CHENNAI: Vedika Agarwal, a 24-year-old girl from Spurtank Road, Chetpet knows the importance of a good teacher in a student’s life. In school, she loved studying Math but soon began to loathe the subject because added to her dipping grades, she felt her teacher didn’t like her. But all this changed when she got a new Math teacher who reignited her love for the subject.
“She encouraged me and didn’t put me down even though at that point I was not good at Math. And slowly, my grades began improving and I started being among the toppers in class. I realised that I do well in subjects where teachers made a connect with students and were passionate about their subject,” she says.
It was this passion to teach and make a difference that goaded her to join the two-year fellowship with Teach For India. Little did she know that she would soon meet the “purpose of her life” — the children whom she taught at the school as part of the Fellowship.
“They are the purpose of my life,” she said. “I knew well before my Fellowship was done in 2017 that I wanted to continue teaching the children and that is what made me set up the community centre Yein Udaan. I have always been struck by the lack of opportunities. I have been sensitive to the challenges of poverty. I recognise my privilege and thank God for it but I feel it is unfair not to share those opportunities.”
Children at Yein Udaan are aged between 9 and 11 and attend classes after school where they learn everything from value education to jazz, theatre, kathak, carnatic music, guitar, art apart from being tutored for their homework, story sessions in English and polishing their computer skills. Currently, there are 10 teachers who take classes for 25 students.
“I always tell people I am raising a pack of soldiers. My kids don’t walk, they march. And attending my class is like a bootcamp. And that is because I hold my kids to very high standards,” she says.
Working with children from lesser-privileged backgrounds can often be an emotionally draining experience but Agarwal says it does not affect her like it used to initially.
“Their status quo becomes your reality. The hardest part of my job is dealing with the disappointment when a kid slips up. When they lose their way despite all the effort you put in to ensure they make good choices.”
But even when they lose their way, Vedika does not give up. Like a true teacher, she guides them through dialogue and conversation, and nudges them ever so lightly to ensure they get on track, not because of something she said but because they realise they want to.