World Traveler Post
It still blows my mind how different school culture is in America and India.
I spent about two weeks volunteering in India. Teaching in what they called the “Slum Teaching” project. I was able to experience first-hand a totally unfamiliar school culture than what I grew up in.
I had no idea what to expect when myself and two other volunteers from Portugal and France were dropped off at a school in a small town named Faridabad outside of Delhi, India. I figured I would be assisting a teacher with her classroom. Helping kids with homework and doing a few art projects. Instead, I was dropped off and lead inside a classroom by myself. There were no teacher figures around. The kids were super excited for us to be there right off of the back. I seriously felt like a famous person every time I showed up to the school. I’m not even exaggerating, the kids would cheer and shout saying “YAY TEACHER” and stand up from their desks with there arms up in the air when I walked in the classroom each morning. They had the cutest little Indian accents.
Myself and a few of the school children.
Throughout my time in the classroom I had to adapt to so many school cultural differences. Some of them were just little things that I would just never expect in an American school. Other things were extremely hard to accept and get used to.
In India the kids were free to get up and roam the tiny enclosed school as they pleased. Most of the kids would stay in the classroom because they were so amused by the blonde haired American girl that looks and talks funny attempting to teach things. Most of the time I had a classroom of roughly 8 to 10 year olds. There was a few kindergarten stragglers that would come in and run around for a while and then leave. I also had the older ones who would come in and basically stop what I was doing with the class so they can ask me questions. Kids in the higher grade class were very involved in keeping the younger classes in line and making sure they are doing work. I noticed one of the older boys didn’t do much of learning at all. He had the responsibly of managing the other younger classes.
This is a photo of the older boy, I can’t remember his name. Most of his school day was helping to teach and manage the younger classrooms instead of doing his own school work.
They kids were very curious about what America looked like and where I lived. I showed them pictures of my dog and where Lisbon Maine was on a map. The most common question was “America is rich, yes?” I could really only verbally communicate with the older ones. They could speak English pretty well but it was still a struggle to have a conversation.
The first day I was basically just observing what the kids were doing and how the school day ran. Trying to figure out what is it I should be doing. Most of the school-day was them copying out of a book and writing the words they were seeing in Hindi and then repeating it in English. They did a lot of writing. Each kid had a few work books including english, math and science. They were these tiny little books that were very dirty and torn. No matter what the subject was they would just copy the worlds on a separate piece of paper. Hindi and then in English. I had no idea what I was doing. I came totally un prepared. I started thinking about different activities I used to do as a kid and tried my best to communicate with the kids. I had to come up with my own lessons and activities to keep them distracted all day. It was a huge challenge with the language barrier.
I had crayons and markers donated to bring with me on my trip. The kids LOVED to color. I’m not sure if they have even had the opportunity to color before. There were no school supplies in the classroom. Each person had a pencil and their workbooks. That was about it. Some classrooms had a few pieces of chalk that broke in half every time you pressed it on the board. There was no stash of crayons, sizzors, sharpeners or even spare pencils in the room for them to use. Absolutely no supplies to work with.
We colored freely a few times. You would think when you walk around the room you would see each kid draw there own imaginative picture. They were super excited when I would individually give them attention and tell them they did a good job so I always walked around to look at everyones work. I was walking around to see everyones drawings and 95% of the room had drawn the same exact thing, the Indian flag.
Even when they got a fresh piece of white paper to draw on it was the same thing over and over. I found it super interesting. I’m not sure if they just haven’t had practice using there imagination on paper or they just had a lot of pride in there country. I tried to get them to draw a picture of themselves so they would all be different. I put an example on the board of me. Then they all thought I wanted them to draw a picture of me. LOL. They were probably like “wow this girl if full of herself.”
I remember growing up were given crayons, markers, paint and clay to work with on the daily. We were pretty privileged with access to these resources. After that first day of observation I knew I wanted to focus on trying to spark some creativity in their minds.
I remember one activity I did as a kid was writing our own story about a picture we got to choose from that was taped on the board. I tore three different pictures from a coloring book I had brought and I tried this with my class in India. I had to have one of the older kids to help explain what I wanted them to do. The main point I struggled so hard to get through to them was that I wanted them to create their own story not a list of things. I put a picture of a car, boat and dog on the board. Most of the kids chose the dog. When I took their papers it was all my dog = good my dog = black, my dog = run, my dog = my dog. They struggled tremendously with coming up with their own story. Again, I couldn’t quite tell if it was the lack of creative practices from a lack of classroom supplies that made it so hard for them. It could have been the language barrier. It also could have been the fact that they soon realized I was drawing a star on each one of their papers so they were super excited to be done. I had seven or eight kids come up to me at a time saying “ma’am a sta, ma’am a sta.” They were so beyond excited that I was writing “good job!” and drawing stars for them on their work.
After tying a few more creative activities I noticed the real lack in the ability to use imagination. Creating conent and pictures that were not out of a book was a struggle. When I was in school we were literally handed some sort of art project almost every day. It was literally just put right in front of us. I believe that the lack of resources and fee supplies in this Indian school has created an inability to creativly think.
The absolute hardest thing for me to get used to was the difference in discipline. In America naughty kids who don’t listen or put hands on someone else would get a warning and at the worst detention or expelled. The principals and children here were very physical. If the kids had a problem with another student it was a physical fight of punching and wrestling until someone breaks down and cries on the ground.
I remember the first fight between the students I saw. I thought it was a good idea to try to break it up. I was actually taking a video at the time and stuck my phone in my armpit as I tried to stop it, not realizing my camera was still rolling. It was actually really funny because I could see out of the corner of my eye the other kids laughing at me. Clearly people like me were not supposed to break up fights. Eventually the principal came over and said “ma’am no” and broke up the fight himself. He was even laughing at me a little.
It wasn’t just the kids that were physical towards each other. If a child was acting up the principal would strike them multiple times on the back and in the face. I can still hear that terrible sound in my head. There was one time I had a little girl drop her pencil under the desk. She happened to get out of her seat and reach for it under the table as the same time the principal was walking by. She was stuck in the face a few time to the point of tears for being out of her seat at the wrong time. Yet the girl didn’t try to explain herself, she sat back in her seat wiped the tears and got over it. I couldn’t help but cringe every time it happened. It took a long time to get used to but eventually I realized this is just the culture and I needed to accept it.
I can’t even image if that happened in my classrooms growing up. I feel like if this happened in America today there would see a Facebook post the next morning “teacher hits kid for getting pencil under desk.” There would be a huge blow out and the world would be disrupted for a few days. Jobs would be lost, childhoods would be ruined.
In America we are taught to raise our hand before we speak or ask a question. There is so much organization that goes on to keep a well structured classroom. I learned very quickly that there is no such thing as hand raising in this Inidan school. I feel like the entire four hours I was teaching there was constantly a kid trying to get my attention yelling “ma’am, ma’am, excuse me ma’am, ma’am!” It never stopped. I tried to get the kids to understand what raising your hand meant. I would go up to them when they were screaming for my attention and do the whole zip your lips with your fingers thing. I put my hand up, pointed to it and said “hand.” I thought the kids were starting to understand what I was asking. Nope. Instead of saying “ma’am, ma’am” for my attention they starting putting their hand up, pointing to it and screaming “hand, hand, hand!” to try and get my attention. Face Palm.
September in India has a holday called Teachers Day. It’s when the kids run the classrooms and the teachers’ stay home for the day. Of course teaching that day was on the volunteer schedule so we still went. It was funny because one of the older girls who they called Princess was supposed be a teacher that day. I could tell she was one of those who pretty much ran the school and had a big attitude. Princess was not happy that we showed up and stole her spot light on teacher day. She was dressed up in a white fluffy dress, clearly excited to be the teacher for the day and control kids.
What if we did that in America? Teachers just stay home for the day and we let the middle schoolers be in control of the elementary school for the day. It would be a complete nightmare. It would completely disrupt the community. It would just absolutley never happen. We are so set on what our different roles are supposed to be in the community. Any slight change or disruption would completely throw everyone off. Opinions and arguments would fill the air.
It was really eye opening to see how privelaged I was going to school in my town. It’s funny because here, people make fun of the town I went to school in. We get be littled for the education we recieved. All I know is I was lucky enough to get so many free resources put infront of my face with no work put in. I never thought of myself being a priveleged school kid until I saw what these students in India are given to help their education thrive, nothing. There is one thing that this school in Indian has that we don’t and that’s a sense of a close community. Children were always helping each other out. They rely on each other to better their education and get the most out of those conditions.
I plan on going back to India in May of 2019 and continue experiencing more of the culture I didn’t even know existed and sharing my observations with you.
Check out some of my similar posts about India
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