What Teaching High School in India Thought Me About Success

21 April 2016

“Success” means different things to different people, here’s what it meant to me!

Many people dream of being successful. For most this means “having”: having luxurious places to live in, the possibility for vacations, all of the glamor, basically having more money than they could spend. But that is not always the case. Success is not only with the rich and famous, or the well-connected. Success is with every single person more willing to “give” than he or she is willing to “have”.

The act of “having” is nice, yes, I get that, it brings you a certain amount of satisfaction and self-centered proud which from time to time can actually be healthy. Still, these are all temporary and there is no greater satisfaction than seeing the results of your own act of “giving”. And I don’t mean a salary, a prize or a promotion.

I mean the mere joy of hearing a thank you, of helping someone to progress in their further, giving someone hope, counseling (young or old) etc. This is a feeling of self-achievement and happiness that would stay with you, like butterflies in our stomach, every time you think about it, till the rest of your days. That is true success.

I remember in my first year as a University student, we met our Chinese teacher, Miss Tanya Zhang. She was young, in her mid-twenties and was teaching Chinese in English in my country for about five years. She had started from teaching kids in middle school in my town. Once a week we would have Chinese Culture lessons and in those Miss Zhang would love to show us pictures and videos of her previous students cooking Chinese dumplings, singing New Year’s songs, going on trips together.

The kids looked so happy; I remember how fond they looked of their Chinese teacher. And I remember the expression on her face when she told us stories about them and their achievements, how proud she was, you could just hear it in her voice. She used to say that every student she had ever thought was her little success no matter how many achievements he or she had.

That’s when I knew. I knew I didn’t want to work sitting in an office all day, so I took the initiative of becoming an English teacher in India. I basically volunteered three years of my life to try and bring knowledge, success and positive emotions to some less fortunate children, just like Miss Zhang had.

Moving to India and starting over.

You need to understand that teaching is one of the most spiritually rewarding professions, but it could also be a very hard one. I signed myself to teach in a small high school with children age 14 to 17, in a rural area to the south of India. The school was small and the building was based in two stories, its walls and floors were looking old and not often maintained.

The desks and benches were made from wood. The kids were sometimes a bit too many than the places to sit were. There was one old black board that was switching to green in color.

The children were curious, though. The first month they were looking at me like they had never seen a young girl from Europe before. Some of the children weren’t used to handling books as it looks like the supplies were small.

What has stuck to my memory is that the children were always dressed nicely in old but seemingly clean clothes. They were all very shy and mild, even the teenagers. I would only hear them laugh and play in recesses outside in the yard.

What Teaching High School in India Thought Me About Success. East Indian Classroom.

I set for myself the mission to teach them not only how to properly read, write and speak in English, or Math, but also about the world and other people, basic virtues and morals. I wanted to take them on trips.

Some days it wasn’t easy, some of the kids would slowly progress with their studies, but when it came Friday they would all gather around as I would tell them of my home country, show them books, read them classic stories from Jules Vern and J. M. Barrie.

They would listen with curiosity and interest and in recesses I could hear them outside on the benches reenacting scenes with Peter Pan and Captain Nemo. They would ask me all sorts of questions and I would them about submarines, Neverland and England.

After a month I started giving them larger home projects to write a story or a play and then present it in front of the parents. Very soon they learned about other countries, they memorized them on the map and started greeting each other with “Good day” and “How do you do”.

After some time I set up parent-teacher meetings and the parents would tell me how their children had started to ask if they could be excused from the table at dinner and were looking to read more books.

What Teaching High School in India Thought Me About Success. Parents-Teacher Meeting.

With my first paycheck I set up a small fieldtrip in nature and made sandwiches for a picnic. I remember how much fun the kids were having and I thought to myself again of Miss Zhang. Time passed quickly and the kids were learning fast and were curious to know more, they always came back with their home assignments made. I thought them the value of helping each other and respecting their elders.

When my program was almost over and on my last day there, we held somewhat of a small performance. The children reenacted some famous scenes from famous western novels, recited their own works and demonstrated their knowledge in Geography, Math, Biology and Literature.

All the parents and other teachers seemed really impressed and moved by the whole show and at the end of the day everybody wanted to thank me and give me a hug. I was so proud of my kids, they had done so well.

They would talk about what they wanted to be and were looking for jobs to help their families and perhaps even save some money. Then I thought to myself Miss Zhang’s saying “They are my little success”. And this is really what it feels like; success. Knowing you’ve changed someone’s life for the better, helping them learn or to develop themselves, or at least – enrich their imagination, especially when they are still just children, no matter from which country.