130 essays.

Alternative title : Meet and greet my class.

When I came back to term in January, I had a ninth standard girl ask me a question. We are also going to write English board exam, Akka, but why have we not had as much practice as the tenth graders? She was right. Thanks to the complexities of an international syllabus, she was all set to write the exam in June 2017 but had not come in for as many extra hours as her seniors had. I told her the rest of the term was theirs and that I’d make sure they caught up.

If only I knew what I had signed up for.

As it turns out, there was friendly competition between the two batches on who would write the most essays. Akka, they wrote 100? We will write more, they decided instantaneously. This coming from a bunch of kids who came with a warning a few months ago – they are great, but they just don’t like to write. Well, it seems they jumped over that one.

From January till date, the nine students have produced about 130 essays for me, a detail that has not escaped the attention of their seniors. (At dinner yesterday, a girl from the tenth asked me to ‘keep them in line’ – romba scene podaraange, Akka, 130 ezhuditaanga nnu! They are showing off too much because they’ve written 130.) Aside from being a nightmare to correct (I never seem to be able to stay on top of my corrections!), they are the perfect window into the lives of these students. Having recently become their class teacher, meeting them at 7 AM every day and reading their work makes me feel like I know them all a little bit more.

So, people of the internet, meet my class.

There is S, a perpetually cheery and forever smiling young girl. Coming from a difficult family (an understatement reserved for the internet), you could never tell just by looking at her. She struggles with spellings and logical continuation of her stories but is one of the most genuine, tender students I’ve met in the school. There isn’t a day when I have felt slightly run down that she hasn’t picked up on it and asked what was wrong.

Her best friend and forever-partner-in-crime amidst a fair amount of bickering and squabbling is N. A diligent, committed girl, her notebook was the first to show heartwarming improvement since June. On rough days at work, it is something she once said that acts as my pick-me-up – I never used to enjoy writing, Akka, but now I want to be a journalist like you.

The quietest of the boys is R, a diminutive, waif-like child who has blossomed into a force to be reckoned with. When I joined in June, he was on the list of children who may need extra help. In the worksheet I handed out yesterday, he topped the class. Sensitive and observant, R has made the painful climb to the top the only way he knows to – by putting in the hours. And how.

And then there is the trio of Ps. P1 is the quiet elder sibling of a rather riotous student in a younger grade. The first time I heard, I would not believe it, though the family resemblance was undeniable. His essays always star himself in the protagonist’s role, whether about superpowers or boy-next-door heroes, or fantastical journeys under the ocean. When explaining the concept of ‘people who support those in the limelight’ in some context the other day, he muttered so softly I wasn’t sure I heard. Like me, Akka.

His best friend is P2. They are joined at the hip, and on days when they have the leeway, even sync their wardrobe. (Just a few minutes ago, I was looking at a pair of pale yellow shirts in front of me.) P2 loves to act the hero. Any praise or appreciation or acknowledgement will see him raising his hand and waving away imagined fans, usually to much tittering in class. A surprise package, he was the first student of the school to hand over an essay with no subject-verb disagreement or tense mistakes. The fans were rather thrilled that day.

Sitting next to him this morning was A. A is the incorrigible, insatiable voice of curiosity in every class. He is the kind of student who cannot, should not, will not spend an entire class in silence. He is the one with questions about everything, solutions to everything; the one who will predictably say ‘No’ when everyone else says ‘Yes’. Recently, he sprung this one on me – Akka, if I am violent in pursuit of peace, can I still win the Nobel Prize for Peace?

The last of the trio, P3, is an earnest and committed child, forever showing up early in the mornings with ironed uniforms and impeccably grooming. Early in my time at the school, he interrupted a class to ask if I could clarify a doubt – how do we actually use commas, Akka? That, of course, led to a few hours of discovery and grammatical realisations for me as well. I have dreams of not having a single correction to make in that notebook.

Then there is K, a soft-voiced, quiet girl who struggles with ill health and a retinue of siblings behind her. Never one to crib, she swallows the almost-constant pain and slew of medication without complaint, only coming up to me to whisper the newest update as an explanation for a day off or a few hours missed. Can I have the worksheet I missed, Akka? The question will dog me until I really pull out a copy and hand it over.

Finally, there is D, an earnest, sensitive child. My first class teacher moment came with her as she confessed she felt bad – I am trying, Akka, but I still don’t understand tense. We sat and ploughed through it together and she is well on her way to mastering that one. D is nervous (ish) around authority but is chatty, relaxed, and willing to forget teacher-student roles outside class.

Between them, these nine of churned out essay after essay, zipping through my first set of fifty and then my next. Today, my To Do list has an entry to think up the next fifty. How are your students, I often get asked. Enthusiastic, I reply. Sometimes, a little too enthusiastic. It is these faces that flash before my eyes when I say that out loud. It is their voices asking for another essay and it is my response – please don’t write today, guys. Let’s take a break.

Obviously, they refuse.


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