A day in the life of ... Dr Rabab Zaidi

In Uttar Pradesh, India, a class on Macbeth yields a moral lesson about how girls and boys - who are watched with 'eagle eyes' - suffer if they do not follow a straight and decent path

Tes Editorial

Most of our children treat English like Cinderella must have been treated by her stepmother: with absolute disdain. "Oh my God, do we have to be studying English?" A lot of students want to study physics, chemistry and mathematics, and bunk the rest.

Of course, they still give me attention because I'm their teacher. But I want to be so interesting that their attention is involuntary: they just want to listen to me.

I wake up at 4.30am and say my prayers. Then I read the paper for about 15 minutes. I can't take too many corrections home - at most, 30 or 40 a day - so I reach school (City Montessori School in Lucknow) at 7.20am to look at more. And I look over what I'm doing today, so I'm absolutely ready.

If children don't understand something, they come and see me at about 7.30am. There are between 30 and 40 children in a class so it's difficult to give them individual attention. But I try to make it up to them outside the class.

Assembly is at 8am. We have a bracing moral song from our school songbook. Afterwards, I take attendance for my class of 16- and 17-year-olds and sort out any little problems they have. It could be anything: not understanding a lesson, someone threatening them, a problem at home. Today, someone says: "Ma'am, I don't want to sit at the back of the class." At home they have a mother, but here I'm their mother.

We have four teaching periods in the morning. With Class 12, we're discussing Macbeth. I've been able to give one or two moral lessons about how people suffer if they're not on the straight and decent path.

We keep a very eagle eye on what girls and boys are up to - if they get a little extra friendly. Talking to a boy in your class is OK. But going on a picnic or to a movie - we draw the line at that. You don't know what the next step would be. When this happens, I take children aside and listen to what they have to say. If you tell them what to do, you will have rebellion, so I make them think it's their decision. It's a very devious method.

After four periods, I have a break of 20 minutes. It's just enough time to have some water and a couple of sandwiches, and say hello to friends. A little stressbuster.

There's an all-India public speaking competition going on at the moment. So, in free periods or after school, I listen to children practise. In the beginning, they get so nervous but I tell them: "Today, you're speaking before us. Tomorrow, you'll be giving a presentation in front of dozens of people. Maybe the day after, you'll be speaking to the United Nations. You're only going to get better and better."

I reach home at 3.15pm. I have a bath, say my prayers, have lunch. At about 4pm, I have a power nap for an hour. When my husband comes home, we have tea. Usually, I don't make any social arrangements for weekdays. My friends and my family know that Monday to Friday is a definite no-no.

When I leave home in the morning, it's like changing channels on television: I don't think about home, just about school. But when I get home again, I don't change the channel back. I always bring one book home. Then I surf the internet, to see if I can find any extra information.

When I began the job, there were 30 to 35 children in each class. If I take 10 minutes for correcting each book, an extra 10 children in each class is an extra 100 minutes. Because you can't compromise on quality, the only thing you can compromise on is sleep.

But by 10pm, I'm too tired to do anything else. I get so tired by the end of the day - it feels like I work on a farm, and an unmechanised one at that. But it's a happy tired, when you do something you love.


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