Teaching The Real People

As my Spoken English batches, which were going on for the past 2 months, culminated, I couldn’t help but feel emotional.  This was my first experience with the real people.  I call them ‘real’ since they are really the kind of people who need quality education & who can rise above their present condition if given the right resources.  Most of the times, they fail to get exactly that – right resources.  Unlike most of the candy-floss IT crowd or public sector working-there-for-job-security-even-if-it-doesn’t-use-their-real-skills people, who take their allotted trainings for granted, these people show genuine curiosity which creates the right environment for learning.

So, who were my students?

Students humming English songs

These are children of people just above the poverty line – farmers, maids, drivers, workers, watchmen, people from very humble backgrounds who are desperate to see their children rise above the current situation.  Two meals a day are not a problem.  But, the parents earn just enough money to have food & send their kids to municipal schools.

So, these students go to schools, go to college, but lag because of various factors, one of which is, they cannot communicate comfortably in English.  So when I received the offer of teaching them, I jumped in without hesitation.  The institute where I taught is actually a small computer education institute plus internet cafe.  The director told me that it was the first time they were trying out a Spoken English batch; his aims were:

  1. To reach out to the root level.
  2. To provide equal opportunity to succeed, since these people fall behind in English.

The director knew the real scene since he himself was educated in Marathi medium & was aware of the road blocks.  He charged a nominal fee from the students since he believed that anything free is not valued.  April to June was an ideal period since the students had their summer vacations.  The age group was approximately 12-18 years.  My complete experience/findings are summed below.

-> Setting Rules in the Beginning.

That’s so important.  You shouldn’t be surprised to see some of the older boys chewing paan/gutkha in the class, so setting certain rules becomes important to establish discipline from the very beginning.  Of course, another obvious rule is to speak only in English in the class.

-> Being Extra Sensitive.

Sometimes, students would not do their homework.  Sometimes they would stay absent.  But I had to be sensitive; these students are not just studying, they are also managing other things.  Many of the female students did all the chores of their homes.  Some lived far so they had to commute long distances to attend class.  One of the students, juggled her chores and two front-desk jobs to support her home.  It was humbling to know about their lifestyle & it made me realize that we hardly value what we get so easily.  Another thing was, many a times, the older boys felt ashamed to talk about their parents’ professions which put me in a fix.  Overall, empathizing with them helped me to teach them better.

-> Being Calm & Patient.

After knowing about my students, I obviously wanted to see each one improve.  I wanted to see results.  This urge is good, but at times it frustrated me.  The reason is, all students do not have the same grasping power.  So some of them might take a long time to learn something & apply it.  This realization made me pay special attention to each.  At times, I made the weaker students wait for extra time after class & gave them more specific exercises.  Point is, not beating yourself up if few of them don’t show results, just going with the flow & working a little more on the weaker students.  If maximum of them are showing results, the teacher is in a good place.

-> Giving Them New Experiences.

These students do not have much exposure.  They love new experiences.  I took a lot of team games which made them enjoy the class.  Also, since the institute had readily available computers & headphones, I took English songs with them.  I made them put on headphones & hum with the song.  I also sang with them.  They loved it.  Using songs with easy lyrics & catchy tunes helped them increase their thinking & speaking speed.


on the last day, I realize that some days with these students were euphoric, some were disappointing, some made me research more & try harder, but never even a single day was boring.  I am looking forward to taking new batches… can’t complain as long the work challenges me & surprises me with numerous possibilities!


7 thoughts on “Teaching The Real People

  1. Good job Shubhada! Good to see young people like us getting more interested in the field of educating the underprivileged. I will be joining your league soon! You have learnt the right concepts to engage and get results from these kids – empathy, patience and perseverance. Things we should all learn. Would it be good to get some TESOL training before teaching english to native students? I am still thinking about it.

    Keep it up! Best wishes for improving the lives of many more such kids!

    • Thank you Rucha! 🙂
      About TESOL, I really don’t know how much it would help, especially, in this case. Getting trained before teaching is definitely helpful but teaching at the root level involves a lot of improvising, presence of mind and motivation. You might manage without the training but you cannot manage without these 3 qualities.

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