked if we wanted to take over the class. We were asked to teach a room full of 120 ninth graders for two hours – we had 10 minutes to prepare.
This summer I travelled to Tamil Nadu, India, to teach for six weeks. I went with two Stanford undergraduate students to the AGN Matric Secondary School through a student run program at Stanford called Project Dosti. Our purpose there was to teach spoken English, but we soon realized we had the ability and opportunity to do so much more than that.
I wanted to give the students something they could use to help themselves, embracing the saying, “give a man a fish it will feed him for a week, but teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for the rest of his life.”
We entered a society where opposite genders are not allowed to talk to each other after sixth grade, where boys and girls are separated on opposite sides of the classroom and where a brother can’t be seen talking to his own sister on the school grounds. Students are not allowed to talk to each other in the mess hall and have supervised studying at 5 a.m., which is considered memorizing textbooks word for word.
The school was not cruel, that was just how society was organized. In an oppressed society where gender differences are extreme and freedom is very limited, we wanted to give these students skills that would be useful throughout their lives.
I found the simplest skills that I take for granted, but that none of the other teachers at the school could teach, were the areas that would be most useful to the students: spoken English, independent thinking, and confidence.
During the day, the three of us taught spoken English to third through 11th grade classes. We had to create our own lesson plans from scratch. We did not have any resources, handouts, workbooks, or help from other teachers.
On average, we taught five periods a day, then we held a class for teachers for an hour after school and we had a special afterschool program concentrating on development of conversational skills and computer literacy for a select group of middle school students.
We were teaching about eight hours a day, but even so, I feel like the most valuable learning happened outside of the classroom.
Before and after school, and all the afterschool programs, I got to spend time with the children on the school field. For hours we would talk, joke and play games. They taught me how to play games like cricket, khokho, carram board and ring ball; in return, I taught them gymnastics.
In order to best teach the kids, I realized it was important for them to be comfortable. I found the best way to teach them was to have them teach me. By asking for their help to teach me sports, games, dances, songs and their traditions, I got to learn more about the amazing culture of India, and they were, unknowingly, developing their spoken English skills. The more I asked for their help and the more they taught me, the more confident and fluent they became in their speech skills.
They asked me questions about myself and my life, and in return I asked them questions about themselves. They had to think for themselves, they couldn’t just copy someone else’s answer or find the answer in a textbook, they had to think, independently.
Once this mutually beneficial relationship was established, it grew to be an even stronger bond. I got to develop relationships with the kids outside of the classroom and not long into my stay that friendship had turned into a family bond.
To the students in the classroom I was “Miss” but outside of the classroom I was “Akka”, which means older sister in Tamil.
These students taught me more than just games and traditions, they taught me universal things about hope and life.
They didn’t teach these things to me in words, but more through the way they lived their lives. Most of these students come from very humble beginnings, many only at the school because they received a scholarship since their families are unable to pay the annual $40 tuition fee.
Even if they don’t have much, they give without reserve, and their hope for the present and future is undiminished. They have hopes to become doctors, engineers and scientists. They hope for change and improvements in their native land.
Though they come from very little, their hopes are undeterred. They are driven by their hope and never ask for more.
Back to our first day on campus when we had 10 minutes to prepare a lesson – we settled on using Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope” is a thing with feathers.
We had no plan, we didn’t have time, so we just jumped into the lesson. We had the students break down the poem. We went over rhyming, vocabulary, similes, metaphors, extended metaphors, and ended with analytical questions.
“What does the writer mean when she says:
‘I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.’ ”
“Hope gives but does not receive. If you want to give someone hope, you must give and not expect anything back in return.”