A year of learning & unlearning

**7 drafts later, this post is now what it is. I wanted to publish this on 4th Oct when I completed a year but the content & structure weren’t satisfactory. There is indeed so much to cover, so many perspectives to share that I wasn’t — and still am not — clear which is the best or most useful style. I finally decided that something has to be out there**

It is a year since I dedicated myself to a cause via a specific organisation’s structure. The cause itself had coaxed me out of the industry much earlier but my association with an organisation came about rather unplanned & in an unexpected manner. I feel it is a good point in time to look back & reflect on how this year & I tangoed through it all. I had written a lot along the lines of what went well & what didn’t, but I decided to alter the format.

Things, for which, I am grateful

  1. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to be relevant to the lives of people
  2. I am grateful for the many wonderful relationships that have grown onto me
  3. I am grateful for the amazing learning journeys that have opened up before me
  4. I am grateful that my experience, my creativity & my skills are being utilised in a variety of ways
  5. I am grateful to the many wonderful tales of returning to innocence — anecdotes & interactions with kids that make me wonder every single day as to why did I grow up!
  6. I am grateful to the opportunity to pause & dwell on what is vital
  7. I am grateful to the opportunity to pause & reflect on all that I carry as my education
  8. I am grateful that so many children allow me into their circle of trust & touch my life so deeply
  9. I am grateful to the Divine for guiding me on to this way

But it hasn’t been all rosy with harp-music playing in the background.

Things I wish hadn’t happened

  1. I wish I hadn’t lost my dear friend to my preoccupation with work
  2. I wish I was merely teaching a class or few rather than dealing with the running of a school. That is all I wanted to do. That is all I want to do. But it is difficult to be a teacher without Spring-cleaning the space. As the head coordinator of a school where I once volunteered said — “Jambavaan was not born to build the setu.” To those in the know, that statement might make sense (though it always embarrassed me to hear him say so).
  3. I wish I didn’t have to deal with human craftiness (actually, I still haven’t dealt with it) & pettiness. It seems like no profession can carry the label of a “noble profession” — not healing, not education, not feeding.
  4. I wish there was less of politics & greater focus on objective betterment
  5. I wish I had the incantation to get everyone equally excited about this mission rather than have to deal with the “barter mentality” & casual attitudes.
  6. I wish I had not lost out on all the variety of activities that have typically filled my life — writing, reading, cooking, traveling, photography & much more. This year has turned out to be rather mono-dimensional for me — education, learning & all matters related to the school. While I didn’t feel like I was suffering due to this (I really enjoyed learning about learning), I do realise this is not sustainable & is detrimental to my spirit. My health has taken a beating. My reading has. My cooking has reduced in frequency to the extent that I don’t know what is the stock status in the kitchen. I am not allowed time off to travel. I barely find occasion to shoot photos. My Twitter & blogs are sporadically updated. Yet, I am not miserable — as yet.
  7. I wish I was mentally prepared for the energy & time it would take to effect change — any change — in an educational system. I really believe that when a human being is made aware of a better way s/he would rush to adopt it & embrace it (after the necessary initial suspicion & probing to satisfy themselves that it is indeed better). While in the industry I always quipped that I am happy dealing with compiler errors than human ego — thus, I stayed away from managing people. But education is all about human beings! I have no clue how I missed this obvious point! 😀

And still, after a year, I smile lifted on the love of the children who know that I will do anything to ensure that they learn deeply, they grow soundly & they equip themselves to deal with this world in an ethical & sincere manner. All the negative events & incidents of the year pale under the sunshine of this love. I feel I have learnt so much & have grown a bit since I arrived here. I feel this is a year well-spent.

One thing that remains a conundrum of sorts is what is a Dean supposed to be. I go by the title of Dean of STEM Studies. What does that mean? While I am clear in my head about what that means, many teachers & nearly all the students assume I am an expert in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science & Mathematics as well as electronics & other things “techy”. And all this across grades 3–12! I wish I would be that some day!

I have received many many queries from people over this year. I’ll pick 4 of the most common ones which I will address below:

How did you plan this move?

I think I always wanted to retire early. Not because I disliked my core skill or the work that came with it but just because I wanted to live my life in a manner that was less bound to working as a necessity. With that driving my roadmap, I think I essentially made 2 choices — (a) a consciously low-key lifestyle & (b) disciplined investments. I think these two are sufficient to make any move that must have the native free from the compulsion of having to earn. This plan started early (when I was 21 or so) & I continue to cut back on lifestyle choices with every year progressing into a new thing that I deny myself. To some it is an ascetic lifestyle. I am unable to call my lifestyle anything akin to ascetic. With God’s grace I enjoy life’s pleasures, too. In short, if you plan to get off the grid, invest in building a lifestyle which doesn’t require the grid (while simultaneously building your own grid!).

Aren’t you afraid of being a misfit in the education industry?

I will always be wary of that. That said, I have been teaching since I was in high-school. The reasons I might never be a misfit in the education space are two-fold — (a) I enjoy explaining & clarifying phenomena/concepts/ideas/perspective, both to myself & to others. There is immense satisfaction in making something more accessible to another. (b) I enjoy learning — about learning, about phenomena, exploring new ideas & perspective & gathering them like a hen does her chicken. I wouldn’t want a single day to go by without learning something new. Actually, I am going to blog each day about something new I learnt (starting from 19th Oct. 2018).

This has driven me to learn more & study more. When teachers come over & ask — “How on earth do you know this?” I feel like maybe I am not a misfit. When I find myself equipped to help teachers across subjects figure out something pedagogically puzzling, I feel I am not a misfit. And still, I am careful not to assume that I can slow down & take it easy. Which is what I realised when I counted the courses I completed in this year — 17. Which is why I registered for an M.A.Education program.

The way you go about things, aren’t you afraid of losing your job?

This question comes from friends & teachers who are aware of the various conflicts I have had to deal with over the past year. My ways seem like they will ruffle feathers (and often they do) & make some want to kill me. Bringing about change often involves holding up the mirror for people to see things as they are rather than live in denial or illusions. This, to many, seems to put me plumb in the tracks of a raging bull or two.

The reason I have least fear of losing my job is because I am not looking to this engagement for sustenance or for furthering any agenda — e.g. the agenda of reputation or career growth, etc. I have no standing in society that needs to be upheld. I really have nothing to lose in what I am doing & hence, can dedicate myself wholly to the betterment of the school at whatever cost. Were I to be fired tomorrow from any school I will walk away without any trepidation or remorse — though I believe the school & its children would have lost a very strong ally. But if that is what is ordained, so be it. There are many more children & families that can find me useful. In the worst case that no one finds me useful I still have 5000+ books that I have collected & travel. Hence, I am not able to understand what do I have to fear.

The reason I work long hours is because of the slim possibility that my work might improve the lives of at least 1 child. I don’t need to pull myself out of bed for that. I often wake up talking to myself about the things I need to do that day. Just 1 child — I am not focusing on scale. The only thing that frightens me is that I might not live up to the promise of what the child imagines I am making to him/her. I fear I might fail him/her. Power & authority do not frighten me at all in this space. The only power I allow is that of the child who trusts me & even now, at the thought of that trust, I tremble.

What is the one thing you would grab & tell a teacher?

At the end, there is but a child.

As much as I am tempted to explain that, I will not. Each fertile mind will find in it what it must.

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