I hail from the port city of Chennai, it was not until July 2017 that I had to bid goodbye to my home to pursue my undergraduate degree at FLAME University in Pune. I studied Digital Marketing and Design at FLAME, and also did a couple of Public Policy courses. I did a course called Social Policy and Inequality in my third year, which piqued my curiosity on social issues in India. This interest led me to pursuing an internship at a think tank in Chennai during the summer of 2020. I explored areas like education, sanitation and its impact on education during the course of my internship. Through the course of my internship, I learnt about the GER of girls studying in schools in Tamil Nadu. I learnt that access to sanitation and menstruation facilities had a direct impact on a girl’s attendance to school. This really made me want to understand the education sector and the impact of sanitation on education in Tamil Nadu better, which made me look for opportunities in this space. That is when I came across the Bhumi fellowship. 

Having been a Bhumi fellow for the last two months, my experience so far has been extremely enriching, insightful and something I’m extremely grateful for. There have been a lot of ‘firsts’ in the journey. Interacting with multiple stakeholders – parents, teachers and school leaders/conducting ice breaker sessions for different stakeholders. Every new experience brings a plethora of learning opportunities, excitement and nervousness. One such new experience for me in these last two months has been that of ‘teaching’. 

Teaching for the first time ever in my life has been slightly nerve wracking, although in a good way. There is so much that one needs to plan for and anticipate before teaching. Being a first time teacher, the process is a lot harder because there are so many doubts and questions that go on in one’s mind – “Am I doing this right?”, “Is there a better way to teach this?”, etc. The answer will always be yes. There is always going to be a better way to teach a certain concept and most importantly at that moment in time, we’re doing the best we can with what we know about our children, given the circumstance. How I deal with all these questions in my head is by giving it a go. No matter what it is, I always make sure I try doing it first and then see how I fared, where I went wrong and what I can do better. The thing about being a first time teacher is that mistakes are your best friend. It all depends on how you choose to look at these mistakes. They become your best friend when you look at them as an opportunity to learn. How you incorporate these mistakes, I mean learning, in your future plans makes all the difference. As students, we’re often told that mistakes are the best teachers, and the more mistakes we make, the more we learn. It’s the same on the other side of the coin as well. The best way to become a better teacher is by making mistakes and learning from them. 

The beauty about being a first time teacher is that there will be more questions than answers. There will be more questions that are unanswered than the ones that are answered. The trick is to keep going, to stay committed to your children and to the purpose. It is incredibly important to be kind to yourself and have faith in yourself.  I hope that through the course of my fellowship journey, I remember to constantly learn in order to help my children learn better. I hope we can grow together and remind ourselves that the classroom is where learning starts, but is certainly not where it ends. 

Wordsmith: Neelanjana Varanasi – Bhumi Fellow

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