Delhi Details: Tomb of Safdarjung

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Soon one will see Delhi again. It’s not my home but I have an obligation that needs me to be in the city before heading to the real home by the sea. Nearly everyone who’s been and hasn’t been here, hates this city and it has a bad reputation for women’s safety too. Delhi is frustrating and chaotic yes but it’s also the city of a little magic. This moment in front of the Tomb of Safdarjung is etched in my memory. It’s difficult to explain in print. The sight of a dazzling but clearly neglected landmark, bus loads of tourists and school children rushing past the stone walls, some asking me to click their pictures, I comply. I watch the children scramble on the tomb of the vizier, disrespectful and oblivious to the sanctity of the space. Elsewhere they engrave their names into the stonewalls with sharp stones or a permanent marker suffices to stamp the monument with their devnagri names. First-world foreigners are dumbfound and document the disgrace with their cameras. Strange I thought. Shouldn’t the tomb of a be part of the art and architectural framework we need to preserve? I try to ignore the selfie-taking marker-using students and continue my study of the few flower motifs left on the floor, the rare imperfect symmetry and the stunning ceiling that have been spared from the wrath of time and markers. The tomb of the vizier is still surrounded by cackling and turns into a theme park. I stop one of the children running around the tomb and ask him if he knows anything about the vizier. Sure enough he knows nothing. He points to my camera and asks for a photo. “Only if you let me tell you about the vizier”, I said. He agrees. I rapidly show him my sketches and before long I’m surrounded by these young neat uniformed children all ears about the Emperors. They immediately ask the others to stop the cacophony. Pleased, I continue and they seem entranced by my story and the details of my sketchbook. Afterwards I spend a good fifteen minutes taking pictures that I’ll never be able to send. But it makes them happy and keeps them away from destroying the monument, so I continue. 4 or 5 overburdened teaches come to call it a day. Least bothered about the learning experience of the excursion. Then they all jump into the dozens of rented buses and drive off. All alone at the monument is thrilling, a thousand birds fly overhead, the floral motifs and stucco work seems fresh as ever and the anti-chambers that lead to the tomb are radiant. A brief respite for him and me I thought. It was difficult to pull away.
Present day: I taught a class on the Emperors, thousands of miles away from Delhi. I was dubious of the reaction. Would they be as interested as the boisterous uniformed children? Would they stop the random and trivial and listen to my story? Well, most gave me the attention required for a good grade. And a handful seemed entranced. For that I was thankful. Wonderful I thought, all the inspiration that came out of that one moment could be bottle up and used to make other terrific moment.
It’s been six months now and I reflect on the number of buses that brought more boisterous children to see the “tomb”. How many markers and stones attacked the monument? All this I’ll know soon enough on my next visit to the city of Emperors.

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Incredible India: The Spice Trail

I recently worked on spices with my students. I hate classes that deal only with grammar, vocabulary, composition etc. I feel cultural exchange is very important in modern classrooms. French students have a zest for discovering new cultures. The thing I love most about living in France is that you will have an audience for anything you want to share. India is of course a victim of many stereotypes but at the same time she invokes curiosity, dreams and mystery. I’m constantly trying new methods to introduce new vocabulary through interesting cultural sessions. In this lesson, I brought about 15 of my spice jars to class and I wanted the students to learn names of spices and their various uses. The goal

  1. To understand the history of spices within India, identify the spice routes, etc
  2. The benefits of these spices 
  3. How to introduce spices in your diet 

In the beginning of the lesson, each one had to take a jar of spices. They had to identify the spice that was presented on the slide through the sense of smell. They enjoyed the lesson especially since they each received a piece of halwa for correct answers :) They were amazed not only by the number of spices India has but also by the amounts we use in our food! I hope this post can help others understand the rich history of India and try to understand the importance of spices for our health!

Wreath of Good Deeds

It’s Christmas time and I’ve decided to do a little exercise with my students. I prepared the Wreath of Good Deeds. My students have been extraordinary this year. I’ve had more problems with the teachers than with the students themselves. Of course, there are those times when they just don’t give a damn but mostly they love attending my classes. I love audience participation and I realized that having students enact, speak up, laugh is always the best way to learn a language. Most of the teachers I work with don’t care too much about my method of teaching and as an Assistant, I’m supposed to help them out and basically follow their methods. Two of the teachers I work with have the most outdated approach to teaching a language and one of them takes it really too far. They expect me to get the students to repeat the lesson (for 30 mins) and make sure they’ve learnt it by heart! I do every activity in the book but repetition :) Oh, except I had to make them repeat my name 10 times since it’s really long and they keep forgetting it or they call me Madam which again, I refuse to accept since I like to be part of the “in-crowd”. 
The Wreath of Good Deeds is a competition that gets them to show off their writing skills. I prepared the wreath myself (Yes, I know. Thank You). Each time they do a good deed, they come with a witness and collect a leaf. On the leaf, they should write in perfect grammar about the deed. They should also mention their name and their class so that I can keep a tab of how many deeds each of them has done. For every good deed they get a sweet! On December 15, we total up the deeds and the person with the most number of good deeds takes home the Wreath. On the wreath, there are 5 postcards from 5 corners of the world and a few words from an inhabitant of that place! So they have new penpals :) So far it’s working well and they seem to enjoy it. I even got some of the teachers to participate since it would motivate the kids a little more when they have to compete against the higher authority :D
End of Day 1

If only Environmental Studies was so much fun!

The thing about French education is that it is far superior that most pedagogical setups in the world. I am truly blessed to be part of such a well organized, well structured system even if it’s for the shortest time. I know many of you will disagree with me. But hear me out first. I come from India and completed most of education there. Indian education is excellent on would say that Indian students are extremely smart. We are grounded in various streams, be it arts, science or commerce. For example, in History class, an Indian student will have studied all the historical facts about the Russian Revolution. They can narrate the exact time and date of the various battles in the world. They know by rote all the political leaders that participated in the numerous historical events. But try asking them what is their opinion on Stalin or Communism? or maybe more simpler, What is the need to have wars? An Indian student in such a situation will be dumbstruck because we were never allowed to have an opinion! What the teacher gave to us, would be the final word. No discussion, no opinions. The thing I hated most about my school were my teachers because they smothered all our voices. All they wanted was robots who could tell you the exact time when the Russian people gathered at St. Peter’s square and exactly how many people were murdered on Bloody Friday. What we feel about the event was never take into account. So here is where French education is far superior than ours. Because A) all students must give an opinion. B) No one is ever wrong in a classroom. C) There is plenty of room for mistakes. I’m not speaking for the entire French teaching force here, because I have met some really horrible french teachers and their students literally hate their subjects. But the majority who I have worked with have always given their students space to express and embrace their subject matter. 
I am currently in my second week of observation (all language assistants when they come to a new institution in France are required to undergo a Période d’Observation, where we have to sit in various classes and observe how the teacher conducts his/her class.) I have to admit that in my new collège there isn’t a single class out of the eight I observed that wasn’t up to the mark. All the teachers weren’t friendly to me, but they certainly were kind to the students and I took tons of pointers on classroom management. I noticed that the older kids respond well to friendly sarcasm :) The students even have music class once  a week and it was such a pleasurable relaxing hour for me and the participants. The only times an Indian student will get to learn music is if he is willing to pay for it in a private institute. ha! My most favourite class so far was SVT (environmental studies) which completely blew me away. I was amazed at the alarming difference in attitude towards the environment between the French students and their Indian counterparts. The children here were fully aware of the various environmental problems and they even had fun exercises on how to combat the damage. On the day I was assisting, they were working on the various minerals that exist in nature and the different sources that can corrode them. They were asked to furnish their own ideas on the topic and were graded on basis of originality, neatness, etc. I kept thinking about my school days and the last time someone asked me to do such kind of an assignment and the answer is NEVER! Isn’t that a shame? India is facing so many climate changes and if the education board could take some pointers from the French, we would have created a few nature friendly citizens who would in turn take a small but necessary step in reversing India’s climatic downfall. It’s not that the Indians don’t care about the environment, it’s just that they are not aware of it! Below are some of the assignments which the students submitted and I loved every single one of them!

We later studied about the various kinds of leaves and the teacher had brought in many branches from her own garden with tons of little critters crawling over them. I was a bit uneasy but the students were having a marvelous time! They were asked to observe the leaves and define the type they had. Let’s see what I got!
I identified my leaf as Une Feuille Lisse which means a smooth leaf without any teeth or dents and I was correct! Never too late to learn anything is it? :)

Great news!

OMG! I have just received news from the Inspection in France! and guess what? They want to renew my contract! Im thrilled beyond words. I was waiting for this an entire month!!! Apparently there is a post for English teacher for higher secondary students still vacant in a little town on the coast. It’s nowhere close to Rouen (where I lived last year, in fact it’s almost three hours away!) I mentioned I was geographically flexible but I did not expect to be boxed up and sent to a town whose population is 6000 only! But now that I think about it, I quite like the idea of a tiny town. I’m going to need time to digest that I might be the only English speaker in this town and there might not be as much ”entertainment”, I would expect to have to in France! I also have to sort out where I will live and when I can get the visa sorted out and actually get there! SO excited, I can’t even type properly! 
 
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