When I became a Teach For India Fellow and took my place in an under-resourced classroom- I suddenly came face to face with challenges that I could not possibly have conceived of before.
I set out to teach in a third-grade classroom in New Delhi, with a bunch of 7-12-year-olds; most of whom could not identify the numbers 1 through 10, did not know the alphabet, were violent with each other and often, even towards me. Absenteeism among the students was high, and the case was no different for the municipal teachers who often failed to show up as well – sometimes leaving me solely responsible for 100 students. The infrastructure and facilities were dilapidated – few desks, scarce electricity, a defunct toilet. In the midst of chaos, and odds that were firmly stacked against me, my ambitious lesson plans seemed pointless as I could barely teach for 2 or 3 minutes between constant distractions and interruptions.
As you can probably tell, the Fellowship is not an easy experience. But it is certainly the most rewarding one.
Today, I can proudly say that the Teach For India Fellowship can successfully push one to bring out the best in themselves. I had to find a new, improved version of me to solve the mounting obstacles before me.
I began to consistently spend time with my students in their communities in order to foster genuine relationships not only with them but with their families. This is a practice I continued for the length of my Fellowship. Here, I was able to see the real, tangible roadblocks to life the children in my classroom were facing. For example, no food for breakfast – leaving them hungry and irritable throughout the day, loud and violent exchanges within and among families, and a fire that left many of my students destitute.
Suddenly, the chaos that I had to deal with as a teacher, was no longer a confusing prospect. The turbulent, restless atmosphere that I walked into was just a reflection of the turmoil that these tiny lives had to fight against every day. This was a sobering reality.
Slowly, through immersing myself in their contexts, I was able to solve each of these challenges. I decided to take a holistic route to their education. I introduced to dance as a medium to channel their boundless energy constructively. I regularly facilitated safe spaces, which helped my students open up about their hardships and traumas, their experiences with sexual abuse and domestic violence. Such interactions built an extremely powerful connection not only between me and my students but amongst themselves as well. This led to a decisive transformation- they became more tolerant and aware of each other’s differences and strengths, and they recognized the behaviors and attitudes that they no longer wanted to propagate.
Looking back at this journey, and the value I was able to create and experience, I know for a fact that the Fellowship taught me lessons that will stay with me through my life and have laid the foundation for my career in public service. Personally, I think anyone who wants to work in the social sector in the long term must consider the Teach For India Fellowship.
Initially, my motivations to become a Fellow, and spend two years of my life in a government school classroom, instead of walking the tried and tested route like many of my peers were threefold:
- To build leadership skills- the program sees teaching and leadership as two sides of the same coin. Fellows work like managers and entrepreneurs in their classrooms. This excited me – not only was I going to be immersing myself in the lives of 40 odd children, but would also be a part of structured reflection and leadership sessions, preparing me for bigger things in the future.
- To leverage my creativity to the fullest– I was always into performing arts, and the Fellowship gave me a chance to leverage that to the fullest. I was able to use my experience to help my students express themselves, think creatively, break free and learn- all at the same time!
- To help me live my passion for social change – I had a difficult childhood and my mother persevered a lot to bring out the best in me. I would have been a different person without her – so I wanted to do this for other people, for children who were undergoing far more dangerous circumstances.
Beyond fulfilling my initial motivations, the Fellowship has also stayed with me throughout my career, in various important ways, including my current role in Social Impact and Development Practice at Boston Consulting Group. I now mindfully practice thinking from a human-centered perspective, persevering in the face of adversity which is a must while working in the social sector, and innovating to solve complex challenges.
These skills play out significantly in my current work in policy design, implementation, and scaling to guide education reform that truly reaches and changes the futures of millions of students who did not get the kind of opportunities that I was lucky to have.
Over and above these, the Fellowship has helped me define my career objective. My experiences here have produced an unwavering belief in me that all children can succeed, despite their circumstances or backgrounds, if they have an invested and equipped teacher in their lives.
My long-term goal is, therefore, to guide governments across the developing world to design and implement high quality and contextualized capacity development programs for their teachers to exponentially improve education outcomes and human capital potential. Besides content and pedagogy, I will be designing and implementing governance policies and establishing innovative systems that enable these programs to succeed at scale.
About the Author
Tushar currently resides in New Delhi, India – and earned a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree from the University of Delhi.
Post Fellowship, with the goal of creating strong examples of teaching and leadership, he advanced onto Teach For India staff to coach other teachers. Thereafter, he worked on large-scale education projects with diverse state governments across India in public sector consulting for the past 3 years with the International Innovation Corps (UChicago) and BCG’s Social Impact Practice, where he currently works. He is a Harvard Kennedy School, MPP ’22 candidate.