Celebrating Teachers’ Month – The making of ‘Book-Fairies’

It is the first week of June and schools are still to reopen after the summer vacation. The ‘Grow with Books’ office is a beehive of activities. There are groups of ladies sitting in all the rooms – Some are having a serious discussion; some are sitting with a pile of books sorting and covering them; one is jotting down ‘Things To Do’ on one of the whiteboards; a few others are busy at the computers. Another group waits anxiously – almost with baited breath for some important information!

They are all teachers in Door Step School’s ‘Project Grow with Books’ – the reading skill development programme being run in government schools across Pune. But surprisingly no one refers to them as teachers for they have another more apt name – “Pustak Pari” or “Book Fairies”! With their wand of innovation, patience and determination, they weave magic in school classrooms by ensuring children first learn to read; and then, read for the fun of it.

All these ladies have a number of things in common. Most of them grew up in small towns and were married off soon after their Grade X examination. They were initially housewives, living a life revolving around their families, but with no say in any family matter. Their aspirations were bundled up and put at the back of the kitchen cupboard. They never stepped out of their homes on their own and were never encouraged to do so. Then how did they turn into book-fairies?

Sangeeta, a Book-Fairy of ten years, smiles and says, “I think we were given invisible wings by Door Step School; they held our hand and led us to where we are, giving us more than we could have ever dreamt of!” Loaded words but they are immediately seconded by Geeta. “I always wanted to be a teacher but I could not study after completing Grade X as my village did not have a junior college. And I was soon married off to the first proposal that came my way! But now I am a teacher and a leader of my group!” Vasanti adds that her father was a porter and could not afford to send her to a school beyond Grade VII. But he encouraged her to teach the small children living nearby and always told her she should try and be a teacher! She moved to Pune soon after she got married. And as luck would have it, the Door Step School coordinators visited her area trying to identify if there were any ladies who were interested in working as Book Fairies! Her husband and in-laws allowed her to step out of the house as the school was nearby and they did not think that she would be selected to teach! Not only was she selected but was also encouraged to continue studying and give the Grade X exam as an external student. Similar stories pour forth from all sides. An opportunity is what they craved for and Door Step School came by and gave wings to their dreams!

The group sitting anxiously suddenly comes to life. These are the Book-Fairies in the making. Pooja is one of them. She is full of self doubt but Manisha reassures her not to be afraid and asks her to tell a story based on a series of pictures she is shown. This is an interview in progress. Soon, Pooja is selected and she is so happy her eyes overflow with happiness.

The metamorphosis starts as all the selected candidates are given a ten-day training in which they are told about the project and how they have to work along-side the government school teachers to ensure the children learn. They are also taught how to use the teaching aids specially prepared for this project, how to conduct competency based reading tests to determine the competency levels of children in a class. In the following three months, hand holding by seniors and effective guidance and feedback while working give them the self-confidence to tackle any situation that comes their way.

Vaishali adds, “I was like a caterpillar, but now I feel like a butterfly!”

Every month, the Book-Fairies receive Refresher Training for writing reports, time management, communication skills, conducting parents’ meetings, and whatever helps them. This is also an opportunity to share their experiences in the field and sort out various issues. Shabana, Surekha, and Komal look forward to such meetings as it gives them a chance to interact with the other Book-Fairies.

The Book-Fairies also carry with them at least 70 to 80 competency and age appropriate books to be given to the children as part of the lending library. Here, in the office, some of them are reading the books and identifying their competency levels. They are also enjoying reading these books and sharing something which suddenly brings forth laughter. Sharmila holds a book close to her and exclaims, “I love the smell of new books. It reminds me of my childhood and how my mother used to save money to buy me a book once in a couple of months! Ever since I started working as a Book-Fairy, I tell my mother all the new stories I read and she feels very proud of me!”

Swati from the other group tells them to hurry up and start covering the books. This is a tedious job but needs to be done to lengthen the life of a book. Many little hands are soon going to flip pages and get drawn into the world of letters. At present, there are more than two lakh fifty thousand books including more than 2,500 titles, which exchange hands every few days. After all, there are 239 schools in Pune, PCMC, Maval, and Mulshi blocks that the Book-Fairies cover. Although most Book Fairies are from an area close to a given school, many of them are willing to travel long distances to ensure an allotted hour in a school does not go waste.

As they finish their work, they finalize plans for the school visits. Yes, their skills will soon be put to test as they conduct classes in various schools. Arati, Sarita, Geeta, and Sunita are together again in the same group. They look forward to working as a team once again and they eagerly wait for the schools to reopen.

(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.)