A note on my three blogs


A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Teaching English in Almora

Almora

So I have been in the Himalayas for over two months now! When I left in April it felt like I was going on a big adventure after a very, very long time. To explore a new area of India for a considerable amount of time, to live in and discover a new place for the first time after almost ten years! An adventure worth blogging, just like I used to do when my Indian life was still new and exciting... Except this time it was me and my little 2-year old daughter. I was going towards the big Unknown again, fully aware that it was going to be very positive yet a little anxious. Well, I am very happy that I did leave that unbearable heat! It has been wonderful...

I was in Almora from 9 April until 5 June, teaching English to classes 11 and 12 at Sharda Public School for a month and a half. This was the view from our nice little flat, in a very friendly neighbourhood indeed...


I wanted to blog while in Almora, but I was too busy preparing for classes when Leela finally slept...

Almora is a very cute town. The main market (town centre) is very beautiful. Very different from Khajuraho yet of course still Indian. And mountain people are very sweet and friendly. Very different from central Indian people somehow; perhaps with finer traits and different wrinkles, slightly more oriental looking, definitely healthier/thinner from so much walking up and down the hills, and women more free, it seems... It did feel like we were very close to Nepal, with men carrying loads off their heads like that.


Our neighbourhood was really nice. We didn't have streets down to our flat but stairs. Very tough to walk up with Leela in the baby-bag, but now I have learnt to carry her on my back, which is a lot easier than on my front! She's actually put on 1 1/2 kg since we've been here!

We shared a big terrace with our neighbours, with people going to other people's house very freely. Lots of kids played around our flat every afternoon after school, which was great for Leela. There were lots of flowers everywhere, because our landlords who lived nearby were keen gardeners. We could hear our neighbours as though they were inside our own flat. Not always pleasant you might say, but it made me feel less alone, especially at the beginning. I have always liked the sound of life as background; loved it all along in Varanasi. And the sound of playing kids was perfect for Leela. All the kids loved her and played with her; they especially were very impressed with her music books! We had a big empty front room in which it was great to dance or play ball. Empty rooms can be quite cool, actually! Oh and there was even a playground just five minutes walk from our flat!


My favourite neighbour was a mother of two boys aged 4 and 6, right next door to us on the right. Leela played with the boys and they shared toys. She invited us for tea, offered to me WiFi connection, space in her fridge and filtered water! She was studying yoga and even ran a few yoga classes for the entire neighbourhood on the terrace right in front of our door and window, mainly attended by moms and kids! And I loved waking up to the sound of the Indian radio or Indian classical music played by our landlord's brother, who later turned out to be the optician who did my eyes check! His wife played harmonium and sang some devotional songs every evening, on the terrace upstairs from our neighbours, but somehow through the grids and the flower pots we could never see her.  It all felt like being part of an old Indian film. Life woke up early and went to bed early. Everything was just, well, perfect.

Another beautiful thing was all the pine trees and the pine needles falling to the ground. They were slippery but their beautiful fragrance reminded me of Corsica. And there were prickly pears, just like in Corsica too! Oh, and did I mention the perfect weather, obviously!

We also spent a lot of time at my boss's house, a huge, posh colonial house turned into a homestay just up the hill from our neighborhood. There were a duck in a pond, three dogs, a lot of greenery to walk around the house and pebbles to pick for Leela and flowers, oh and they even grew strawberries! Leela stayed there with their domestic staff and the family while I was teaching. It was our second home, really. Wonderful people and great company!

Almora is lovely, but it was difficult to move about with a baby in a sling and no scooter! What a surprise to discover India without rickshaws! I had to walk a lot uphill to go anywhere, which took a lot of my energy. It is not a touristic town at all, and there was nowhere much to go for entertainment and no great restaurants to get out. So we were pretty confined to our few meters squares between our flat, the homestay and the school. At weekends my favourite adventure was to visit my friends from Baba Cake in Kasar Devi, about 10 km away from Almora. This was a whole adventure to itself because I had to cross the whole market by foot to reach the taxi stand, and then the jeeps would only depart when full and it could take up to an hour fill them with passengers... And to come back from Kasar Devi I had to leave in the early evening, walk about 1 km to catch a jeep on the way... And most Sundays I could see no jeep on the way so I literally came back to Almora hitch hiking. But that shop with avocados made it worth it...

Teaching


For the first time since Leela's birth I had four whole hours to myself, six days a week! And it was the first time I had a proper job in a very long time...

Teaching in a government-approved school was very interesting for me. I had been curious about how it would be to teach in an official Indian school for a very long time, so it was a great opportunity for me to give it a go and to see if I liked it. I have to say it was very challenging at times! I had many students per class as I had to combine groups to teach fewer hours because of Leela, between 30 and 50 pupils per class! For a few classes I had a "helper", i.e. a member of the school staff whose presence in the classroom turned the students silent like magic. I think they didn't take me as seriously as their other teachers because I was new, I was a foreigner and I wasn't going to stay for a long time. So otherwise the classes were noisy and I had to shout a lot to make myself heard...

It was challenging but fun to try and remember as many names as I could... Some names I could remember easily because they were my nephews and nieces' names, some faces I could remember easily because they reminded me of other faces. Some of them were nameless faces until they scored great marks at the exam I drafted. And I probably had about ten Abhisheks in one class, so whenever I didn't know a boy's name I tried my luck calling him Abhishek. In my last week I realised I had some identical twins in a group, which hadn't helped me much. It was great teaching over 150 kids though, because I felt quite popular walking through the streets of Almora, every time meeting five people I knew and within just a few weeks - ha! I also have to say the girls' compulsory two-plait hairdos really don't do them justice! And would I ever get used to the assembly, listening to the prayer, the nationalistic pledge and the national anthem every morning? Not sure! Musically-speaking I did love Jana Gana Mana though - it is way more beautiful than La Marseillaise!

My main difficulty with teaching was that students were often just waiting for me to give them answers, and - let's put it this way - there was a lot of copying around! Sometimes as soon as a student had finished a task, she would automatically give her answers to her friend to copy! Automatically! I kept having to tell them to try for themselves, that mistakes help you learn etc. It was difficult to get most of them to write in their own words; only the best students would...


I was glad to have my English books from the UK with me! With classes 12 I picked a topic from their syllabus which had a lesson plan in my writing book: summary writing. The lesson plan was well-made, giving step-by-step instructions, getting the students and to analyse and compare a text against its summary, to practise paraphrasing etc. I was tempted to teach classes about formal letters and CV writing as this also was on their syllabus, but the writing style that was expected from the students according to their books and sample exams was just so weird and confusing to me that I didn't dare deal with the subject. It would just have been too difficult for me to comply with such Indian English language - words and expressions that no-one actually uses in the UK or outside of India... For the last few weeks I started literature classes on the novel from their syllabus, The Invisible Man, although really, teaching literature is not my best talent!

With classes 11 I had agreed to only teach grammar. The school didn't give me any books but I had my own exercise books from the UK as well as loads of Internet resources. I am a grammar geek so that was not going to be a problem! I picked the topics from their syllabus, tenses, modal verbs and passive voice, and planned my lessons accordingly. I really tried to clarify their knowledge about tenses especially! I think it was a bit new for the students to work the way I did, but it seemed to have worked somehow. It's weird with Indians: They have a lot of theoretical knowledge but they don't know how to apply it in practice (all that learning by heart...), and there is a lot of confusion about grammar in their heads. So I tried to fill the gaps as best I could... Some of the best students were really happy I think. Well, one of them actually gave me a really sweet thank you card on my last day; she was really sweet! At least for her, it made my time worthwhile...


I had to teach six days a week which I found pretty intense. So usually on Saturdays we did a song. That was fun and it gave me some rest from the shouting, because the students were more quiet when I played the song...

Another difficult thing was that it was the beginning of the term for students of class 11. So new kids kept enrolling and I never had the same number of students from class to class... Number just kept growing... up to 57!

All in all I was very happy with my experience, and the students were really sweet. However it didn't really make me want to be an English teacher in a regular Indian school in the long term...

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