Thursday, July 23, 2009

physics lab and more

Being a TA is not easy. Uh uh, not easy at all I'm telling you. You have the responsibility to manage a class of rowdy undergrads who ask questions like "ok, now what do I type?" hoping for you to give them the answer. When you know that you're just a couple of years older than them, and when they know that they can get away making cheeky comments by making you laugh its tough.
People who know me won't really call me a strict person. I'm fairly talkative, lots of fun(at least I like to think so), like to go out with friends and party and do all the student-ey stuff.(which makes it weird when I see my students at the bars near school. I just turn away before they see me) So when I have to change my role to an instructor and go into the lab and yell for them to keep quiet, I'm actually secretly marveling at my no nonsense tone and wondering where on earth that voice was hiding all this while. (I sometimes wear my glasses to class for extra effect).
My friends from my college days couldn't believe that I was going to be a TA in the physics lab of all places. My news was met with a lot of "HAHAHAHA! YOU AA?" too "ooh , I wish I had a teacher like you ;-) " and all kinds of comments. I took it in my stride and laughed along. For the first few lab sessions I was a bit nervous wondering how I was going to handle twenty five freshmen college kids a section. And 4 sections at that. It was not so bad after all. There were the geeky kids, the slow ones, the cheeky ones and it was a fun experience.

This took me back to MY 1st semester Physics lab class in college. Where my professor Mr Ponnusamy would refer to everyone - even us girls - as 'thambi' which means 'younger brother in Tamil. I know. Go figure. Needless to say, his yelling across the lab 'thambi thambi lab coat enge pa?' was met with confused faces all around. I was like 'err are you talking to me? from which angle do I look like a thambi to you?'
We would try and manipulate readings which we did not get so that we could leave the lab early, finish pre lab in our observation 5 minutes before the session starts so we would not get thrown out. The usual stuff, nothing the profs dint know we did. And they let it pass.
Maybe it was because of this that I could see through fake readings in my lab and send the student back to complete it properly. Yes. I know. Me. I did that. =) no student was going to fool me. HA.

Why am I blogging about this again? The course Evaluations had come out today and I have to share a few comments by my students.

"Neha was a great instructor. She helped me when I had trouble within the labs."

"The professor would help when the class was having trouble and did not have a problem explaining things step by step on difficult tasks"

"Great TA! She made lab simple and easy to understand.The instructor was good."

So all that grading and teaching lab for 4 hrs and AFTER that attending my own 3 hr lectures seems worth it after all =)

Friday, July 17, 2009

This just happened so the conversation is fresh in my mind.

I was sitting at my desk at work trying read something.I see this guy looking for something and after the usual good morning/how are you we start talking. He pulled up a chair and we started having a conversation. The usual questions come up - how do you like it here? How does it feel to work at a company etc etc. When he learns I'm from India he asks me "So how different is it here from India" I don't really know what to say. He wants to know how different India is culturally.

Ah.Where do I start now? How do I explain to a typical American the love-hate relationship I share with my country? Born and brought up in the city, I don't really know rural India or know how it is to live in a village. I went to an upper middle class English speaking school, I grew up reading Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew. I watch english movies. I talk to my friends in English. I am not a part of a circle that calls each other and says *"enna di enna pannare?" I wear jeans and tee shirts and drink pink lemonade at Anokhi. I never traveled by bus until I went to college which was 40kms from home. I was forced to since there was no other mode of transport. I din't even know that there were local trains in Chennai till I joined college.

At the same time, I am as Indian as they get. People might scoff at me and say "What does she know? She hasn't really undergone any hardship in life.She never had to want of anything material". Is that true? Only few people know really.

Just because I don't talk in tamil/telugu all the time or don't wear mallipoo(jasmine flowers) in my hair doesnt mean I do not understand our culture. I do believe in tradition. I go to the temple, I believe in God the same amount that you do. I just do not wear a saree and do 'Archana' every weekend. I don't have to fast and make 10 varieties of sweets in order for me to get a good husband and pray for his life to last longer than mine.

A culture shock for me was when I started going to college. There were people from all walks of life. From towns/villages to the uber rich NRI kids. I was stuck somewhere In the middle. My middle class english speaking life did not really get along with the giggling girls nor with the partying kind. It took a while for me to fit in and find the crowd I could hang out with. Needless to say, I was branded a snob.

How do I explain something like class system(caste is a bad word these days I hear). "Does your family believe in the class system Ne?Will your parents want you to marry a boy in the same class as you" They ask me. Do we? Or don't we? We don't want to admit that we do and will never talk about it. But deep down inside we do right? Do you blame us? From grade 10 when marks matter the FC/BC* was an issue. I could not dream of going to a public medical college. Why? Because for our 'caste' we need to get 99.8% to make the grade. Is that fair? I will not get admission when I want to go for general seat in any public university. Why? Because I'm FC and I do not have 99% in my exams. "Oh, FCaa neenga?" is what I heard from time to time with a look on their face from the admin people at school offices. We studied as hard as the others. Don't we have a right to choose what we want to study?

I am proud of what I am and my family. I am proud that 90 years back my grandmother's father and brothers shunned the caste system and were one of the first to be a part of the Brahma Samaj(for abolition of the caste system and of the dowry system, emancipation of women, and improving the educational system etc). I am proud that everyone in my family was and is educated and knows the value of it even though we dont have rice fields back home pumping money into our bank accounts.

In the future, I wish my children understand our background, appreciate and be proud of who we are.

"So Ne.. how different is India culturally from America?" I just smile and say "Very different. India is a very old culture".

*Whats up,what are you doing? - Tamil
*Forward class/ Backward class

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ne walks into the living room and sees her dad reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.

Ne : Nanaaaaa? Naaanaaa?

Nana (without blinking or looking up) : How much will it cost?

Ne : :-/