Give Me Your Tiffin

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I last posted. The past several weeks were a blur. A combination of exams, holidays, and rain have kept me from teaching my regular classes

Beginning in late August, students in Class 7-12 had Block One exams. These exams are meant to test students’ knowledge of not only core academic subjects, but also subjects like computers and home science. The teachers dedicated one week to review sessions. Every day for the following two weeks, students came to school, took an exam, and went home.

Luckily, my school has a Further Education (FE) room where special education students come for extra help. During the exam weeks, I spent a lot of my free time there talking with Dev. Dev is 26-years-old and has Down Syndrome. He’s the principal’s son; in fact he was Akshar’s first student. He doesn’t take classes anymore, but teachers do tutor him and talk with him throughout the day. Dev loves playing golf, watching James Bond movies, and learning about sports cars. I taught him how to play a few simple card games (“War” and “Go Fish”) which he enjoyed a lot.

I also did a few cooking activities with him (making a nacho salad and virgin mojitos). The funny thing about being a teacher is that your students often enjoy certain activities more than you expect them to. While we cooked, I taught Dev some simple Spanish words and expressions. To my surprise, he ended up enjoying the Spanish lesson (which was just supposed to be a side component of the activity) much more than cooking (and even eating) the food.

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Nothing better than a Spanish lesson and a fresh nacho salad.

Of course, Dev is only one student and there was only so much I could do with him throughout the day. I’m not going to lie – there were a lot of periods during exam weeks when I felt like I had nothing to do.

You consistently hear how prestigious the Fulbright program is, how it’s supposed to change your life, how every moment is supposed to be amazing. And when one blank day follows another, you can’t help but wonder if you’re wasting your time and, worse, wasting the money that the U.S. and Indian Government invested in you.

So one day, I decided to wander down to the ground floor where primary classes are taught. Taking the initiative to offer help to different teachers was probably the best decision I made at Akshar. Karishma Di, a Class 2 teacher and special educator, welcomed me to her classroom and introduced me to her group of special ed. students. Five have Down Syndrome, one is autistic, and one is mute.

Nimbu Pani

I enjoyed making nimbu pani (lime water) with Karishma Di and her students. Joining the students for these types of activities helps me get to know them and gain their trust.

Most of them are learning basic things like counting, writing and recognizing the letters of the alphabet, and having simple conversations. Working with them is definitely a challenge. Suraj colored on my sleeve and told me he would lock me in the jungle. And when I turned my back for a few minutes, he started pulling another boy’s hair. Another day, one of the girls lay down on the floor and refused to get up while I ran after two of the boys who were chasing each other down the hall. (Needless to say, I’m usually a bit out of breath after teaching their class.)

I do, however, celebrate the small victories. For example, when Suraj wanted to eat his tiffin (snack) early, I firmly told him that he has to wait until break time. We played tug-of-war with his lunchbox for a few minutes and, in the end, he listened to me and joined our group activity.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what goals I should set for these students. But after being with them for a few weeks, I can see a horizon start to emerge.

They love learning English through song and dance. And they always pay attention when we do activities that involve movement. So I might aim to teach them basic conversation skills through music and skits. I’ll experiment and see what works best. I’m always open to suggestions – feel free to comment below if you have any ideas!

Note: All student names have been changed to protect their privacy.