Thursday, April 28, 2016

From expectation to hope

When I was in class VIII, our school got a new principal, a mild-mannered gentleman who had been our Math teacher in class VI and taught us fabulously. We had adored him in his previous avatar as he simplified life for us really well. We were full of hope.

He also turned out to be a good egg. He retained his mild-mannered behavior, kept things chugging along smoothly, brought some nice incremental changes and although the school did not do spectacularly well, things were steady all around. Importantly, the correspondent stayed away from the day-to-day affairs and seemed to have given the Principal a free rein. Late in the academic year, the Principal also got us into a tie up with a really good international school in the area that promised to supply us with some infrastructure. All was humming along fine when the year drew to a close.

The next year things turned ugly rapidly. The correspondent started interfering by collecting donations from all and sundry, which really harmed the School's reputation. Senior teachers started slacking, and once they realized that the mild-mannered principal did not once pull them up once for their poor performance, they practically switched off after the mid-year. Some also dabbled in donation-collecting and currying favour with the Correspondent. Things took a turn for the worse when the brazenness of a few teachers surprised even the correspondent. Students lost all motivation. A few kids now thought of themselves as 'big boys' and engaged in unruly behavior as well. All in all, discipline was completely out of the system and it was nightmarish all around. We could not wait for the year to get over. We got the feeling that the Principal was tired of it all and he could not wait for the year to get over as well.

Next year, we had a complete change. We had a Principal who was an absolute disciplinarian. He was the correspondent as well so there would be no confusion (though his friend helped him with correspondent duties). Several new teachers were recruited and discipline was the buzz word. All the students, teachers and administrators had to turn up on time, be in proper uniform and be generally well-behaved. The Principal himself was an absolute beast. He not only traveled across the Country to meet other Principals and gain insights from them, he prowled the corridors and devoured reports from teachers and administrators. Students who had grown so frustrated with the brazen uncaring teachers were enthused by this new attitude. The school even began participating in competitions against the bigger school nearby and even some of the international schools from across town. We still lost, but it felt good to be at least competing now. Some of the internationals schools from across town were interested in how we were doing and wanted to start some exchange programs with us. We all felt that we were moving in the right direction.

We were all in a good place when the annual revision exams were held. These are held across the town and with one standardized paper. That year the paper was tough but we all thought we had done really well. The Principal and the Vice Principal were confident that we would come out on top. The only one voicing caution was the academic secretary who had originally spent time with the international schools and knew their strengths well.

The results were out, and although we had done better than before, the improvement was marginal. We were still way behind the international schools across town and some way behind our not-so-friendly bigger friend close-by. The Principal and Vice Principal were happy though and continued to be optimistic. But the truth remained we had taken a hit and some doubts had begun to creep in.

Students did some introspection and we could cull out three factors 1) Teachers were more disciplined and punctual, but perhaps truth was that they were not all that good in Math and Physics. They dotted the i's and crossed the t's but were not really effective. 2) The school had instituted a uniform for teachers as well and there was also now a brigade that used to bellow out the national anthem. These measures were constricting some of the older teachers who liked their creative freedom while teaching. Now they had all to sing from the same hymn sheet and this was definitely taking something away. They were also aggrieved that the teachers were not assessed by the impact they had but on attendance and punctuality metrics. 3) The Vice Principal had instituted a fee increase. This was cruel. This new team was supposed to be hyper-efficient and brilliant at extracting more from the system. In fact they had spoken of 'Fewer administrators but better administration', and this gentleman hiked fees when the going was tough as it is.

Added to this, there was now a brigade that wanted to make a virtue out of discipline and dedication. They wanted us to be happy that we were clean, hard-working and dedicated. All that was fine, but come the board exams if were last in the town we would have to settle for middling jobs once again. If the results are not good, all this chatter and chest-thumping amounts for pish tosh is what we students felt about all this.

So, here we are at a crossroads again. We hate the disaster that was our class IX, it still gives us nightmares. But we have to accept that our class X, although mildly better is not that great. Every passing day we are struggling to figure out what makes our Principal and VP so optimistic. (And dont even get me started on how they feel about how our school was 50 years ago, it makes me nauseated)

We are yearning for a time where the smart people can be given some room, where merely not being late is not considered a virtue, when some of these loudmouthed but limited people would be asked to shut up.

It would also be great if we could have our old Principal as our math teacher again. He was fabulous and is miles ahead of our VP (who is doubling up as a math teacher) who seems to think that if we collected a percentage of all numbers given in the question and put it into a box it is a good year.

Perhaps we can request that fine gentleman who is our academic secretary to take a bigger role. Perhaps the Principal can clamp down on visiting other schools and get someone to train his teachers on their subjects. Perhaps our VP could find some humility somewhere in his system and ask the academic secretary for some help (currently the VP keeps tussling with the academic secretary for no reason). Perhaps we can walk back from this punctuality-discipline-history trope and focus on getting things done.

When a good math teacher says how good it can be to get up and prepare at 4am it is inspiring. When a bad one says the same stuff and makes a virtue out of the 4am without having real math knowledge, it is dispiriting.

Any way, hope springs eternal. All is not lost. May be we will have good results after all. Although I must confess that quite a few of my friends who are very intelligent and hardworking have expressed the hope of joining one of the posher schools across town.

Perhaps our Principal is right. Perhaps we were blinkered in expecting everything to fall in place in just three months. Perhaps things are moving in the right direction, although a little slowly.

Perhaps, perhaps perhaps.... One thing we can say for sure over the past 3 months is that we have transitioned from expectation to hope

Had originally posted this on FB, but later realized that it is probably best to stick it in here

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