Finding a Foothold

During my first week at Akshar, I felt less like a teacher and more like an anthropologist. I spent most of my time observing classes and taking notes on a variety of topics, including teaching and disciplining strategies, curriculum, interesting conversations, and classroom setup.

To any future ETA who’s reading this, I would highly recommend that you ask your coordinating teacher to give you a couple observation days. I liked seeing how other teachers structure their classes because it gave me a better sense of how students would respond to my teaching style.

And my other piece of advice? Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect to understand everything on the first day – or even within the first two weeks.

Life at Akshar tumbles along at its own pace. I’m sure it’s the case at many other schools in India and elsewhere. I joined in the middle of parent-teacher conference week – which also happened to be exactly one month before students had to take their Block 1 Exam. Needless to say, the staff room felt like a tornado. Teachers gossiped about the parents they met, swapping stories about which conferences went well and which ones went poorly.  And every once in a while, there would be momentary panic because a few teachers had left to meet with parents and no one was there to substitute for their classes.

Staff Room

The staff room. The windows are usually kept open so you can feel a cool breeze.

In the middle of all this, there were conversations going on about exams that had to be written, syllabuses that needed approval, and the preparations needed for Independence Day .

So you can imagine me sitting in the middle of all this – not knowing the difference between a Block Exam and Class Exam, not knowing the curriculum, not knowing the names of my students or most of the teachers, and, all in all, feeling very confused.

Now, I’ve started my third week at Akshar. I still don’t know what a Block Exam is, but I do feel like I belong at the school much more than I did during the first week. I’ve filled in most of the squares on my timetable. I know where most of the classrooms are. And I even know the three different bell schedules that the school uses throughout the week.

After observing many classes, I decided to teach English sections to Class 3, 7, 8, and 11. (In India, people say  “Class” instead of “Grade.”) I’ll also work one-on-one with Special Education students who receive extra help in the Further Education (FE) Room.


The U.S. State Department sent these teaching materials to all of the ETAs. Collectively, the books cover all aspects of language acquisition (reading, writing, listening, and speaking.) The activities will probably be most useful to my students in Class 3 and 11.

I love talking with teachers during the (rare) quieter periods of the day. Never have I worked at a place as warm and welcoming as Akshar. I’ve only been there for a couple weeks, and already several teachers have invited me to go shopping for saris at New Market, take a tram ride through the city, watch theater performances, attend lectures, and visit cafes. And there isn’t a day in the staff room when a packet of biscuits or a bowl of muri isn’t being passed around.

I laugh to myself when I think back to the perky email I wrote to my coordinating teacher a couple months ago: Which areas in English do you think your students need the most help with? I would love to get a head start preparing lesson plans and activities while I am in the U.S.

What was I thinking? Did I actually think that I’d be able to write lessons before meeting my students and experiencing Akshar’s school culture? I doubt my coordinating teacher – or even the best anthropologist – would be able to capture the school’s structure and culture in a single email.

These things can only be understood through observation and experience. I’m glad that most of the confusion I felt during the first few weeks has dissipated. Asking questions – and sometimes asking the same question several times – is the best way to learn.

I look forward to sharing more about all the ups and downs of my journey at Akshar. Thanks for reading!

Interested in applying for the Fulbright ETA? Check out my FAQ page.