Shashi Devi

This ru­ral In­dian school – ‘a flower in the mid­dle of the desert’ – has in­spired its head to en­liven its en­vi­rons with green­ery…if she can keep the hun­gry cows at bay

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - A DAY IN THE LIFE OF… -

Istill re­mem­ber my first day as head­teacher of Gokulpur Pri­mary School. I looked around and saw that there wasn’t a tree in sight. The school was like a flower in the mid­dle of a desert, and I made a prom­ise to my­self that I would work to make the place as green as pos­si­ble. My school is lo­cated on the fringes of Rae­bareli, a city in Ut­tar Pradesh, In­dia. We have about 105 stu­dents, many of whom come from the city to study here.

Teach­ing chil­dren is a won­der­ful feel­ing. The stu­dents give me the en­ergy to be ac­tive and to feel pas­sion­ate about their learn­ing. Nev­er­the­less, be­ing a gov­ern­ment teacher in ru­ral In­dia is not an easy task.

In the class­room, I teach maths, English, sci­ence, so­cial sci­ences and Hindi to 23 stu­dents. But as a head­teacher, I have to take care of other of­fi­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, which can be a real chal­lenge, given the lack of ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture here.

As well as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for the over­all track­ing and per­for­mance of the school, I am in charge of the mid­day meal pro­gramme – which en­sures that all stu­dents re­ceive a fresh-cooked meal – as well as the uni­form and text­book dis­tri­bu­tion schemes. The uni­form scheme is par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing. We are ex­pected to make sure that chil­dren have clean uni­forms to at­tend school in, but we have to go through var­i­ous bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses and fol­low strict pro­ce­dures to make this hap­pen. The gov­ern­ment and school au­thor­i­ties have not given a thought to how we are sup­posed to man­age our limited re­sources, so it be­comes the re­spon­si­bil­ity of those of us who work on the ground.

I live 5 kilo­me­tres away from the school and my com­mute takes 30 min­utes. The roads are very busy in the morn­ing, which means my jour­ney to school is some­times danger­ous.

I started learn­ing to ride a bike so I could com­mute in­de­pen­dently be­tween my home and school. One day, I was in­volved in a road ac­ci­dent and was knocked off my bike. Nev­er­the­less, I was run­ning late that day, so I still went straight to school af­ter­wards.

I try to do all the house­work be­fore I leave and get to school early, but I am usu­ally late be­cause I need to look af­ter my son, who is deaf. How­ever, hav­ing a full-time teach­ing job is a huge priv­i­lege; it’s not some­thing that many peo­ple in In­dia have. So I try to re­mem­ber that I have no time for fa­tigue, and that I should ful­fil my du­ties with the same en­thu­si­asm that I ex­pect of my stu­dents.

I think that the qual­ity of a teacher de­pends on her ca­pac­ity to be per­sis­tent and flex­i­ble with the stu­dents, and on her readi­ness to be in­no­va­tive with new teach­ing ap­proaches, while also be­ing pre­pared for the worst, in case of fail­ure.

It is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­velop ev­ery aspect of the stu­dents’ learn­ing, and give them a safe and com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment in which they can flour­ish at their own pace.

I have al­ways had a plan for this school and since be­com­ing an ed­u­ca­tion leader, as part of the Stir Ed­u­ca­tion teacher change­maker net­work, I have been in­spired to un­der­take sev­eral ini­tia­tives with the help of my fel­low teach­ers.

One such ini­tia­tive has been work­ing with the chil­dren to plant trees and flow­ers on the school grounds, and to in­flu­ence the com­mu­nity to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­tect­ing th­ese plants. Cat­tle used to eat the school veg­e­ta­tion, but the com­mu­nity has started to work to­gether to pre­vent this. Now, my stu­dents can en­joy a cup of tea or an out­door class un­der the trees that grow on the school com­pound.

Shashi Devi is head­teacher of Gokulpur Pri­mary School in Ut­tar Pradesh

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