There is just something about pure, unadulterated happiness. It lights up the room like a starry sky; all encompassing, thorough, blanketing. This morning, as I sat surrounded by teary eyes and grinning faces, I saw happiness in its purest form; selfless, honest and true. This morning amidst the hugs and joy and congratulations, I was reminded of a powerful thing.
Even in this cynical, unhappy, much-too-busy world we inhabit, there are some moments that are not about us. Even at a time when we are taught to look out for ourselves (because who else will, really) and ‘compete or perish’, there are some who seek their happiness outside. Even on bad days and sad days and mad days, there are things that are just…good. Today was a reminder of those people and moments that are good, that are unquestionably bigger than us.
Ever since I joined the school ten months ago, I have often been asked whether my students learn, if they are able to ‘cope’, whether they can grasp what London folks set on them. Why would a rural school for first-generation learners of the local tribes want to get affiliated to IGCSE, people wonder. The more brash amongst them phrase that in far more offensive ways, and each of those conversations become a test in composure and communication. The bias lies in the adults, I explain. If we set high standards for them, they reach and stretch and bend themselves backwards, but they get there.
Over the last ten months, this blog has been filled with stories from inside and outside my classroom, illustrations of the children I teach and all that they teach me. Today, they showed the world.
Over the course of December and January, our tenth grade kids wrote the first set of Edexcel IGCSE exams for Math and Science. Yesterday, we got a packet with the results. Today, we called a senior school meeting and announced them. Every child passed with admirable grades, each one pushing beyond their personal barriers to surpass the targets they had set for themselves. Each one did better than our dreams, being graded on par with children from all over the world and emerging on top of it all. Each one showed the world that it was possible to study in a rural school in the fringes of Tamil Nadu, and get a glowing certificate from London.
As the announcement was made though, I wasn’t looking at the students. My eyes rested on the teachers. When she heard that all but one student had made the highest grade in Math, the teacher’s expression was a mixture of disbelief, pride, and just plain relief. Her eyes welled up even as her face split into a grin. Next to her, the Chemistry teacher could barely hide her shivering hands, responding to every congratulatory pat with “their future is in their hands, I am glad I could help.” The Biology teacher, down with chicken pox, brushed off any query on how she was feeling the minute she heard results were announced. “Tell me again,” she kept asking. Senior teachers, those who had seen these children from primary school, sat down in the relief, their eyes welling up as the stress and fear of the many months that had passed threatened to overwhelm them. “I haven’t slept for nights worrying about our children,” they sighed, every sinew in their bodies relaxing, basking in the news. On every teacher’s face, there was a lightness, a brightness, a sheer happiness. For everyone in the hall that morning, the joy lay outside.
For everyone who asks me about the school and why every day is a reminder of how I made the right choice, I wish I could show you that moment. I wish you could have seen the hall this morning. You would have seen teachers holding each other as emotions threatened to overpower them. You would have seen students wiping their eyes as tears rolled down their cheeks. You would have seen relieved smiles crawling over the faces, teachers and students alike, as everyone pinched themselves to realise it was all true. But if you stayed on a few minutes, you would have seen something else. You would have seen students come up to me, a teacher of neither Math nor Science. You would have seen me congratulate them, squeeze their hand in pride. You would have seen them smile their thanks. But if you listened closely, you would have heard their response. “Akka, we write English in June. We will get As. You just wait and watch.” You would have seen students who take ten minutes to set higher standards, bigger goals. You would have seen children who are thirsting for more even as they bask in the moment that is theirs to flaunt.
Today was a reminder that happiness truly can be selfless, that the thirst for knowledge can never stagnate, that hard work really does pay off. Today was a reminder yet again that I learn more than I teach at my job.