The First Goodbyes

This Thursday I said goodbye to all the students I’ve been teaching for the past seven months. The class wrote me notes, many of which asked me to stay or at the very least “come back monthly”. The concept of a visa and, well, money was a bit lost on them, but I was thankful for their endearing words. One girl, Yogeshwari cried for nothing short of two hours at school. I, in turn, cried as well. How could you not? The girls also performed a dance for me and a few students prepared a drama as a way of saying goodbye.


In honor of these incredible kids who I often feel taught me more they learned, I want to share a few anecdotes from the year.


Yaseen – I’ll preface by saying that this student tries desperately to write in cursive but would really be better off printing. He has written me multiple letters concerning various topics. One was a request to take a class period to teach students about hacking. I clarified that it wasn’t a “how to” as much as a “here’s how to avoid it”. I gave him 15 min. The class was as unresponsive and a bit rowdy, as expected, but I gave him a shot.


He also wrote me about “mobile phones”. Though somewhat hard to make out, the basic gist was how amazed he was that people can be so consumed in “this small box”. He wrote of how he comes home to his mom “always busy in her phone” and when he goes to his dad, he also “is busy in his laptop”. “our life is in our phone” he wrote. He then asked me why, why is this happening and why can’t we come out of it. The time in which we live often cultivates a mindset condoning a pro-device state of mind. Yaseen’s letter gave me hope that there is still value in face-to-face interaction. I hope more people have his mindset.


Poojita – Sweetest kid in the class. Every once in a while, when my throat is sore from yelling and I can feel my face turning red, I walk out. Feeling a little defeated afterwards. Usually a few students come after me saying “sorry teacher, sorry teacher” or “please come, please, we won’t shout”. Then maybe the next period, or next day I’ll get an apology letter or two. There was one I remember distinctly from Poojita, who, by the way, is never the one disrupting class. She wrote “sorry to disturb teacher, if I disturb again teacher, please teacher, beat me with iron scale”. Just to be clear, I have NEVER done anything even remotely close to this, nor have I seen (at my school) anything this extreme being done. As harsh as this was, it is a testament to the hunger these kids have to learn, and what they are willing to do for it. The execution isn’t always perfect, but their intentions are in the right place.


Veera – He listens, and so clearly wants to learn and understand but we have a hard time communicating verbally. He speaks little English, and I even less Telugu. But this kid LOVES to dance. He’s about three and a half feet and is constantly going around the class shaking his hips, standing on benches, singing a song in Telugu. He’s always smiling and knows too well how to bend but not break the rules. He always has perfectly combed hair and carries around a comb to prove it. He also eats paper…


Ranjeet – You can’t teach what Ranjeet has. And that’s perspective. He’s lived his whole life in India in a low-income family. The lifestyle he knows is that of his family and close friends. He also knows that it’s not the life he wants. He has a hard time putting it into words. I asked students to describe what they want to be in 10 years. He said to me that he’s “tired of all this” he wants to be and do “something different”. He can’t yet articulate what it is that he wants, but he knows it is not going to be what most of his peers are content with. He knows there is more to the world than the small one in which he has lived, I hope he is able to discover it.


This is my small tribute to my students. I wish them challenge and joy in the years to come. I hope the short time I spent in their lives encouraged them to believe in themselves, even if only a little.