My trip to Mumbai was, to say the least, transformational. I’d like to share with you some insights because I think it’s really important to get it out. Some background info–I was one of 6 TFA CMs chosen to partake in a four-day professional development workshop in Mumbai, India. Developed by Teach for All, a global network of organizations that aim to close achievement gaps across the world, the “Change Begins Within” workshop gave me a chance to not only meet more than 65 other educators from 18 different countries and educational contexts, but also to explore many ideas of holistic learning that the average American is so encouraged to ignore. I was 1 of 6 TFA CMs lucky enough to go, and I cannot thank the Mid-Atlantic staff enough for giving me this chance. Why?
Because by the time I returned to the U.S., I had undergone a sufficient renovation of spirit that also reaped many benefits in my practice as a teacher. I would like to share the things I learned in Mumbai because I think we—educators, students, world citizens, and human beings—tend to lose focus on the importance in development of self. And if I learned anything in India, it is that if we cannot undergo genuine personal transformations, than we have no hope of encouraging transformation on a global scale.
The lessons we learned were not lectured to us, nor given in a PowerPoint presentation. Instead, to teach us how easy it was to interact with our students as human beings instead of hormonal miscreants, we were dropped into one of the largest slums of Asia and asked to connect with a child. We did, despite the language barrier, through song or dance or pictures or soccer, parents inviting us into their tiny yet clean homes, proudly serving us chai as their children practiced halting English. To teach us about encountering obstacles with a sense of possibility, we were given impossible tasks (such as earning 25 rupees in a slum without selling anything) and asked to use only our ingenuity and tenacity to overcome them (we drew pictures of people and asked for donations before donating back the costs). To teach us how to become part of communities we used to ignore, we went on home visits with Teach for India fellows, a group of high-performing college graduates and older professionals who commit to two years of teaching in low-income areas across Pune and Mumbai. Bolstered by seeing their optimism and hard work as they taught kids who often had no money for food let alone tuition, we began to feel less alone in our own trials. We began to learn, really learn, what a communal effort the movement for equity must be. And we began to think. The influx of new information and scenery had the potential to be overwhelming, but each day we came back to the hotel to engage in rigorous reflection, looking inwardly for a stretch of time, engulfed in an almost meditative silence.
The gains that matter are not my killer tan, lots of Indian clothes, and a renewed energy to teach, having missed the whole first week of January. The gains that matter are the ones that occurred internally. For once in my adult life, I was being made to think not only about what I wanted and why I wanted it, but also how I was going about getting it. For once in my adult life, I was being made to think about the legacy I would one day leave and the lessons I was imparting to others simply through action alone. And for once in my entire life, I realized that the world was indeed a product of our own making. When I came back to the U.S., I changed my last unit from learning about constructed responses on state tests to learning about Gandhi. Instead of writing the perfect response to a question about sherpa farmers, my students turned in personal reflection journals. And maybe hardened cynics will see my blatant disregard for district mandates as a granola, too-liberal approach to education that will inevitably get me canned. But the message of “be the change you want to see in the world” and then, “the change begins within” resonates in me too loudly to believe the cynics.
I hope it will in you, too.