It has been more than six months since I first stepped into an Apni Shala classroom, but I remember each moment from that day like it happened only yesterday.
Endless thoughts kept me on the edge before entering the class, not least about, How will the class go? Will the students like me as their new “Didi”? Do I need to add things to my lesson plan? Isn’t one hour rather long for a social-emotional learning (SEL) session? and so on.
Soon it was time for me to pack away any other thought, and instead narrow my focus upon interacting and conducting a one-hour class successfully.
And then, all of a sudden, I was faced by a class of 25 students. There were innocent faces with a mischievous glint in the eyes all beaming at me… who knew then that these young people would one day help me pave my learning path.
I greeted them. They greeted back. I asked the students to form a circle and sit down on their mats. Next, I introduced my self and then the topic of the day. For the first 15 mins, I had their attention; they responded to the prompts that I was giving out. As I started a discussion on the norms and guidelines for our classroom, I discovered a change in their behavior. There was much cross-talking, restlessness, amongst other things, that made me nervous. So I tried to form groups for the next activity, but their attention had already dissipated. The noise level in the classroom was rising. For the next 45 minutes or so I felt utterly helpless. No classroom management strategy that I had come prepared with seemed to work here. All I could do was to repeat the words “Please be quiet and stay in the circle”. And then the recess bell rang. At once they went scattered to grab their lunch boxes and left the classroom.
There I stood… embarrassed, drained and certainly in no mood to speak with anyone about what happened. Doubts and worries came gushing in, Am I cut out for this sort of job? Can I really go on with this class? Will I ever be able to build a rapport with them?
Then again, anything worth doing comes with unique challenges. This class challenged me to push my boundaries, break old stereotypes of a typical classroom while reinstating the belief that I can face a challenge of this kind or any other.
With that in mind, I started working towards what I saw as a challenge. I was determined to learn various strategies to manage this class, whether it involved engaging them in a group discussion (my strongest suit), conducting energizers, splitting them into smaller groups or starting the session with meditation exercises — I was willing to try everything and anything that worked.
Every week I went with a positive belief that I would attain whatever I had planned to do with them. But it seemed so tough.
Through discussions with the team, regular readings, and viewing videos on classroom management, I kept myself informed about more and more ways of dealing with challenging classrooms.
However, in no time I found that this class was responding to me; perhaps they were adapting to my facilitation style.
Through weeks and months of interactions, I have got insights into their world, which often gave me flashbacks of my own childhood. Also, as a bonus, I gained fresh ways of looking at the world.
This class has given me so much: learn and unlearn so many things, a chance to fine tune my facilitation for them. There is a newfound self-confidence that helps me face newer challenges. Today, I catch myself adopting their language and style of speaking when they are around me, as they have become a part of me.
When these students now ask me what I would be teaching them, I insist by saying that, “No, really, it is you who have been teaching me important things!”
My adventures and experiments with facilitating SEL have only just begun, as there are many more discoveries to make, with plenty of stories to be told.
About the author: Pranali Patil works as a programme fellow with Apni Shala. She is a graduate in Psychology from Mumbai University and also a professional tour guide.