“What have I achieved?” — a rural primary school teacher asks herself and then finds the answer
Sadhna Pandey has been teaching at Urdichak Primary School in Bharohiya block of Gorakhpur for the past one decade. It hasn’t been an easy journey, with a daily commute of three hours, high absenteeism and lack of infrastructure. But something keeps her going. What is it that keeps her going, she often asks herself.
Aishwarya Tripathi 27 March 2023 10:37 AM GMT
Urdichak (Gorakhpur), Uttar Pradesh
Draped in a bright saree with pleats tucked in and secured with a safety pin, Sadhna Pandey leaves her house in Gorakhpur city at 7:40 in the morning. She hops into a van and on her way to Urdichak Primary School — 35 kilometres from her home — where she is the principal for the past 10 years, Pandey is joined in the van by a couple of teachers of the neighbouring schools.
The van drops her half a kilometre away from the government school in Bharohiya block of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, from where the principal marches to the school then be it the monsoon season, bitter cold winter or the scorching summer.
But Pandey does not complain. She has seen more tiring days. When she got promoted as a principal and appointed in Urdichak in 2013, she would have to leave her four-month old daughter back home with her mother-in-law. Back then, she left her home at six in the morning. She recalled the 35 kilometre journey she had to undertake in a public bus and how the stitches from her caesarean delivery would hurt.
“Sometimes I stood in the heat waiting for more than an hour for a bus,” Pandey told Gaon Connection.
The bus journey took almost two hours one way. Again, from the place she got off, she walked 2.5 kms to her school, which took her 40 minutes more.
The 40 minutes of walk to her school gave Pandey enough time to introspect. “Akhir kya hai meri uplabdhi? [What am I achieving?]” the 34-year-old often pondered. She missed her baby daughter who in turn would cling to her when she returned home, fearing she would go away again. “Was it worth it, I often asked myself, but then, when I thought of the children at the school, I could not in good faith abandon them,” Pandey said.
But reaching the school wasn’t the only challenge that Pandey had to handle. Getting the children of Urdichak village to attend school regularly was another challenge. “While the strength of the school was high, it was always a struggle to get the children into the classrooms and give them quality education,” she said.
While she was assailed by self doubt and second thoughts about her job, Pandey did not lose her focus or her dedication. She left no stone unturned to keep the attendance high, and constantly innovated ways to make education entertaining.
Experiments of a Teacher
“I got the students to do Faruwahi — the regional dance form — and that led to an increase in attendance. I began to pay attention to sporting activities in the school and that also had a positive impact, and went down well with the students. I announced a monthly prize for full attendance, and the first half of Saturdays were designated as gardening time,” Pandey said about the things she had done to keep the students engaged.
“If any student was absent for three consecutive days, I called up their guardians to find out what was wrong,” she said.
Her love for classical music is reflected in the fact that choir singing is an integral part of primary school activities for the children.
Another thing she did was to buy a school bell. “When I joined, the bell being used to mark the end of classes and so on was borrowed from villagers. It was the same bell they used in ceremonies related to someone’s demise in the village,” she said.
Pandey takes great pride in the achievements of her students. “One student knows up to 30 times tables; four others know the names of all the districts of Uttar Pradesh, and then there are many students who can reel off the capitals of all the states in the country,” she said proudly.
Primary School Urdichak has 102 students enrolled, out of which 80 per cent are regular, informed the principal. The village predominantly comprises members of the Scheduled Caste and Other backward Caste (OBC).
Affectionate gestures from her students keep her going, Pandey said. “During the lockdown, a group of girls from the village came and gifted me a pen and a wall hanging on Teacher’s Day,” she said.
Right now, Pandey is trying to get desks and benches for the school students. “We sit on chairs and they sit on the durrie. Won’t they be cold,” she worried.
For Pandey, all the hard work is worth it she said when she enters school and is greeted by the children. “It takes my mind off my personal tensions,” she said.
Adjusting the pleats of her saree, she said, “I avoid wearing saree because it takes time, but the children at school say I look nice in a saree.” The principal smiled shyly as she looked towards the students playing in the school premises.