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A Journey Within, A Retreat Without

One of the most profound aspects of being a teacher is to be a learner. And this journey begins by looking deep within oneself – as you travel away from from the humdrum of your routine life, into a more tranquil quieter space closer to nature.

It wasn’t the course, it wasn’t what lay ahead for the next 10 months and it wasn’t the job placement the course guaranteed. The one thing I was most apprehensive about when I attended the first ever info session of IAAT was this retreat. For me, making the decision to do the course was almost instantaneous. What took a lot of convincing was attending the retreat. I am turning 40 next year. As I near this landmark birthday (it is indeed a big one, at least for me) the idea of ‘hanging out’ with complete strangers for four full days and nights didn’t exactly excite me. Add to that, roughing it out with most other students at least a decade younger than I, wasn’t appealing at all. I honestly thought of all possible excuses I could make to get out of this.

After the first day’s interaction with IAAT-ASB team, I was more than convinced that I wanted to go on this trip. The single most important factor being: Prerna, the head of IAAT, Mumbai. Her personality, her calm demeanour, her style of talking and listening, the absolute pleasure one feels when she is around was the ‘deal breaker’ for me. The challenge of reaching ASB at 6 am for the retreat wasn’t daunting anymore, because I knew Prerna would be there.

The bus ride started and ended as expected. I mingled around well but you know you haven’t really made a very strong connect if you can’t even remember names! We reached the place and it was pretty obvious that everyone, including me had made a mental note of whom we wanted as our roomies! The way the tent allocation was done, for me that really set the tone of things going forward for the next 4 days. And then there was no looking back!

The first team challenge (the pipe and the marble) brought out the teenager in me. One who didn’t care getting all soaked up in the rain and the one who used to get aggressive in a competing sports game. Snapping at fellow team members, the impulse reactions were all on display naturally. Even the action of hitting Pranav (the games coordinator) in jest or trying to bribe Shekhar was something I have always done in a competition. The spirit of ‘I have to win’ or ‘My team has to win no matter what’, I now realize was intact all these years. Just as my sportsmanship spirit. My team won. But my reaction within was just ‘well done’ because I knew that was just the icebreaker! There was a lot more to follow. I felt all charged up.

So while we were warned that the challenges were going to be like Roadies, I never in my wildest dreams did think they would really be so formidable. The rope bridge activity was confusing to begin with. But personally, I had figured my role in the challenge and was pretty confident and clear in my head that I would be able to do it. In retrospect, I think having Shringi in my team gave me that confidence. This comes from years of conditioning that only a man can do physically tough tasks. I think I was probably the third last person to cross that bridge. By then the rains were down on us in full force as was darkness. Not for a minute was I scared but a thought that kept popping up in my mind was that a man is really nothing in front of nature’s fury.

The next two days and nights had equally demanding tasks. Without getting into specifics I’d just like to highlight my feelings and thoughts:

Courage is all that we have and it is courage that keeps us going, helps us grow. There is a lot of hidden courage within us.

All emotions are common. If you are going through some, the other person is going through the same. It is of utmost importance that we show empathy towards another person and have some control over our impulsive reactions. Think before reacting.

It is absolutely essential to focus on the journey and not just on the goal.

For anything to happen, YOU must make it happen.

Be true to self.

Apart from just the physical challenges, our minds were really put to use. For me to see the passion of Smriti, Prerna and Bindya were really inspiring. It honestly makes me want to work harder and a lot more sincerely. Often we come across people who seem to be in full control of their emotions. It is not easy to get someone to open up in front of relative strangers and be true. But I think Smriti you do really have some powers. At the end of 4 days, each one of us ‘choked’ up on our emotions multiple times. Something that haunts me 3 days after the trip as well. And strangely enough, I don’t feel vulnerable. I think I just needed somebody to peep inside my soul, understand it and awaken it. I probably may have been running away from confronting unpleasant things/feelings/situations but I now realize how important self-introspection really is. If we can lift ourselves from a space of non-awareness, it can truly be awesome. And once you are aware there is no stepping back. We just need to consciously work towards creating a space where we can truly be ourselves.

The single most important takeaway for me from the camp was being mindful. “Mindfulness is not about erasing bad feelings but about acknowledging them, even befriending them and then choosing how we respond.”,/p>

I would just like to end by saying it really has been an experience of a lifetime. For someone who has zero threshold for pain, to emerge absolutely refreshed after this four-day rigorous mental and physical hard work does say something. While I did think a lot about my children and family and my relation to them, I didn’t miss them. The first call to them was on the third day of the retreat, such was the engagement of the retreat for each of us!

Grateful to Prerna and Smriti for introducing me to this whole new world. Teachers are adventurers, and I began my journey of being one by experiencing the other.


                                                                                                                – By Tina, our Resident Teacher from IAAT-ASB



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Classroom Culture

The only working model of socialism I have ever seen is in an elementary school classroom



Most classroom practices, rules and practices are rooted

in the school values

According to my observations, I feel each teacher lends a unique flavor to his/her class. Each seemingly insignificant action of the teacher is actually not a random but a well thought out act. The teacher is the role model, and by being consistent in his/her practices and behavior, he/she becomes the living example of the values. The students invariably pick up and inculcate these values.

The classroom norms and practices are arrived at after discussions amongst all the students of the class. All the ideas and thoughts are considered and there is active participation by all the students. The value of ‘inclusion’ is very evident as children show receptivity to all ideas. The norms are not imposed by the teacher. The students realize the importance of having certain guidelines for the smooth functioning of the class. Since they exercise freedom in choosing their own rules, they feel responsible to follow the norms as well.

There is a sense of ownership and it is displayed in almost all the actions of the students. The students play an active role in implementing all the routines – taking attendance, distributing stationary and journals, collecting and arranging books in the book corner, arranging bottles in the bottle corner etc. The striking feature of such practices is that students become more attentive and aware and are thus in a better position to notice inefficiencies and take corrective action. For instance, the student in charge of organizing the bottle corner every morning noticed the chaos that ensued in the afternoon when students rushed to collect their bottles. The following morning she requested for permission to distribute bottles to all the students at the time of closure to avoid the chaos.

One of the most important value that is being cultivated in the students is to practice self-discipline. Whether it is listening attentively while others are speaking, waiting for their turn before speaking, winding up the tables, arranging the chairs back under the table each time children get up so as to not block the path, or waiting patiently for their turn to move out of the classroom without obstructing others’ way – each of these practices convey an underlying value of respecting others.

Social learning is also very important aspect in the classroom. The teacher utilizes various opportunities to encourage children to reflect on their conduct. For instance, an accidental fall of a middle school student in the corridor while running, was used as an opportunity to initiate a discussion on reinforcing the rules to walk down corridors. In such a process, students observe the behavior of others and its consequences, and as a result modify their own behavior.

Similarly peer learning is also an integral part of the classroom. The children are seated in crews to facilitate group work. Children are assigned in groups after a careful examination of various factors. For instance very fluent readers are paired with progressing readers, a high energy child paired with a low energy child and so on. Children who are able to finish their tasks early welcome the opportunity of helping their peers. There is no competitiveness, rather children appreciate and applaud the progress made by their peers as they feel equally responsible in contributing to peer learning.

To sum it up, the classroom culture is more about co-operation and self esteem rather than comparison and thus provides a joyful learning experience to all the students.

Visit link for more Courses for teacher training


Harjeet Kaur, Resident- I am a Teacher

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Finding Hope In The Classroom


Most of us have stories of how teachers have left an impression, guided us on our life paths, mentored, suggested or directed, taught both implicitly and explicitly, even scolded and punished us. I would like to recall not just one teacher but many teachers who taught me, guided and mentored me at different points in my life.

I fondly remember my English teacher – Shenbaga. She was my class teacher for many years and taught me English from class 4 to class 8. In the way she read out the stories and poems to us, she brought the images alive. I still have a vivid memory of one of them, ‘The adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn’ vividly. I can recollect parts of the stories – sections on how Tom Sawyer was made to paint/wash the wall and the journey of Huckleberry Finn in the boat and many more. She would create an atmosphere of suspense while reading out certain parts and then urge us to read by ourselves. It was not just her ability to create magic with words but her warmth and ability to connect with students as well that made her affable.

Teachers would often remind us about our uniform, tying our hair up, etc. I had a new haircut and many teachers warned me on flaunting my new hair style. After a week or so, Shenbaga Miss called me and said, ‘please tie your hair’. I said, I would do so, since she had told me and also, she said it with love. I guess this has stayed with me. The qualities of listening to students, to be warm and approachable, I guess she has taught me implicitly.

She once asked in the class if anyone would choose to teach or take up teaching as a profession. I partially raised my hand and replied that I would like to be a lecturer or professor. She asked, “Why not a teacher in a school?” I was shy at that time, but now if I meet her, I guess I would proudly say, “I am a teacher”.

I met many more teachers who guided me and challenged me when I started my course in M.A Education when I was in my late 20s. I would say that I am happy to have met one of the finest teachers in my life through this course, Prof. Chayanika Shah.

I was a student of science and a science teacher and had just started my exploration in social sciences and education. At this point she helped me examine my own notions of science. The question she raised and made me think about was, ‘Is science objective’? Her lectures, discussions and the materials she used were provocative. I was so intrigued by these that I started my Ph.D. on questions related to the nature of science. I would say that her questions around objectivity and subjectivity gave me a new lens through which to look at life. Questions around science led me to explore the ideas of tentativeness. I am happy that I did it. I am open now to new ideas, questions and challenges.

Prof. Nandini Manjrekar is another person who challenged and pushed my limits. I was in awe of her knowledge and understanding of different subjects from history to science, political science to mathematics. Her lectures on sociology of education made me understand social justice, democracy, inequality, and many more ideas and their relationship with education. She has read so much that in a one hour lecture she would quote and suggest at least five authors/books to read. She would set hard deadlines and, in many ways, I am thankful for that. Through her guidance she made me think through my research deeply. Her feedback would be so detailed and every line would have comments. My goal while writing and sending the drafts would be to have a minimum number of comments. Her standards were always high and it really helped me to go deeper and sharpen my understanding of education.

Prof. Padma Sarangapani was another person from whom I learnt to ask more and more questions. Her discussions and lectures were highly engaging. She would ask hows and whys and try not to give direct solutions. She made me think and find my own answers. I remember, during one of her lectures I had a strong opinion on examinations and said something in the class. She asked, ‘Indu, why do you say so?’ I tried to respond to her and this question made me think. I gave some answer and again she asked, ‘How is that?’ She spent a good ten minutes with me asking these hows and whys a couple of times and helped me understand my own assumptions. I realized that it was not reasonable for me to hold any unverified, unexamined views about learning and teaching. This made me think deeply about education. I try and emulate her and aspire to be a teacher like her. I try and make my students think and find their own answers. ‘Whys’ have become a part of my every day conversations and I bug my family and daughter with these.

These three teachers and many more of them whom I have not mentioned here helped me ponder on education, teaching and learning. I moved from being a student of science to becoming a science teacher and later teacher educator. I am happy that I have been exposed to social sciences and education. I now try and push people and student teachers to think deeply and take education and teaching as a serious profession. I would say that I found hope in classrooms, while teaching and while interacting with students. I end with a few lines here as an ode to my teachers

Classrooms are the only hopeful places,
I find hope when I enter classrooms,
I find hope in the questions that are asked,
I find hope in the curiosity that is aroused,
I find hope, a germ, a seed that we sow,
I find hope when there is dissent, an argument in the class,
I find hope when there is critical engagement,
I find hope when there are mistakes and
I find hope when there is chatter and noise in the classroom,
I find hope, a possibility of dialogue in classrooms,
Let’s keep this hope alive, only teachers can keep it going.

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An ‘Accidental’ Teacher Shows Us The Difference a Simple 1-Year Course Can Make!

Ramesh Jayaraman

Unlike the quintessential image we have of teachers, Ramesh brings not just an immense amount of passion towards teaching but also encourages curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking in his students.


Many new-age schools expect parents to be involved every step of the way. So when Ramesh Jayaraman glanced through a leaflet his son had brought home which spoke about training to teach, he assumed it was a workshop for parents to teach their kids. Intrigued, he decided to attend the session, and as they say, the rest is history.

A chartered accountant by training and a filmmaker by choice with over two decades of experience, Ramesh can perhaps be described as an accidental teacher.

Unlike the quintessential image we have of teachers, Ramesh brings not just an immense amount of passion towards teaching but also encourages curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking in his students.

In this exclusive interview with The Better India, Ramesh speaks with passion about the year-long course on teacher training that he underwent, the teaching methodology, and why he thinks getting trained to be a teacher is a worthwhile exercise.

A chance encounter at the teacher-training session

The flyer that Ramesh’s older child got back from the school said, ‘Learn how teaching is done’. Thinking that the programme was all about helping parents teach their kids, Ramesh attended the session.

“I loved the half-day I spent there. I must mention that the team that works behind the scenes, the enthusiasm and the passion with which they speak about education will leave you pumped with energy and a willingness to give teaching a chance,” he says.

Even though Ramesh was convinced about the course, it took him an entire year to decide to go through with it.

He says, “It was always at the back of my mind, but it was only a year after I attended that half-day session that I enrolled for the ‘I Am Teacher’ course.”

As a filmmaker, Ramesh travelled extensively around India, covering various projects that the UNDP and UNICEF have funded. Most of these projects were around primary education, and that is when he started looking at education. “What works, what doesn’t – I’ve seen some amazing projects that have been pedagogically wonderful,” says Ramesh.

The formative years are extremely important for the kids. If one doesn’t get them hooked on to learning from that age, they are lost to the world of learning forever, he feels.

Having worked with government schools, he was keen on seeing what it would be like in private schools. He took a sabbatical for a year to see whether teaching would interest him and six months at being a teacher, after which he was confident that he made the right choice.

What does the course entail?

The course is a year-long programme, which attracts professionals from various walks of life. In a batch of 30 teacher-trainees, there were banking professionals, doctors, homemakers, filmmakers, and corporate workers. “This eclectic mix is what adds to the course. Each one brings so much to the table,” he says.

Ramesh says that he would recommend this course to those who are keen on teaching because it allows them the freedom to be in a classroom during the teacher-training course.


The trainee teacher gets to learn from a teacher and shadow the teacher for a while.

“We weren’t just theoretically learning about how kids should be taught. We were getting to teach and learn hands-on how to deal with children and teach them. You will notice a change over the one-year that you are a part of the course,” he says.

This course makes you a good student to enable you to become a good teacher, says Ramesh.

Activity-based learning

What this essentially means is allowing the children to experience things and learn, through various activities. Ramesh says, “Just after the Tsunami struck, many schools along the belt that was hit were rebuilding from scratch, and they chose to adopt this activity-based learning module. I was involved in creating these modules for classes 1 to 4, and that was a great learning opportunity for me as well.”

Schools that follow the philosophy of J Krishnamurthy and Mother fascinated Ramesh, and for his children, he was looking for a school that followed their ideals.

It was this search that led Ramesh to Heritage Xperieential School in Gurugram.

What keeps a teacher going?

For Ramesh, being able to bring his filmmaking experience, spanning two decades to the classroom is most valuable. “I started working with students of senior grades and mentored them to produce their very own video newsletter. The high that I felt seeing the final product was something else,” he says.

While teaching is a passion for him, Ramesh was sure that he did not want to give up on a skill that he had spent almost twenty plus years fine-tuning.


As we end our conversation, Ramesh urges anyone who might be interested in teaching to take the course. He says, “It’s one thing to be good at something but being trained in teaching adds so much more to what you can deliver.”

Passion is one thing, but teaching is a skill that one needs to learn, he says in conclusion.

If you find yourself drawn towards education, then do check out the details of the ‘I Am Teacher’ programme  here.


Ramesh Jayaraman – IAAT Graduate

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Smriti Jain writes why it is important to educate teachers in the changing education scenario.


“The status of the teacher reflects the socio-cultural ethos of a society; it is said that no people can rise above the level of its teachers.” The National Policy on Education, 1986

Can we truly empower our youth without empowering our teachers? Nations are built in classrooms. However, even after seventy plus years of independence, our classrooms are dominated by rote- learning and fear.  Millions of children in our country experience the education system as disempowering, robbing them of their curiosity and they suffer silently in our institutions of learning.

Physically punished for asking questions, forced to prioritize rote memorization over analytical thought, overcome by crippling anxiety, their self-worth reduced to the results of exams. It is no accident that India has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. One of the primary causes sited is failure in exams or the fear of that failure.

The struggles of our children reflect the struggles of our teachers. Our teachers are grossly unprepared to do anything different than what was done to them in their classrooms. Additionally, the prevalent model of teacher education bears a stark resemblance to the current model of schooling assembled around rote memory and examinations. When teachers do not experience any progressive pedagogy in their college classrooms how can they discover the vast potential of education?

Unsurprisingly, this type of teacher education yields the epidemic we see today of low teacher motivation, high absenteeism, and meaningless test-focused pedagogy. This perpetuates the destructive myth that teaching is easy, is a half-day’s job, and not a profession to take pride in. It is easy to put the blame on teachers. Our teachers are not failing. We as a system are failing our teachers. If we really want to re-imagine classrooms for our children, we must first re-imagine classrooms where our teachers are prepared. All research concludes that improving teacher quality is at the heart of improving student learning.

Teacher education is fundamentally about building more aware and empathetic human beings – people who understand themselves, can balance multiple perspectives, and relate deeply with others across traditional lines of difference.

Teachers first need to find their own voice before they can teach others to do the same. Teacher preparation programs should help them to connect with their self, their aspirations, and help them carve out their own identity as people and teachers. They must experience the purpose of education first hand and the profound effects it can have.

As children growing up in schools how many of us were provided the space to connect with ourselves and our purpose? As a nation obsessed with performance, grades and marks with little regard to deeper understanding, meaning, and nurturing human values; we are germinating violence in the classrooms.

For our classrooms to seed love, compassion and empathy instead of jealousy, comparison and one-upmanship; we need those torch bearers and change makers who can lead by example

Given the current ‘stick and carrot’ approach; nothing much is going to change. The system has created enough accountability measures without really looking at inspiring our teachers and nurturing them as human beings.

Smriti Jain, Co-Founder and Director, I Am A Teacher



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Transformation: Within and Without

Kevika Bali, PGDLT Resident Teacher


It is commonplace in the corporate world, from which I come, to ask oneself to rate themselves in comparison to others as well as be told they do not ‘match up’. One may wonder where this way of life comes from, but it is actually simple to join the dots. One look at this giant leap and it becomes apparent that such behaviour is actually an expansion of what is happening in our schools. The imprints that were awarded to me at this time ran so deep that my life was rife with comparison and judging and instead of nurturing I got neglect and ridicule.

I was forced to think that if these imprints are playing themselves out in the ‘world outside the school’ at much higher stakes of materialistic joy, then where was my fulfilment and everlasting joy?

It was much later that I realized that I was capable of reaching true fulfilment in doing something I loved. Sure, there were those who found their calling in the corporate world but they are really few and far in between.

What really stood out to me in my corporate stint was the stark reality that life and love ‘out here’ are of no real value to anyone, while that was exactly what everyone was seeking! A hollow world that derived its value from having, achieving, competing and measuring up to standards, was not my cup of tea anymore

I awoke night after night troubled that if this is the fabric we are weaving, then what is the framework in which it is being weaved? My answer was – our schools. So, if students were being exposed to aggression right from the start, was it really surprising that they got behavioural issues and fostered hate for authority, which showed up later once they were independent? I realized that I had not even seen the highest expression of my life. The niggling feeling that “I am just not good enough” would just not leave me. Imagine living with that!

After being at the receiving end for so many years, I was forced to think that IS THIS WHAT WE WANT TO LEARN WHEN WE ARE IN SCHOOL? Do we want to expand our knowledge at the cost of contracting our hearts?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – Matthew 7:12 is a favourite quote of mine because they carry the wisdom that we, are but mirrors, who simply reflect each other. So, I ended up reflecting upon incident after incident in school which showed me that I had ingrained learning from each incident that reflected in everything I did. The best part is that I could not see it – but others could. I started seeing the world as a horrible place where I wasn’t valued. The day I realized that I had it backward, I laughed, really laughed. I was free!

Sadly the stress of my stint in the corporate world and my broken personal life caused paralysis of my right side. But soon the clarity came to me that in any case there was nothing “normal” about this world, paralysed in its own way. A window then opened up for me to see others and myself as they are – unique and irreplaceable.

Wonder overflowed through me to see this beautiful creation, which I would not have been able to see had I remained in the roles I played or in the fixed ways of thinking that I had developed. I had to relearn a lot and finally I understood my love for learning. All I could think was ‘what could I do to help children’? I was convinced that there was actually no structure in place to prepare our children and youth for facing this world because no one was really invested in them, a fact that in my experience I felt was true across our educational system.

It was my good fortune that I had a chance encounter with IAAT program in The Heritage School, Gurgaon. The program had a framework that broke other frameworks. It was extremely exciting to join the course and I have never looked back. I have faced my fears, apprehensions, physical constraints and mental blocks ever since I joined and it’s only been a couple of months.

There is a lot of good humour and camaraderie in the IAAT team which makes one immediately feel accepted. Yes I am still learning the ropes but now my heart is definitely in the right place as I know I will finally add value to all the little hearts waiting for their turn to beat joyfully. This is going to be one journey to remember.


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Insights from an Intern

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Chahat Kaur interned with us in the month of July 2018, she is currently a second year college student at Claremont McKenna College, California, USA.

Education to a child is what soil is to a plant. It provides a platform for a child’s
growth. On the land of education, learning is one of the key sources of knowledge that
nurtures a child’s mind. As the metaphor continues, a child is exposed to several
sources of learning; one of the initial one’s are educational institutions – schools.
These follow specific guidelines for examining the child to provide an unbiased
education to each child. The guidelines of learning, in schools, vary amongst
countries and are distinguished mostly, by their affiliation to the boards of education.
The boards are examining systems, which organize education for students to be able
to grasp knowledge in the best manner possible. With the emphasis on the “learning
by doing” approach, the schools have deviated from a traditional classroom
environment to a modern high-tech experiential one. These changes have been
prompted due to the awareness, in parents, regarding reasonable experimental
practices that should be exercised by the teachers at the school.
The irony of the system, however is that the schools claim to provide education
through “learning by doing” approach but do not train the teachers in the same
fashion. The style of teaching holds individualistic values (varies with each teacher’s
experience), however it is imperative to observe if the style aligns well with content
assigned by the boards. The hands on learning approach is essential to have but
cannot be practiced efficiently if the teachers are not trained effectively.
The I Am a Teacher Program (IAAT) focuses on practicing the theory, which is
taught during the lectures. The theory includes modules on learning about school,
classroom and student culture. The program respects the individualistic teaching style
of the teachers, but also focuses on teaching a common set of guidelines essential to
teach students across all grade levels.
It is interesting to note here is that even though the style of teaching is different for
teachers and these trainings are mostly the same for all, there is still a certain degree
of variation in classroom functioning of each board. The CBSE exam pattern is based
on the questions given in the NCERT books, whereas the IGCSE exam questions are
based on the findings from the experiments performed in class. Much like we
appreciate the hands on learning approach, we should also fathom the need for putting
into practice the theory that is learnt by an individual to become a teacher.
Education empowers you with the ability to ponder over the intellectual challenges.
The IAAT program catalyzes this process of thinking and encourages teachers to
contemplate the purpose of education. During the course of this program, the teachers
explore this purpose and put it to use while imparting education.

Chahat Kaur
IAAT Intern