Teach For India

My students – most of the grade-8 students found it difficult to add and subtract fractions. Though it was easy to make them understand addition and subtraction of simple fractions using the pie diagrams, it became difficult to do the same when the denominator was a large number and/or there was more than one pie involved (in case of improper fraction). Also, the concept of why we should find the LCM of the denominators and then add/subtract fractions became difficult for them to grasp. At this juncture of their age, it is important that the students first get the concept for their operational use and are confident to apply it rather than understanding the concept from first principle method. So i first made them get the concept operationally through a method I call the Gaddha(Donkey),Ghhorra (Horse) and Haathi (Elephant) method.

So let us say that we have to solve the following question –

3/4 – 4/6 = ? —> Change this to 3 gaddhas – 4 ghhorras = ?

Symbol for Gaddha = /4 —> so this is how you identify gaddhas; All gaddhas have denominator as number 4.

Symbol for Ghhorra = /6 —> so this is how you identify ghhorras; All ghhorras have denominator as number 6.

Now, i ask the students – if they can take out 4 ghhorras from 3 gaddhas — the answer is a resounding ‘No’. So, i tell them that now we need to make them same so that we can solve this question.

How we do it is to USE ONLY the multiplication operation on the gaddha and the ghhorra respectively and find ONE resulting number that will make the gaddha and ghhorra into a haathi.

Easiest way to do it is by multiplying gaddha and ghhorra with each other.

Therefore, /4 X 6 = /24 —> Haathi

/6 X 4 = /24 —> Haathi

One thing we need to remember is that whatever we multiply in the denominator, we must multiply the same number in the numerator of this fraction (otherwise the value of the fraction will change).

So, we finally get our new baby elephants (resulting numbers) through cross-breeding horse with a donkey.

3/4 becomes equal to 18/24 (18 haathis or elephants)

4/6 becomes equal to 16/24 (16 haathis or elephants)

=> 3/4 – 4/6 = 18/24 – 16/24 = 18 elephants – 16 elephants = 2 elephants = 2/24.

I have tried this method couple of times with my students and it works wonders.


It’s 8:15 AM on a Monday morning when the school bell rings and you usher in the students into the assembly hall. 15 minutes down you enter your class with the class register only to be greeted by your students with the familiar “We will get 100% in mathematics” or occasionally “13 ones are 13, 13 twos are 26…” After a summary of what will be discussed today, you move on to the instruction and 15 minutes later you ask five of your students, who you are coaching for the NTSE exam, to solve the worksheet given to them the day before. As the day goes by, you take a 15 minute break at 11:00 AM and then meet with your four-member math team for the cluster meeting. Having discussed the analysis of the weekly tests, the target for the next week and the plan of action for achieving the target you set to discuss with a team-member a solution to a problem they are facing in their classroom.

45 minutes later, you find yourself working on the teaching-plans and assessments for the next month. The bell rings and you hear the familiar noises of children signaling the beginning of the lunch break, since you head the teacher-participation-team you discuss the staff issues which need to be raised to the school management while you eat the lunch with the other staff members.

Two-and-half hours later, after the school ends you take an extra class and finally leave the school at 530 PM for home.

At 6pm, you check the emails sent to you, only to learn that you have been asked to give an inaugural address at an event two days later to welcome Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to the Teach For India movement and you have received a confirmation to attend the mathematics conference at Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education.

After working on your speech for an hour-and-a-half and calling up and troubling all your friends who were good in elocution; you finally come up with the first draft of your speech. You meet your colleague for dinner at 8 pm to discuss the update on the community radio station project you are doing with her. You get-back home to work on your computer-based-test software that you have created for the school team to conduct weekly tests, while an email pops-up telling you that on Friday there is a leadership forum with Mr.Nachiket More (Head, ICICI foundation for Inclusive growth)!

Each day like this gives you an opportunity to learn, create and share with others. Occasionally you pay a visit to your students’ communities after school just to invest the parents in their child’s education or there are days when you attend focus groups on social entrepreneurship and at other times as a member of TFI’s funding team you travel to Mumbai just to have a dinner with the US counsel general and meet with other venture capitalists to invest them in the Teach For India movement.

And yes, on weekends you write a blog and have initiated a venture called TechPeeth where you share your teaching experiences with the entire world.

From bringing about a gradual-change in the way math is taught in school to creating standard operating procedures such as the student intervention team for helping the bottom 20% students in the school, you have done all you could and have endeavored to make a change.

My Reflections on Teaching Higher Grade Levels

Last year, I taught sixty students each from Grades 4th (Social Studies & Science), 5th (Math) and 7th (Intelligence). There were two broad challenges that I faced last year; creating the content for the lesson plans and tracking students’ progress.

Managing the content for the lesson plans felt like a challenge bigger than any project I managed at Citibank. I had to study, make notes and then create a lesson plan that would “incept” the concept in the students’ minds. Each LP took me 2 hours to complete! I also got teachers in my school to observe my classes frequently. The observations made me more accountable and provided me with valuable feedback which culminated into different ideas that I could use to plan better. I soon realized that I was running out of creative ideas to teach, so I went and met professors at Delhi University and picked their brains on the same. Having conquered the planning menace, I addressed the next big challenge of regularly tracking my 180 students. I couldn’t track students’ homework regularly given my daily workload and hence couldn’t identify individual learning gaps. To manage this, I created computer-based-testing software to gauge my students’ performance every week. The regular data tracking coupled with the class feedback, helped me become more efficient.

This year, I am teaching Mathematics to grades 6th and 8th. It’s only when you start teaching the grade-8 level do you realize how deep and wide the achievement gap is. The class average on the last year’s EOY assessment for current grade-8 was 34%. In June this year, while some of my students hated mathematics, the others had an inherent math-phobia. I realized that the fear of math was deeper when I met their parents and learnt that even though the kids sincerely studied the kids performed poorly on the day of the test.
I began this year by telling my Grade-8 students their big goal will be to score 80% in the term-end exams and at least 20 students will take the National Talent Search Exam (NTSE). If the goals were achieved I promised to take my students for two days to Goa! Ever since, the NTSE has many takers! To cater to these students accelerated needs I started the “one-chapter-a-day” group. The students in this group stay back after school everyday to understand SSC (Math) chapters and solve all exercises from these chapters on their own. These students also do extra work on their own at home and clarify their doubts when they are faced with one. A corporate could look at this and nominate it as a case study for capacity building!

I started “one-chapter-a-day” group with one student and in a matter of a week, 15 students joined this group. Not only do the students inspire each other by achieving feats like completing 80% of the exercises in the math text-book for this year but also have helped raise my Grade-8 class average by 26% in a matter of one month! Some of the students in this group are the same students who hated math.

With regular weekly tests and small successes, I get immense joy watching my students gradually achieve the milestones towards their big goal. As FDR said,

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort… These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.

Pune, 4th November 2009

We are attempting to democratize education. Socratic is same as upanishad type model. father’s dialogue to sun – nachiketa’s dialogue with yama in katho upanishada. Yudhishtra with his dad. Upanishada means sitting at the feet. Oxford and Cambridge – they wouldn’t let people into univ. England has a Socratic way of teaching. There system is called the tutorial system – one on one – it was v.interesting. Homoerotic relation between teacher n student. Whitehead n Bertrand Russel – student pupil relation – principia mathematica. Williams college in MA – only college in USA to follow Socratic or tutorial method of teaching. How to deal with bad kids – drunken German univ. Type of kids – how are you going to deal with this? Find out some rules of thumb on you can find out – you all have to empirically work on. Ideal is Socratic because we will not always have s pupil like Plato. Under Elizabeth in England they achieved 60 pc literacy. Many Nobel laureates collaborate with students to publish great work. Jerry didn’t have an answer and urges us to engage with the question. Keep daily dairies. Coming generations of teachers would be able to us the paradigm developed by us.

you are going to teach Shaheen and me by telling us what works and what doesn’t matter. keep the diaries with Socratic and upanishadic method as the baseline..don’t maintain slipshod diaries. It is not like corporates u can measure the outcome quickly it will happen in 10 years. You also have a whole system that is not working.

There is volumes of Current research against charter school – what people don’t have a historical background. Teacher is a woman usually historically. These are things that have worked elsewhere. One teacher multiple subjects is best model. If there is a general ambiance for learning by and large those kids have progressed.

How to deal with parents?

Create an atmosphere of respect for knowledge.

We just don’t know what works. The Indian middle class is the best exam taking class.

Learning and exam taking technique to take exams – u have to teach the students and parents this – we have to remain competitive.

Learning by rote is important for math and poetry.

Through your experience create case studies, and a body of knowledge to crack this problem of canning.

Korea vs. India – avg korean is much better than avg. India. there per capita gdp is 25 times ours.

Problems with higher education in our country. – we have just 3 Nobel laureates – that are British educated. More Nobel laureates in Israel which is the size of ratnagiri district.

So i am troubled with the outcomes of our education. We need to produce newtons.

Maharaja states paid lot of money to teachers than under the British commune. British didn’t want to democratic education.

Teachers believe they come from a higher social class and students come from slums. They think that students are karmically supposed to do this.

‘you know where they come from’.. Book – govt brahmin -kannada book- he is now a sociology prof.. written by a dalit. All of you should read it.

Combined expenses of 6 IITs = revenue from coaching classes.

If your kids are slightly more educated they have a huge differential to the GDP.

Why we don’t produce Nobel laureates?

1. Creativity is squeezed out

2. Amount of resources spent on research.

Koli, chairman emeritus TCS – said there are more phds in sanskrit in US than in India.

What jerry suggested sibal?

Give institutions of excellence full autonomy and grants. And make them multiple disciplinary. Impose condition they will adhere to reservations, second no poor kid should go away without a scholorship. The govt shudnt tell what the college should do.

All of them were given charters of how to run themselves – and slowly a culture of excellence will come.

In our anxiety to go downside, why forget the upside.

No country has become rich until and unless it has achieved 90% literacy. Really to create wealth we must increase female literacy to at least 85%.

You can tell them you can become richer in other ways such as BPO.

Most 10th fails are useless – most of them can be very useful citizens but they create social tensions.

Particularly in education there is no immediate feedback. Govt wants to spend money but its not clear on what. Give autonomy. Some may do scams or frauds but it doesn’t mean that you wont let companies work freely.

Yes certain minimum marks are important and that is okay, but lets look at child’s creativity.

There is a lot of focus now on class 7 and 8.

About 60 pc of staff in cruise ships in Florida are Indians. Assistant chef on a ship is not a menial job. Hdfc bank is doing data entry in villages – attrition rates are low and cheaper.

We need to get them away from low rate dead end jobs. For them the present income is more imp. than income later. their discount rates are very high-35% and ours are 12%.

T.S.Elliot’s poem – wasteland. God is dead but we are alive and we are dead.

*Disclaimer: Please note this is the version of our discussion with Jerry Rao I recall of my memory so it may have some discrepancy between what he said and what i recollect.

On 23rd June 2010, I gave a welcome speech at the Dastur School in Pune to mark the beginning of Teach For India’s association with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. The Speech is given below –

Fabulous air show of Paris in motion

My thought too in flight and yearns for my Nation

When will the planes designed in my land

Pierce the sky as lightening in action

And gracefully land as angels in full boom

All to the envy of spellbound spectators

Yes we can !!

When we are united in action and addicted to deeds

Sky can’t be limit for my nation in action !!

Those were the words from a poem written by someone very special we have with us today.

Amongst other honors received by him, He became the first Asian to be bestowed the Hoover Medal, America’s top engineering prize, for his outstanding contribution to public service.

A pre-eminent scientist, a gifted engineer, and a true visionary, he is also a humble humanitarian in every sense of the word.

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are privileged to have with us today an eminent scientist and the former-president of our country, who has exemplified this spirit of “action-for-our-nation” throughout his life.

On behalf of Teach for India, please join me in welcoming Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to our movement.

Dear Sir,

We are honored to have you with us today to inspire the TEACH FOR INDIA team, AKANKSHA, our supporters and media persons to ignite our minds.

Thank you.

This event was covered by DNA, TOI, Lokmat, Sakal and Radio Mirchi. I am attaching the newspaper clipping (from 24th June 2010’s Sakal and TOI) for the event over here.



Two months in Teach For India, a month into the school with my students and as a class teacher, I want to share my sentiments for my experience at Teach For India hitherto.

Franklin D Roosevelt in his inaugural Presidential Speech on March 4,1933 said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It reminds me of my days in Delhi when I was taking this decision of joining TFI. I was torn apart by the dichotomy between a “known world” that had a corporate career path for years to come, a well paying job with the comfort of staying at my home and an “unknown world” where I was to work for a social cause with no fixed direction after 2 years and a job that paid enough for frugal living with the discomfort of relocating to another city. These fears were certainly NOT nameless, unreasoning and unjustified then.
Now, in retrospect, i see a rationale behind those fears and I am able to perceive the difference between conventional wisdom of living your life and what goes well in 99% of cases and the Alchemist-kind of contemporary wisdom which asks you to explore, think and reason out the purpose of your life and what may work in your case.
Joining TFI was a decision provoked by contemporary wisdom. And though I still cannot say what will happen two years hence what i can say is that I have been exposed to sensitivities of children from low income households and humbled by the behavior of these children, have worked my way through the administrative issues at school, have nurtured my creativity through designing simple & understandable lessons for my children, have thought on my feet numerous times to answer witty questions from students and difficult questions from parents, to fix discipline issues at school and to juggle with multitude of issues right when they stare in my face,  have interacted with great men like Dr.Mashalkar, Rahul Bose and Nachiket Mor, have added value by applying my skill sets for the betterment of school, have improved my knowledge of history because my teaching warrants that and lastly have learned to cook food and have appreciated my family a thousand times for i now realize their worth and importance in my life much more than ever. Could I get these virtues, these skills, this exposure and this ability of thinking on my feet by staying back in the “known world” and living my life as per conventional wisdom? I think not, it is here that i feel that fears are circumstantial and therefore now nameless, unreasoning and unjustified. And as Franklin D Roosevelt once said, “Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.” I am sure the experience has made me more confident and sure of my abilities as a person with a growing sense of purpose and satisfaction through this experience at TFI.

I wish we have more young people joining us in this movement towards reducing educational inequity in our country. And so to summarize my thoughts and to end it with another great line by Franklin D Roosevelt, “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.”

The movement is launched…