On the 31st July 2016, 24 British teachers arrived in Delhi airport as strangers. Over three weeks in a remote part of India we shared anecdotes from our days at school, collaborated on ideas for conferences and over shared one too many tales of ‘Delhi bellies’. We then spent a week travelling across the country as both colleagues and friends.
I first saw the advertisement for LRTT during my teacher training year, but I didn’t feel confident enough to apply. When I spotted the advertisement again on my Facebook news feed during my NQT year, I knew I had to apply. After a telephone interview with one of the team leaders, Shabbir, I was offered a place. I was absolutely thrilled. I then set about fundraising and preparing myself for the trip. I flew from Bangkok to Delhi airport as I’d spent the past 10 days with Conor in South East Asia and although I’d been solo travelling before, I was absolutely terrified!
Upon arriving in Delhi, I met the rest of the team and we did a little sight-seeing. The next day we headed to the beautiful Taj Mahal; a wonderful, once in a life time experience, but I know that many of the teachers, like myself, were more excited to arrive in Rajpura and visit the schools that we would be working with in the coming days. On Wednesday 3rd August, we departed from Delhi and arrived in Rajpura in the Eagle Motel where we made ourselves at home, alongside a rat or two!
PPSO (Punjabi Private Schools Organisation), the organisation who we worked with, joined us for an opening ceremony that first evening and we made the first introductions with our school leaders. The head of PPSO, Mr Tej Pal Singh, explained to us that the main objective of the educational exchange would be for us to teach his teachers how to teach with love and not fear. We didn’t realise at the time but this would be the message at the forefront of our mind throughout the trip.
I had been invited to work in Shivaji Model School. At first I was a little nervous but there was absolutely no need to be. The teachers and senior leaders at the school were unbelievably kind and so eager to have us observing and helping in their classrooms. Despite a language barrier, we were able to have a tour of the school, observe some lessons and give some written feedback on that very first day and most days that followed. It astonished me how quick the teachers were to act on the feedback that they were given. Each day we would see a new idea or technique that we had discussed the previous day. I also picked up new ideas for my own classroom, from both the Indian teachers and other fellows… and I am still using them today!
One of the main purposes of our trip was to deliver teacher training conferences and workshops to the teachers whom we were working with. We conducted four altogether and they were experiences that I will never forget. There was a lot of talking through gestures, umpteen role plays and various activities to try to explain pedagogical concepts. Although it was pretty exhausting in 35C heat, we enjoyed so much laughter along the way, mostly at our expense! Prior to this, I had always been a little nervous speaking in front of other adults, so it was a steep learning curve but I now feel much more confident presenting to others.
At the end of each conference we had Q&A sessions, lots of sweaty photographs and once a game of cricket! Although I loved being in school, I think that my conference days were my favourite part of the whole experience. We were fortunate enough to work with a group of the kindest and funniest young teachers who were all so eager to learn. It also made me really reflect on my own teaching practice as I wanted to make sure that I taught the teachers using the pedagogy that we were discussing. As we didn’t have a smart board or a set of mini whiteboards, or even the vast array of language we were used to using, we really had to think about what we were doing and become more creative than ever.
After our final day in school, we enjoyed our closing ceremony, complete with newly purchased saris and Punjabi suits. In true Indian fashion, there were lots of beautifully prepared speeches from head teachers and members of PPSO, plus lots of impromptu speeches from fellows who had no prior warning! An excellent end to a challenging yet rewarding journey for all involved. We then spent a week travelling through India, the perfect end to the project, and I will write more about this soon.
I would be lying if I said that that completing the LRTT project was easy. Spending a long time without loved ones, in a different time zone can be difficult whilst travelling, but it seemed a little harder whilst working. Sometimes you just want to come home to friends and family, let of a little steam or just have a cuddle. Working with people you have only just met, who have lots of ideas, sometimes contrasting to yours can also be difficult, but it was so important to remember that everyone had the same end goal and we were all in India for the same reason. Finally, working with people living in extreme poverty and seeing it on your doorstep everyday can be heartbreaking and it is quite easy for the experience to become emotionally draining.
However, I would recommend the experience in a heartbeat. I truly believe that education is the only way that we will ever eradicate poverty and there’s still so much work that we have to do as humankind. I may only be one small person, but I can still make a small difference and I feel like I did last summer. I also learnt so much that helped me develop my teaching, but also myself as a person. I feel like I grew so much over that month. And finally, I met some of the most beautiful, wonderful souls, some British, some Indian but none that I’ll ever forget.
If you’re interested in applying for a fellowship this summer, click here.