How far is okay?

Something interesting happened this morning. I was in class at 7 AM (waking up at 5:30 AM in the dark and cold is worth a ranting blogpost by itself, I say) and faced with a class of Grade 9 students who write at a possessed pace. The day I thought of the Box of Essays should go down in the chapter of my teaching shenanigans as my Doomsday, I tell you, but I digress…

Something interesting happened this morning. My kids were sitting in the classroom ploughing through their essays (they each write roughly 800-1000 words a day these days, a nightmare if you think about correction but quite a win otherwise) while I did some writing of my own. It was a quiet morning, the only noises floating in were the vague, muffled taps and pats from the kitchen as the staff prepared for the day ahead. Inside, we had closed the windows and half-shut the door in an effort to insulate ourselves from the cold, and attempted to get to work. The room was largely quiet, save for my pounding away at a keyboard and the occasional flipping of a page. The minute noise levels threatened to rise, someone will whisper “dei, essay” and pens would start scratching again.

In the middle of all this apparently productive activity, there will be the one-off story that comes my way, how someone went to the temple recently or someone’s mother is making biryani today. It provides all of us with a moment of relief before we turn back to the production of words on a page. Today, there was another story that came my way, a story from the previous evening when they were all going home from school. It went somewhat like this, as told by a girl in the class.

We were already leaving very late, Akka. We had Biology exam and it was after 6 o’clock when we were walking. We were just going on the street when this boy [a classmate] comes up from behind us and starts talking. He is coming in the middle of the road, Akka. I don’t even understand what he is saying. He is chumma coming and talking to us. What he wanted, I don’t know. He wouldn’t leave also, just talking to us on the street.

Through the narration, the boy in question was protesting, not particularly coherent noises that worked just enough to illustrate his displeasure at the accusations. He said he needed some information, that he had forgotten to ask, and that he just wanted to find out. At some point in the rant, I told the girl I wasn’t sure I got her point. Did she not want to talk to him? Did she not know the answer to his question? Was he bothering her? What was the deal, really?

That and all is not allowed outside, Akka. That is okay only in school.

What is this ‘that’?

He is a boy, Akka. That is not okay, Akka.

The conversation didn’t last much longer than that, what with everyone’s hurry to get back to writing, but I snuck in some parting words. If you can talk inside, maybe it is not too bad to talk outside? He only wanted information. They did not sound convinced and eventually went back to writing, so nothing much came out of that line of thought.

But it got me thinking, set me off on a line of thought that was not new but will probably forever remain unresolved. Just how far was I meant to push the boundaries? Could I wholeheartedly tell these children that talking on the streets was the same thing as chattering in school? When I tell them they could sow the seeds of change, is that a fair burden to place on them?

Every time conversation like this comes up, it becomes easy to write me off as the ‘periya ooru’ (big city) Akka who doesn’t know what she is talking about. They are probably right, but how much do I push?

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