Teach for India Diaries 8: Of Promises Broken and Kept.

At one point in life you either have everything you ever wanted or the reasons for why you don’t have it!

A week back we had a leadership forum by the great polar explorer Robert swan, he has walked to both the north and the South Pole.  He spoke about the various hardships he faced during his expeditions; his ship sinking in the icy Arctic Ocean losing all his food supplies, all his voluntary crew members stranded in the middle of the Arctic Circle and of course not to forget the millions of dollars of debt he had with banks back home. I suddenly thought about how I told someone about the hardships I faced every day with school work and kids not getting a particular objective and certain kids in my class not paying attention to my discourse. It suddenly brought some perspective to my ‘hardships’. Then he said something that hit home. Robert said, “Never make a promise that you may/will not keep. You tend to then be at risk of never taking yourself seriously ever again. And if you don’t, why would anyone else?” He narrated how he had to go back to the south pole after his expedition to just collect all the debris and rubbish back in ships to mainland because he had promised another veteran polar explorer that he would leave the pole as pristine as when he had stepped foot on it.

It made me think about promises, both small and big, both tangible and intangible. “I will wake up early from tomorrow.” “I will do some form of physical exercise every single day.” “I will spend time reading new literature and watching good cinema.” “I will learn how to do cartwheels and back flips.” “I will learn five new words everyday!” “I will learn how to play an instrument.” As all these promises whiffed past me like forgotten mist, I sat to make a huge list of promises that I had made to myself. I saw the list running into a couple of pages. I promise that if you sit down to make your list of promises and resolutions you’ll find how long it is and how not very close you are from accomplishing any of them. Great if you are!

The next day in the morning meeting in class I asked the kids to not follow “the class rules” that I had set for them but come up with promises that they will keep throughout the day. We came up with four simple promises which of course were exactly similar to the rules we had in class but the only difference now was that the kids took ownership of up keeping these. They excitedly made all these promises. I excitedly wrote them out on an orange fluorescent chart and stuck it right under the board for all of them to see it every single day! At this point you should know that 7 year olds don’t really get too excited about anything for more than a fraction of a second leave alone promises unless there is an incentive at the end of it! Come to think of it I can’t think of too many adults who would either.

So their incentive was that if they managed not only to keep their promises but also to remind others to do the same when seen fumbling, they would get a goodness card. When they collect five goodness cards at the end of the week they would get to go out with me to crossword! Now of course I was extremely stingy with giving out cards and this meant that some days would go without anyone getting the card. Because I soon realized that just keeping the promises was simple enough but I had kids making their own interpretations of these mundane rules, showing exemplar behavior and standing out in a crowd of 31 kids. I saw kids correcting each other’s English grammar, walking in straight lines, arranging bags and shoes outside the class, keeping every inch of the class spick and span and most of all reminding each other that we all need to keep our promises made to Archana didi, all of this of course to get my attention for a possible goodness card. Of course I had some kids breaking promises left right and center! But the few kids extremely careful about keeping them were the ones who at this tender age understood the meaning of making a promise and keeping it, they also understood the consequences and the loss of not keeping one. As the D day drew closer we closed in on Sayaji and Swati. Two kids, who from day one had their eye on the target, worked for it and got it!


Brings me back to what I said in the beginning and makes me think about all the times we don’t stand true to what we say. Is it that we don’t care enough for the things we want? Are we happier making excuses for why we don’t have them? Or are we okay with leaving debris and rubbish at our poles? Will we ever promise to finally clean the mess???

Leaving you with these questions to ponder over and images of our fabulous trip to crossword and more.

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