My training at the head office of Freedom English Academy (FEA) was over. With the joining letter in my hand, I set out to find my centre in one of the largest urban slum settlements just outside Delhi. As I trudged along, extra careful to avoid splashing into puddles where the road and the drain miraculously became one entity, I had a sinking feeling of losing my way. Just then I received a call from the Student Mobilizer at FEA, to fetch her as she was lost too. I had mixed feelings about my new job.
After sometime, reached the center with the brilliant blue flex poster flashing on an otherwise empty wall ‘FEA CENTRE CODE 201307A’ of the newly commissioned FEA centre. On entering the center, I thought aloud “It’s a big and clean room.” On one hand, I was excited about pioneering the new center, but on the other hand, I was concerned if I had it in me to deliver on the dreams and aspirations that my students would walk in with. All my speculations were put to rest when a bunch of 14-17 year olds made their way to the centre with expectancy in their voices, a gleam of enthusiasm in their eyes, and a big question mark on their faces. Even before they settled in, I rolled out the first lesson, “Next time you enter the class, you must ask for permission.” They happily agreed.
My first day at the centre was quite a humbling one. Most of the students, acknowledged that their desire to learn English had been hampered because of their financial constraints. They asked me, “Sir, will you charge money for these classes?” Not that they didn’t know what FEC stood for, but they wanted to be sure. As I went on with my necessary ranting of “Dos” and “Don’ts” all the students listened with rapt attention.
I have been a ‘teacher’ earlier, but this was different. My training at the head office kept buzzing in my head, “Don’t give direct answers to your students, but eke it out of them in complete sentences.” Clearly, it was not an easy job. My past teaching experiences involved a lot of talking and some amount of discussion. Constantly engaging the students to scaffolding learning through discussion/dialogue/think-alouds is an arduous task. As a facilitator, this was my job. Moreover, this was the first time I was teaching language. Soon I realized that not only cajoling the students to speak in complete sentence works in building comfort with the new language, but also insisting that they listen attentively of immense importance.
In the last 6 months, I have experienced a plethora of situations and challenges with the students. Most of these students came from backgrounds that some of us may not even be able to relate to. They lead stressful lives and for them coming to the centre was not only about learning to speak in English, but finding solace in the company of other students with similar goals. There were times when it became extremely difficult to retain the students due to their domestic or personal issues. No matter how much they wanted to be present everyday at the centre, their personal issues sapped their morale/time. I had to be the motivator, guide and problem-solver for them – a call beyond the role of facilitator.
With the onset of summer vacations, number of students per session started dwindling. I asked students to become mobilizers for the centre. The idea worked wonders and enthusiasm of some of the students fetched me new students. From mere 30 students, today I have almost 70+ students in the morning shift.
Marching along the road of shaping and fulfilling dreams, September 11 was a special day for the centre- the first student evaluation. Thirty-one students were to be evaluated and I was confident of their success. All I had to do was to keep their morale and self-confidence high. Each of the 31 students surpassed all my expectations. And they didn’t fail me. The external evaluator was very pleased with their progress and issued 31 Level-1 certificates. As one of my students pointed out, “Sir, had one of us failed or got a provisional pass, we would have failed you.” Now that was a beautiful red cherry on a perfectly baked cake!
It has been an incredible journey with a few life changing experiences. I had never thought I would get so deeply involved with a certain section of our society that most of us simply choose to ignore in our daily lives.
Morning Facilitator @ Khora Colony