ERODE: Breaking away from the usual chalk-and-board approach, moving his hands through children's hearts and luring them into a joyous education, 39-year-old teacher Thomas Antony, a teacher from Nathangoundanpalayam middle school in Modakurichi Panchayat union is truly the John Keating of the Dead Poet's Society for his students. Antony is making these children's life and studies happier and interesting with dolls. Yes! He has incorporated puppetry to his teaching methodology.
His expedition with puppetry began in 2013 and till now he has done over 190 puppet shows. He had performed in 17 districts at different schools, colleges, private gatherings to convey social messages on women safety and empowerment, road safety, persons with disability and voting rights. He has conducted workshops for as many as 1,000 teachers across the State about the importance of innovation in teaching methodology. "More than 50 teachers in Tamil Nadu have adopted my method of teaching in their classroom and the feedback is very satisfying," he added.
What started as a bustle to entice his daughters went through a different range of activities. His trajectory is as beautiful as it sounds. He says that to gain kids' attention while beguiling them into learning difficult subjects, he had to bring in poems and stories.
Talking to TNIE about his journey from a parent to a puppetry teacher, he said that he realised the value of dolls in kids' lives when his daughters were hooked to cartoon channels and played with toys most of the time.
His work struck a chord when he infused puppetry into teaching students. Anthony, who is a mimicry artist and a ventriloquist -- a person who can talk in more than 10 voices -- by passion, gives school curriculum a script, storyline based on the subjects and plays it in front of the students by giving different voices to each puppet.
Explaining how he brings together the art of puppetry and teaching students, he asked to visualise the scenario where he wants to talk about environment protection and makes a story with dolls -- where a kid and a grandfather is having a conversation, where he is narrating a story about the importance of nature conservation. He added that when children see the dolls do the talking, they listen keenly to whatever the dolls are speaking.
The school principal Bhuvana said that Thomas Antony's method of teaching has helped in maintaining good attendance of students and ensured zero dropout since 2013.
For this academic year, so far (June to January) 89 per cent attendance has been recorded. The principal added that since this initiative, many students from private schools have joined our government school.
She added that out of 51, more than 30 students studying here are destitute who are rehabilitated in an orphanage home near the school.
"As most of the students in our school don't have parents and are living through several odds, I do whatever it takes to provide them with a happy learning place. I bought these dolls for Rs 7,500. To make the classroom lively, I have decorated it with a lot of toys and craftworks -- made out of waste products," Thomas Antony added.
He, who has inspired many teachers was recognised with several awards -- Dream teacher, Innovative teacher, Kalai Valarmani and like.
The Chief Educational Officer Balamurali, said, "Antony is one of the enthusiastic teachers who has explored creative horizons to make classes effective and interesting for children. He was chosen as the district coordinator for Kalvi Tholaikatchi program -- An exclusive education TV channel -- aimed at benefiting students of classes I to XII."
Thomas Antony does not charge money for his workshops and programmes. However, as a token of appreciation, many NGOs -- Rotary, JCI, Lions club and private event organisers sponsor for the school development. "These organisations have presented tables and chairs for students, printers, cupboards and have contributed more than 1,000 books worth Rs 50,000 for setting up a library," he added.