My ‘back to the classroom’ experience was indeed a revelation! I am glad I gave in to the persuasion of teachers of a well-known educational institution who cajoled me into accepting. I was busy I told them and couldn’t spend more than an hour and was told that I wouldn’t have to be there for more than that. Asked to be a part of an eminent panel of professionals judging various competitions for which 2,500 students from various schools had gathered, I reluctantly rushed to be there by 9 AM braving traffic snarls that have become a daily ordeal. Amidst the chattering of students, blaring announcements about seating arrangements, watching a cultural programme after the traditional lighting of the lamp and the whole rigmarole of the introduction of the judges who were invited onto the stage, I realized to my horror that it was well past the one hour and the real programme was yet to begin. Had I done the right thing by accepting to be there I asked myself again and again. It was however too late to turn back.

Ushered into a classroom on the second floor I was told that I would have to judge a poetry competition on a topic given to the students who had 45 minutes to write and recite them before the judges (There was one more judge who joined me). Another hour gone, I thought desperately. Expecting not more than 10 entries in this category, I was pleasantly surprised to see students trooping in one after another and filling up two classrooms to reach a total count of 53. After several queries, the children settled down to write and I was surprised to see the first poem ready in the next ten minutes. One confident boy got up and recited his poem to perfection before leaving the room. He wasn’t from any high-end school I noticed. As one student after another got up to recite their poems, I realized that there was an overwhelming presence of students from lesser-known schools with humble backgrounds who stood up and presented their work with confidence. There were also those who wrote in Hindi and Telugu (which for a reason unknown were clubbed together all under one category) and sang them with great aplomb. I was now totally immersed in listening and had no clue about how much time had gone by. It was then that this girl stood before us, took her sheet of paper and began to read. “Gooo…od mooo…rning Mam!” She began and I knew she had a problem but remained quiet. “You have some problem?” my co-judge asked. “I staaa..mmmer..” she replied after what seemed an eternity. “Okay. Let’s hear you”, I said encouragingly and waited for her to complete the 12 lines she wrote down. She completed her poem taking her own time all the while making perfect eye contact and smiling throughout what must have been a tremendous effort. (I was reminded of the film “The King’s Speech I had seen years earlier) I had by then stopped looking at my phone to check the time. The half-day in the classroom taught me many things. I had learnt a lesson in patience, dropping bias and the most important one of retaining confidence when all the odds are against you. Yes, I was certainly there for my own learning.