My little compassionate teacher

I have eighteen first cousins just on my mom’s side because she comes from a family of ten children. For as long as I can remember, at all family gatherings, I pretended to be a teacher to most of my younger or same-age cousins. My role play had nothing to do with what I wanted to do in life. Rather it was my way of keeping them in line as most of my uncles and aunts entrusted me with the responsibility. In fact, growing up I never dreamt of becoming a teacher or even thought that passion had any role in trying to become a teacher.

            One of Oishi’s very astute babysitters (whom she called Autin, instead of auntie), once said, “Sharmistha, it is easy to manage Oishi during group games. All you need to do is put her in charge and she will take care of other kids for me.” Oishi was only two years old then. She is almost seventeen now – a strong-willed, compassionate and kind person.

            Amongst all these she has developed a true passion for teaching; something I never thought was possible in a sixteen year old girl. She had been teaching in various capacities for more than a year now. At first she took a course called Youth Teaching Youth co-teaching math to middle school students with her teacher. Then she did her Girls Scout Gold award project teaching math to kids in Trenton. This year she took Youth Teaching Youth once again instead of study hall because she wanted to get more experience as a teacher. Finally, she got a job teaching math in a tutoring center. She wants to be a math teacher and spread the love of math among kids. I still do not quite understand her passion at this tender age but it is uplifting and inspiring to see my little munchkin trying to make a mark in this world in her own way.

            Despite all my efforts to understand how she feels when she teaches, I do not fully comprehend the depth of it. So I want to end with this entry from her teacher’s journal.

“I found out today that I didn’t make the callbacks for Silver Lining, a very selective school singing group. I had envisioned myself on the risers with the rest of the Silver Lining group ever since 9th grade, but never had the courage to try until this year (my senior year). Finding out that that would never happen really saddened me. I guess it makes sense now considering I’ve never had any formal vocal training.

            When I walked into the middle school, even the security guard noticed my difference in mood. When I walked into Scanlan’s classroom, she asked me to teach the rest of the lesson. I said yes despite my mood because I’ve made it a point to grab every opportunity possible to teach.

            At first, I tried to force myself to focus while teaching the kids. I tried speaking a little louder too. It didn’t work. However, once I let my teaching instincts take over, everything turned around. I smiled, and I was engaged just enough to seem okay. I explained Venn Diagrams and had the students shout out the answers. That got me excited.

            I realized that I’m a natural teacher no matter what anyone says. I’m proud to be able to say that my teaching instincts are more proficient than my mind.”

Sharmistha’s Book

From Late walker to Leader

Oishi took her time to take her well-thought out first steps. As a first-time mother, my stomach clenched up in knots every time a well-intentioned person, including my mother, asked me, “Is she walking yet?” Every weekend when I called home I dreaded my mother’s inquisition on Oishi’s walking skills and her futile attempts to speed up the process. One of those weekends she plainly commented, “I don’t understand this. You started walking when you were eight and a half months old.” I was feeling helpless with every passing day and was desperately hoping that she’d be walking before first birthday. But she didn’t.

I took my first trip to India with Oishi right after her first birthday. After a torturous twenty-hour plane journey and another four-hour train journey, when my mother saw Oishi after eight months (she was here for Oishi’s birth), she took Oishi from me, both thrilled to see us and worried that she still was not walking yet, and handed her to my limitlessly patient Baba, my father. She said, “I want to see her walking before she leaves India in three weeks.”

Baba held her two little hands every day and walked for hours in our home. However, one day Baba asked me, “Mamoni, why does she not want to walk when I hold her hands? She only walks when she can grab my index fingers. Otherwise she just sits down until she can do that.” I smiled and told Baba, “I think, she likes to be in control.” A couple of days before leaving, I was able to videotape Oishi’s first steps towards Baba, while Ma was screaming with joy in the background.

Last weekend, Oishi, petrified of public speaking, gave her Girl Scout Gold Award acceptance speech in an auditorium full of adults and children. She did not waver. She did not falter. She stood tall in front of more than a hundred people and gave her impeccable speech. Every intonation was perfect and rose to a level that left me and many others in awe. She spoke like a passionate leader.

While she uttered the last words, “Thank you,” the baby picture of Oishi directing my Baba about how she wants to take her first steps on this world crossed my mind and I thought with a grin, “I should have known!”

Oishi’s Girl Scout Gold Award Acceptance speech

Sharmistha’s Book