Celebrating Teachers’ Month – The Book-Fairies in School

All Book-Fairies work for the school intervention project called “Grow with Books”. It includes three inter-related programs conducted within school hours for Grade 1 to Grade 7 students of mainly municipal, Zilla Parishad, and a few semi-private schools. These programs ensure children learn to read in Grade 1 itself and then with some supervision and guidance, discover the joy of reading.

Sangeeta, Komal, Shabana, and Surekha work for First Steps Forward –  a specially designed teaching program for Grade 1 students, implemented every day for about 45 minutes in 239 schools across Pune. Their efforts fortify the teaching-learning experience of children, thus increasing the number of children reaching expected levels of learning by end of Grade 1. They also encourage the children to actively participate in school activities and attend school regularly.

At the start of each academic session, these Book-Fairies make a detailed teaching plan for the entire academic year. Sangeeta is not very happy by the number of holidays in August and September. Surekha shares her earlier experiences to determine exactly how many working days they will have in hand to divide the portion and they all wish they could reduce the number of holidays! They know that large gaps in attendance cause set-backs in a child’s progress. Shabana suggests a home-work plan, and ‘sibling pairing’ that had worked last year!

They continue planning and discussing various aspects. Suddenly Komal says, “At first I thought all this detailed planning is totally unnecessary, but now that I know it really works, I find myself making plans for everything – whether it is ‘What do I teach next week’ or ‘How can I afford to buy a second fan for my house!'” The others shyly admit they do the same. In fact, they find themselves applying various aspects of their training at home.

“Time management is very crucial as we have to juggle all kinds of home chores along with what we enjoy doing in school”, adds Shabana. The others nod knowingly and get back to working on competencies and time schedules.

The Book-Fairies share this plan with the regular school teachers and work in a coordinated manner so that the children benefit the most. They use a number of activity-based teaching-aids designed by Door Step School and made by themselves. Some of the popular ones are ‘Word Chain’, ‘Snakes and Ladders’, and ‘The Mango Tree’.

Komal laments, “I wish I knew about such teaching methods when my children were in primary school. I had to struggle to teach my own children! In fact I wish I had joined Door Step School ten years ago when my neighbor first mentioned it!”

A competency-based test for reading is conducted for each and every student every month and the results are documented regularly to track their progress. This forms the base for planning what works best for each child; which aspect needs more attention; what spurs the child to do better and so on.

Sangeeta says very solemnly, “When a child is unable to read a letter or a composite letter and suddenly one day is able to do so… the sparkle and happiness in the child’s eyes is worth more than all our efforts put together!”

“And then we write a report for every child!”, exclaims Surekha. “I used to find this task very difficult but with constant guidance and encouragement from my team leader, I can now write reports with very few mistakes.” She stresses her point shaking her head and rolling her eyes. The others laugh and add how their handwriting as well as language have improved. They sometimes feel they are back in school themselves and just then some child calls out ‘Teacher!’ and they come back to reality and become aware of their responsibilities.

Geeta, Vaishali, Suchitra, Shubhangi, Kanchan, and Pallavi are Book-Fairies for Grades II to VII. They conduct the supervised reading program once a week as well as give out the books for the lending library. And just in case any child is unable to read, it is back to the ‘First Steps Forward’ strategy.

The efforts of Book-Fairies in categorizing the books suitable for age and competency pay off when the children are very excited to get a book they can read and understand.  Pallavi adds, “The love for reading is further encouraged when we read a part of a story from a book and the children develop the story further. The children come up with creative suggestions and we all have a good time.” Kanchan adds, “This activity also improves their language through verbal expression.” Vaishali admits that she likes her job because she gets to read a lot of books! She happily carries 100 odd books to every school and never gets tired or bored. Her enthusiasm is reflected in the children when they are given books to take home! She further elaborates, “They feel very proud and responsible and handle the books with care.” The children are encouraged to read out from the books at home so that their parents can appreciate their progress and send them regularly to school.

In spite of all these efforts, some students do not come regularly to school. Shubhangi and Sunita are ready to visit the homes of children with irregular attendance. Sunita has done this before but Shubhangi is hesitant to step into this uncharted territory. But once in the field, she manages quite well. One parent is abusive and does not want to talk to them; in another house, the child no longer lives there but the neighbors guide them to the child’s new home. By this time, a few children are accompanying the two Book-Fairies and guiding them through the narrow alleys to homes of the children absent from school! They speak to the parents and tell them about the Right to Education (RTE) Act and the benefits of education and to send the children regularly to school. By the time they return, Shubhangi is standing taller and her self- confidence has increased by leaps and bounds. She has taken another step to self-discovery.

Every Book-Fairy vouches that the time spent in the classroom with the children is worth all the trouble they have taken to reach there. One common refrain is that they forget all their personal problems when they are busy teaching, telling stories, conducting other activities to encourage regular attendance or intently listening to their children read and helping them with whatever needs to be done. An environment of books has encouraged many Book-Fairies to not only read, but also to write poetry, short stories, and articles based on their experiences. Many have completed formal graduate courses in Arts and Commerce.

The Book-Fairies feel very proud when the little ones address them as ‘teacher’ and enquire about them when they are absent. Komal says, “Even our own children don’t realize when we are not feeling well, but our students immediately sense something is wrong and ask us if we need to sit down or if they can get us a glass of water!” The Book-Fairies feel that ‘teacher’ is not an ordinary word; it has an intrinsic power and they have experienced its life-changing effect.

Most of the Book-Fairies live within a short distance from the school, hence their neighbors and friends know what they do and regard them with respect; and their family members who once introduced them only as their daughter-in-law, daughter, mother, sister, or wife, now proudly add the powerful pre-fix ‘teacher’!

Yes, the ladies have expanded their identity. May they continue to do so on their journey of self-discovery.

– Written by Archana Vyavaharkar, based on inputs from Door Step School ‘Book-Fairies’

(This article is a part of Teachers’ Month series by Door Step School, Pune. For other articles in the series, please visit http://blog.doorstepschool.org/search/label/Teachers%27%20Month%202016.)