Monday, 24 October 2011

Diwali Celebrations

A cacophony of colours,
burst into life.
The peace-loving night sky,
 held hostage by faceless juveniles.

Deep distant booms,
reverberate towards reflection.
A city ablaze with life,
solitude reigns supreme.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A week in India

The entrance to my apartment, mines the one at the top there...

'I have written such a long letter only because I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.'

Have always loved this quote, so will do my best to keep it brief, despite the fact that it feels like I could write endlessly on this most hectic of weeks.

Today was a day dominated by sleep. The previous eight had been largely devoid of it, and my body seems to have finally realised just what I've been depriving it of, and has thus decided to exact it's revenge appropriately.

You win this round sleep...

But what a week! Have rarely felt such a juxtaposition of emotions in such a short space of time, ranging from the effortlessly ecstatic to the downright depressed. Moments of sheer joy seem to catch one by surprise here, in a way that leaves you instantly reflective and appreciative. At the same time, being in a completely new place, completely on my own and with no easy exit in sight allows loneliness and apprehension the space to creep up on you before you know it.

But despite all of the feelings that have been swirling about in my head, I'm pretty excited about what lies ahead of me. I've met the students I'll be teaching and they bring new meaning to the word precocious. It's difficult to describe without meeting them, but these kids(I'm teaching across three Grades, aged 14 to 16) are just brimming with passion, confidence and intelligence. Sure they're moody and are trying to impress each other half the time - but they're teenagers all the same.

Taught a class to my Grade 11 English lit group on the importance of creating distance in narrative voice using Joyce as an example and they completely figured it out for themselves over the course of the class through discussions with each other. All I had to do was facilitate - now we're planning to read through another one of his short stories to see if they can spot the same techniques and then they're going to write a story from their perspective in the same way, label it anonymous and give it to the Grade 10's to de-construct. QUALITY. 

Had the chance on Friday to go with some of the students to another school, where they were to present their MASTERY projects. This was an initiative started by Riverside about a year ago and essentially it involves students in Key Stage 3(Grade 8 -10) taking one issue or aspect of a subject that they are passionate about, researching it on their own for 2 months, interviewing people about it and finding experts in the field to help focus their research - culminating in them putting together a portfolio and essays on it, and then presenting to a field of experts about it. 

If ever there was an instant validation of the Riverside model, watching these kids present was it. Mastery projects ranging from safety in the automotive industry(physics angle), oral hygeine(biology aspect), drug abuse in sports(biology angle) to how logo's are designed and utilised by companies. Sharen, the kid who did the last one, is only 15 and is already looking into ways he can start his own design firm while completing school. 

some of my ultra talented, supremely confident students, performing at an event on Saturday

The simple essence of it is that there does not seem to be a kid at Riverside who isn't passionate about SOMETHING. They all may not know what they want to do with their lives, but they know what excites them, what they're good at, and why that is(big emphasis in Howard Gardner's multiple intelligence theory on how teacher's teach here) . They are also prepared to work pretty hard to get to where ever that may be - which makes them a joy to teach. 

Aside from all of this, the school philosophy aims to inculcate them with a philosophy of doing good for others, as well as for themselves. Each of the Grades got involved in a social project this week for Joy of Giving week(coinciding with the big G's birthday) and did some pretty inspiring stuff. The best thing about it was that the teacher's were encouraged and supported to do the same amongst the faculty group. Riverside believes firmly in the concept of positive role models and this applies to every aspect(the teachers are expected to show a commitment to lifelong learning themselves so that they can inspire the same in their students, rather than just telling them to do it.)

everyone giving it socks on the bus!

For my part in the week, I got the chance to take out about 35 old age pensioners from their ashram for the afternoon and evening on Friday. These are people everyone should meet if they come to India - clapping and singing mad Gujarati songs,  out on the bus, shouting their heads off on the boat, dancing their hearts in the restaurant and just generally living life to it's absolute maximum, despite everything. As I looked at the ease with which they threw themselves up on the 'dancefloor' in the restaurant, I thought about my own reluctance and realised it's inherent foolishness. Why the hell wouldn't I want to be up there with them!? One of the older guys gestured to the room in full flow and in his best broken English he exclaimed to me - 'What happy life!'.  

the ladies show me how's its done!

Throughout the course of this week I've been kicked in the face(literally, should see my nose!), picked up and dropped back my brother to and from the airport, been inspired by Kiran's story of setting up the school, eaten paan for the first time, danced the gurba, taught my first ever real class, met a 9 time world billiards champion and had a conversation with one of students about a chance meeting she had with Seamus Heaney in America , herself the daughter of a major Bollywood screenwriter. She's amazing by the way(anushka), you'll be hearing a lot more about her on I think - she's already writing screenplays herself!

But despite all of this madness, the moment that best sums up India happened just a couple of hours ago, as I searched desperately for a place to get my haircut(if you've seen my hair recently, you'll understand the need for that adjective). Having been faced with so many little annoyances in other errands I had attempted to run in the previous hour, and finding myself in a part of the city I hadn't found myself in before, I sucked up my pride and asked someone for help. Suffice to say, my new friend Anuj bought me some pani puri at the stand he was at, explained the directions to me and then told me to hop on the back of his moped - he would drive the 15 minutes to drop me there himself!

me and the bro at the airport

India can only described in moments, and this week has been full of them.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Thanks to Steve.

The world owes Steve jobs for quite a lot of it's pretty cool stuff. The Mac. The I-phone. The I-pod. The I-pad. Each one of these devices is slick, innovative, and has changed the way the world works and interacts. His influence fundamentally changed the way we approach design and technology, which has left a mark on how we think, create and innovate.

More importantly though, the world owes Steve jobs for his philosophy on living life to the full.

He has definitely influenced the way I think about how I want to live my life, and what I want to see when I look back on it. Sitting in my apartment in India, looking out my window on a city brimming with life, I thought about the twenty most important verbs I want to do justice to in mine:

new friendships, new experiences, new journeys, new adventures.

with people everywhere. No matter who they are, where they come from or what they run from. 

things that will leave a positive imprint on the world and others.

with hope, belief and limitless ambition. 

as much of the world and all of it's endless wonders that is possible in a lifetime.

myself with courage, conviction and clarity.

real emotion. 

at myself and with others.

something new every day that I can bring into the next.

to what people really mean when they talk, and care about what they are actually trying to say. 

as if each day is going to be my last.

without fear and without regret

with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a seven year old child. For the sheer fun of it.

the world as it really is and the moments that make life so special.

both happiness and sorrow with others. 

every single day. As many times as it is possible to do so. And it's always possible to do so.

myself and others both financially and emotionally, never letting my desire for one outweigh the importance of the other.

everything that I know to be true.

with determination and dedication, to achieve great things.

if I feel I have something worth saying.

Thanks for the inspiration Steve.

Friday, 30 September 2011

24 hours

Fifteen minutes off the plane and I was in the school. From my brief experience so far, things move pretty fast at Riverside. It also helps that the school is 5 minutes from the airport!

Arriving through the gates of this place I had heard so much about, and yet knew so little, was just a tad overwhelming. Kids of all ages finishing school for the day ran for school buses dotted about the campus as I gingerly picked my way through them towards the Secretary's office. A couple of curious glances were directed the way of the pasty Irishman with the questionable hairdo, but the attention was soon diverted towards the much more interesting activity of hopping on to moving yellow minibuses bound for home. I have rarely felt more out of place in my entire life, and did a quick calculation as to how whether I could make it back to said airport as quickly as I'd got here. Where did I fit in amidst the purposeful bustle?

The beaming smile and warm greeting of the school's chief Administrator soon put me at ease, however. Nilufer Sangoporia is a woman who exudes positivity and warmth with every ounce of her being. Maybe she's just a fan of Thursdays and questionable hairdo's but there seemed something genuinely special about her, and the fact that I've since heard her referred to as 'The Mother' of the school comes as no surprise.

After a couple of quick introductions, I was put on one of the aforementioned yellow powerhouses and directed towards my new apartment. I was chaperoned through all of this by Jim and Sovandra, two Americans who are doing are an internship at the school and my house mates for the foreseeable future. We were instructed to be back to the school that evening for an evening of Indian dance with the older children as part of Navrati, festival of Nine Nights. So, no chance for a snooze then!?

A quick tour of the new place(which is fantastic by the way) was followed by a trip around the local area and the many, many eateries that will be seeing so much more of me in the coming weeks and months. A masala dosa and a cob of corn were quickly inhaled before it was time for another one of those yellow bus rides, this time head to toe in traditional garb. At least I would be looking good...

 my new home

a snap of the apartment living room

The evening was completely overwhelming in a way that only India can be. Countless teenagers dressed in incredibly flashy traditional sarees and curta's danced their way through hours of music and were insistent that I do the same. These are the kids I'm going to be teaching, that I'd never met yet!

The other members of staff were perhaps even more insistent about the dancing, so by the end of the night I had suitably tarnished the good name of Irish dancing forevermore. Invitations to organise a ceili in the future were fielded with a mixture of enthusiasm and genuine fear. Will keep you posted on that one!

Kiran arrived in from Dehli towards the tail end of the evening, and it was great to finally meet the person behind the much vaunted TED talk. First impressions? The moment she walked into the school, the atmosphere changed in a way that I found hard to define. Everything just became more. It was as if the school is the way it is to such a large degree as a result of Kiran's influence on it, that it becomes more like you expect it to be simply by her presence. From the moment you meet her, you can't help but feel you've really got to do something special to impress her. Which sounds really childish when you say it like that, but I instantly got the sense that she demands a lot from everything and everyone in life. Which is fine by me in general, it just makes me all the more anxious to find my feet as soon as I can.

After getting up this morning I was looking through an appreciation booklet the students made out for the teachers on Teachers Day a week or two back - a profile and picture of all 60 of the 'faculty members' is inside, highlighting what they appreciate about each of the teachers. Which is pretty great in itself, but it was the front and the back covers of the book that really caught my eye:

The front...


...and the back.

You are the best teachers because:

  • You enrich our lives with nurture and care
  • You celebrate our creativity and innovations
  • You let us be part of your path breaking journey at Riverside
  • You let us feel, imagine, do and Share
  • You teach us to be passionate about what we do
  • You say that you learn from us also
  • You help us strive for Excellence
  • You show us that journey, the process is more important than the final outcome
  • You do not accept mediocrity 
  • You are our window to the wonderful world outside
  • You let us explore
  • You let us be us
  • You are You
Thank you
Riverside Students 2011

Reading all of this makes me both incredibly excited and also a little petrified. Excited to be joining a team of teachers who are thought of in such regard, but more importantly at the prospect of teaching such bright, thoughtful and talented young students. But the levels of expectation that are latent within all of this is what absolutely scares the bejaysus out of me. Do these guys realize I've never really taught at anywhere near this level before? Do they realise that I spent the last two weeks legging it around Dublin looking for anyone who'd give me a visa, and thus have no preparation done whatsoever? That I don't even have any sun cream with me?

A challenging first couple of weeks lie ahead, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Bring it on!

P.S. The picture above on the blog description is the view from my apartment window, by the way. No Dublin mountains, but we'll take it.