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NIDIA 19 – My pen has been lost by me!!!

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When: 2nd September 2015

Where: On Reliance Global Call 🙂

Several years ago, my father introduced us to a cousin of his. When my father respects someone with his whole heart, it is difficult for us to miss feeling the same warmth about that person. It is probably the way my father introduces these people into our lives. My father never missed a single opportunity to talk about this cousin and about how great a human being he was. Every now and then I met my dad’s cousin at social gatherings and it was always casual conversations and funny things that elders say to kids in large families :). I still don’t know if it is a good habit but I like to observe people when they are conversing with others. I saw this man over the years in many different places talking to many different people. Nothing about him was ever artificial. Every word he spoke, every blessing he shared, they all felt like they came straight from his heart. There are these few people you meet, who smile with their eyes. He and his wife are one of those few people I know whose kindness can fill a room and make your heart beam every single time you meet them.

Fast forward to 2015, one day when we finally got to ‘chat’, Facebook gave me the chance to ask for his number . He was quite surprised when I called him as soon as he sent me his number. He picks up the phone right after two rings, and has the same warmest greeting that he always had for me when I would meet him in person. For people who know me well, when I am happy, I am talkative. Like read talkative in bold, UPPERCASE and underlined in red 🙂 We talked and talked and talked. I think we spoke for over an hour [ If I wrote the whole conversation here, it will fill a book :)]. So many random things in education we talked about and none of it needed elaboration. Words just flowed and I could just understand them as is. To be sharing a conversation with a great teacher like him and enjoying it was like a dream come true for me. The joy of sharing a conversation like that with the person who has been my inspiration to pursue a profession in teaching, indescribable. Every minute of that one hour, inside my heart I was lamenting why I never got to work or learn under the guidance of teachers like him when I was in India. Half way through the conversation while I was filling him in on my work, he has this childish excitement in his voice and says,

“Padmini! I want to tell you about two incidents that will make complete sense to you.”

And obviously my response was, ” Cheppandi peddanannagaru!”

If I type them out in his own words, I might do some justice to the beauty of that conversation I enjoyed.

RRB: Oka roju, naa deggaraki, oka pillavaadu vachaadu. Vacchi, budhiga chethulu kattukoni (by now he is smiling while narrating this), Maastaaru pennu poyindhi… annadu.

Myself: Smiling and almost getting where this was going. I almost started laughing here. Was too excited to have understood where this was going [You can ask him if you want]

RRB: Nenu anna, yera, malli cheppu. Vaadu malli, Maastaaru, pennu poyindhi..ani inkaastha nemmadhiga, jaagratha cheppaadu.

By now I couldn’t stop laughing loudly. His subtle manner of narrating the entire incident was so powerful and hilarious. [ two of the many great qualities in great teachers: to capture the attention of their student fully and to engage them completely till they finished speaking :)]

RRB: Malli cheppara annanu. Appudu vaadu, Maastaaru, nenu pennu pogottukunna annadu. [ By this time, I was almost repeating the last line with him]

We both burst out laughing for over a minute there.

RRB: It was important to make him realize that he was responsible for losing an object that he could have kept safely. It is important to teach children to own responsibility for their actions early in life and I find that things like this are not taught in schools anymore. The focus is all on grades and exam scores these days.

Why this one hour’s conversation made me so happy?

I got to talk to a teacher in India who grew in his role to become an educational leader, guided thousands of students to success and yet, was one of the few most humble teachers I have grown up watching.

The honesty in his words and the simplicity in his teaching are two things that I will always aspire to acquire.

Almost five years after I survived the worst time in an educational setting, here I was, beaming and listening to the joy in a teacher’s voice for being a teacher. A person who has been through my age, worked hard to do the best for his students was talking with such pride and satisfaction.

20 years back when my dad introduced me to his cousin, I did not think that he will be the biggest inspiration behind my endless desire to teach and lead. Over the years, observing him, sharing small conversations with him and listening about him from my father have all influenced me to pursue teaching as a profession. Being almost the only Indian in this specialization here, doing something entirely new with no one to follow, I sometimes feel like I should give up [ to all my friends who are narrowing their eyes on me, don’t judge me like you don’t have one of those days yourself :)]. On one such days recently, I made this phone call and I swear it has changed my life.

Babbepalli Raja Rao garu, as he is fondly called in the family, peddanannagaru as I dearly address him, is the person who has renewed my hope to be a teacher right on the day when I was getting lost in my way. Hearing one of your own, your biggest inspiration,  tell you that you are doing the right thing and that you shouldn’t give up just yet is a blessing.

Peddanannagaru, thank you for that conversation. It will always remain etched in my memory as the most precious gift from my teacher. That conversation reminded me to own responsibility for myself and to enjoy my schooling to become a teacher one day. And yes, I still owe you a trip to your village and I can’t wait to come home next time. 🙂

Amma and Daddy, thank you for giving me this life to experience beautiful conversations like this.

Yours Sincerely,

Padmini 🙂

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NIDIA 18 – Mind your business Padmini

When anyone tells me I can’t do anything, I’m just not listening anymore

-Florence Griffith Joyner

Five years back during a clinical rotation, one of my supervisors instructed me to mind my business in response to a question I asked her. I was an inquisitive undergraduate student who asked her, ” ******** ma’m, what does ***** (referring to the child with disability) do when he goes home after the therapy session?” And the title was her answer to my question also followed by, “Why does it bother you to think beyond what you are told to do?”. All this while she is rolling her eyes and exchanging looks with her colleagues.

Why did I ask her the question?

The child who was receiving therapy was a 14-year boy who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. His mother carried him to the department every time he came down for physiotherapy. He was taller than his mother yet she carried him every where they went. He went to a private school that denied his promotion to higher grades after a certain grade. They just couldn’t provide him with a lift to attend the classes on third floor and also refused to move the class. I asked my supervisor that question because everyday this boy went back to an almost nil physical activity situation at his house. He was beginning to gain weight and his mother struggled to carry him with each passing day. Lack of physical activity was also affecting his overall health (muscular and cardiovascular health). For my brain, the obvious thing to think was, “Is there a way for us to get him to move more every day? Can we arrange for assistance? “. I was told to shut up and not think beyond delivering physiotherapy interventions that were so archaic that it would make the relics in Salar Jung museum look new.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks back when Dr. Kalam passed away. I won’t lie. That week I almost went back to every Youtube speech that was available of Dr. Kalam. Many of which I never heard before. Of all the questions students asked Dr. Kalam, the ones that stood out for me where the ones that revolved around ‘education/scientific research system reform’ in our country. The above scene from my undergraduate days is exactly the reason why Indian education system is so messed up. It is because a majority of ‘faculty’ in educational institutions are ‘never’ trained to be teachers.  They are trained to work as clinicians, law enforcement officers, so on and so forth. I will refrain from commenting about faculty in engineering or technology related fields. In fields that involve human beings as the clients for health related direct services, how many teachers are taught and trained to be teaching in classrooms?

What happened to me and what happens to a lot of students in classrooms across India is that we are told not to question. We are only supposed to follow instructions

Rewind back to my physics class in high school, I once asked my physics teacher why a particular reaction would give that particular result. I was told to shut up and just read what was in the textbook. I am sure I am not alone. This must have happened to many of us. Training to be a teacher does not end at earning a degree. It is a constant process. It is never ending. You are always working with your students and they are always training you to be the best teacher you can ever be. The teachers who have that attitude towards their jobs are the history makers.

What am I trying to say here?

Reviewing through pages legislation and policies for education in India, I understand that:

  • India’s education laws are archaic (almost)
  • Most of the Acts that guide the delivery of education services in our country are very vague
  • Where there are a few good and modern clauses in those Acts, there is a gap between enforcement and reviewing of the service delivery
  • Teacher training guidelines are very generic and lack clear instructions on addressing the needs of each specialization. There is a lot of ambiguity. 
  • Guidelines still show a lack of connection to the real world
  • Use of technology is missing in the teacher training scene
  • Websites of most of these organizations need serious updating (I am thankful for the fact that the ministries have their websites updated)

How can we begin addressing this situation

Only when more urban Indians with financial and social security take up professions like teaching will we be able to start a change. Please I am not referring to Teach for India. I am talking full length walk of B. Ed, M. Ed, M. Phil, PhD that kind!

More students/parents should question the quality of education that is delivered in private institutions too. 

Reading more about the legislation in our country is a great way to begin understanding the system.

Without spending time to read about the history of a problem and the legislation associated with it, we will be wasting our time every time we complain on social networking.

Like every student of science knows, if scientific questioning is not encouraged in the schools, we cannot produce citizens who will love their education.

And only students who will love the education they receive will be interested to become researchers. There is a severe need for more research and publication of data outlining social phenomena in our country. So before we start getting disheartened every time a negative news is reported, spend time to look up the research conducted in India on that specific topic. You never know what might ignite your mind. 

~SriPadmini Chennapragada aka Jussri

10th August 2015

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NIDIA 17 – Enigma of India’s Education Problems: Possible Solution? You decide!

Reform in India’s Education System will be a reality only when more teachers feel encouraged to participate in the planning activities organized by Government agencies (both state and central).

Below is the brief overview of the pain and mistreatment that was meted out to a group of educators from around the country at #NCERT. If you are wondering what #NCERT is, please click here  (~If you completed your schooling in India, I am sure you used NCERT textbooks every now and then)

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I was introduced to Ram  by an American professor when I was looking for professionals serving individuals with disabilities (IWD) in India. Ram has been working to empower individuals with #Autism through #Arts4Autism for years now. For most of us who don’t know a lot about the education industry, the financial remuneration is never high in these fields. [Read fields= ones that directly and indirectly service individuals with disabilities (IWD)] . I don’t know a single genuine teacher who is financially a millionaire for:

  • loving their students regardless of who they are and where they come from.
  • for being creative and helping each one of their students succeed.
  • for going beyond their job descriptions to ensure that their students get the best of everything that can be made available to them.

Complaining that India’s Education System is not great, not up to date, will not help…. I have heard these being said for years now. Oh god! you don’t know how much I complained for years. Ask the people that share my life. But all along those years I never stopped finding solutions. I never gave up. I sucked my anger and disgust in. Every time I faced an insult, a discrimination, I swallowed it in and chugged along (while also endlessly yapping about it to my loved ones)because I know I can’t change haters. I know I can’t change the way cynics express their endless doubts. I know I cannot stop people from choosing money over service.

I can only work hard to get to a position where I can start being the change.

Scores of Indians are working in many professions to serve #IWD in India. When I read updates like Ram’s, I am pained beyond words. In today’s digital era where discussions are all so ‘electronic’ and ‘eternal’, I can’t afford to be angry. I can’t afford to be rude no matter how disturbing the facts are.

I will forever work to be a good teacher.

A teacher who will care. A teacher who will be fair

I don’t want to write harsh things about organizations/agencies (referring to NCERT here) that will decide the fate of my students and future education in India. So I will only beg and plead from the citizens of India to get involved in spreading the word. One thing to remember is that reform and improvements take several years of selfless work from teachers, students and parents everyone.

So if you are one of those Indians who complained about our education system, please share this and spread the word to start making a change. If you ask me how will sharing this make NCERT or similarly functioning agencies to change their behavior, I will say this:

A crime that is unreported will always leave a criminal on the street to attack  their next victim. Please don’t let this incident be forgotten. Read through Ram’s narration of his experience, put yourself in his place and tell me, ” Can you survive in a profession that will treat you like that?” I am sure this is not the first time this happened to a teacher in India. And yes, if it is indeed the first, it should be the last. No one deserves it.

This article is a part of my advocacy efforts for #inclusiveindia.

Only when we have happy teachers and educational administrators will we have successful reforms. Please help me join forces for this cause.

~ Jussri aka SriPadmini Chennapragada (30th July 2015). 

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NIDIA 16 – Avoiding Annoyance

When: A week ago

Where: Where I live


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Rarely have I experienced discrimination or racism in the States. That makes me one of the few people residing anywhere in the world then doesn’t it? 🙂 Please note that I used the word rarely. When you don’t know what you deserve, you live among bad situations with the assumption that you deserve them (Human nature?). That was pretty much my life when I studied in DDCOP (Don’t you think it is cool that they have a website now? A bad one though! Not a lot has changed in that place since I left that school. The only cool part is they are looking up to technology to project themselves as a genuine institution in the field. ) When I strike out lines that I write, I don’t want you to read them. They are like private thoughts I am scared of expressing freely ( Because you cannot raise awareness about poor educational standards in India. That is the unspoken social norm). But if you still went ahead and read them, you have no manners ( *just kidding*). Today when I look back at those traumatic days spent in social isolation and humiliation that I was subjected to because of one woman’s crazy mind (* at least hundred students who graduated from that college will agree to that statement*),

I can’t be thankful enough for what I was put through because of unethical administrative practices in educational leadership. 

*Avoiding Annoyance Lesson 1

A few weeks ago, I was getting my groceries billed at a place I frequent. I forgot to swipe my card and was busy loading the cart (Okay, I am that annoying customer who does it. Sorry for that). The person standing behind me said everything worse he could say to a brown skinned lady from a South Asian country. 🙂 Well when I describe it like that you don’t want to ask me what all he said in detail. I am not angel about using bad language. But my foul language usage begins and ends in comedy situations with people that are extremely close to me. That’s it. The typical person that is me first froze, but then felt deep anger. When you have had worse things said to you in your face, in your own country, by a woman who is supposed to be your principal, you learn to count numbers when you have anger rushing into your blood in a situation like that. I arrived at the point of counting numbers after several years of being a hot headed stupid girl who fought for fairness always. Then there comes a time when you realize that fighting is not always important.

Learning to ignore the worthless is a great tool to possess in today’s times.

When this person was calling me names, all I was focusing on was getting out of there before my seven year old niece heard those ugly words. For her, I sound different when I speak English. Myself and her mother dress different from her friends’ mothers and sisters (read Americans here). She is always observing and asking questions about where I come from and where I intend to take myself. If I had lost it at that moment and gotten into an argument with this disrespectful man, I am sure it would have had whatever conclusion any one of our egos wanted. But that would have tainted the memory of a seven year old American citizen about the way America treats non-resident aliens ( this term again has another story). For her the world begins and ends in every unique situation she encounters. She and her peers are learning so quickly and questioning so strongly every second they are growing in this country. I went home and was all red faced when I was blurting out what happened to my sister with an angry face. Do you think she never has experienced anything like that before? She has lived here for 13 years. She must have experienced situations worse than mine. But I don’t know of any time she got into a fist fight/argument with anyone in similar situations. So I guess I learnt it from her. Avoiding Annoyance Lesson # 1

*Avoiding the Annoyance Lesson 2

          When you are trying to educate yourself, criticism is an integral part of the process. I have always considered myself as someone who doesn’t know enough about anything in this field. So I am always shamelessly asking questions and participating in discussions. When I am mindful of being respectful and compassionate towards others, I expect to receive it back from others around me. Luckily I am surrounded by a ton of people who teach me everyday to be a confident person that I should be. I am surprised at how many students I met in this country  have inspired me with their dedicated work and compassion. Then along come a few who don’t know enough about dealing with people from foreign cultures. I do not know what runs in their brains. But their interactions are always causing pain and make you feel like you are not good enough to be among them. They cross all lines of communication where they say things to you that they wouldn’t dare say to a fellow citizen of their country. Initially these small unpleasant interactions hurt me and made me think if I shouldn’t be here. But when I weigh these experiences with everything that the other Americans are doing for me to prepare me for the field, I calm down my feelings of anger and annoyance. A casual conversation with another woman coming from a diverse background like mine was quite enlightening. She told me,

“Sri, every time this person(s) talk to you like that, ask yourself, what can I learn from this person? Every thing will become simple at that very moment”

Trust me I put it into practice and you will be amazed at how many unpleasant situations I have avoided in the last several days. You might ask me who is going to correct these people who hurt others with their communication that is loaded with ignorance. There will be one person from their own kind who will say it to them in their face. They will not like it. But they will swallow it and learn from it. I might sound like an uneducated, ignorant fool to say it but that is the truth of this world. Humans are comfortable learning about life from one of their own (however you might want to define the own word) in contrast to learning from some one not their own. I might be flawed in my way of understanding the whole phenomenon, but as of today the 17th day of February in the year 2015, this is my understanding. If I improve my analysis on this, I will update it here for sure 🙂

For a lot of people I sound like a snob every time I mention my under graduate school. I am a strong believer in the  desperate need for higher educational standards in India. I will not stop writing about that school until things improve over there. Not until, faculty and staff in that place realize the importance of putting student interests before their their own interests.

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