Soma Chakraborty
Melissa Hess

Soma Chakraborty, shown with student Ratne Prasad, is a senior teacher at Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School in Kolkata, India. MCC helps support the school’s efforts to educate children from impoverished communities and to involve parents in their children’s schooling. Read more about this effort.

A senior teacher at a model school that MCC helps support in Kolkata talks about her passion for education and reaching disadvantaged students.

I am a senior teacher at Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School in Kolkata, India, which seeks to improve the quality of life for underprivileged students through education.

I also am a gardener.

Gardening has been my hobby from childhood. Now my daughter and I care for a few flowering plants in my little garden at home.

Mainly, though, I see my classroom as a garden.

Here, we can see many types of flowers, and the gardener’s job is to look after them. I give support to them. They are growing up day after day, blooming day after day. And I am cultivating these more beautiful flowers so they serve their communities as beautiful human beings.

My students have lots of problems, including malnutrition and poverty, and often lots of stress at home. But when they come to our schools, our loving schools, they are blooming like flowers and they enjoy it. And we give as much as we can.

I teach grades one, two and three, and my students are from 6 to 10 years old. We use active-learning techniques like debate, role play, drama and group discussions to develop skills in reading, writing, comprehension and numbers.

We work on life skills like critical thinking, negotiation, communication, self-awareness and reasoning, which are necessary to realize one’s self-worth and to become an independent individual.

“They are growing up day after day, blooming day after day.”

I believe only education can empower a person to lead a respectful life. If these young seedlings have been enlightened with the power of education, in the future they will become a tree. They will give shelter to others. They will take responsibilities for their community’s development.

I was born and brought up in Assam, a state in northeast India. My father was an executive of the statistical department of Indian Railways, and I attended a Christian missionary school. I had golden days in my school. I not only enjoyed my school days, but also learned many things like discipline and values.

My father passed away when I was 20 years old, and I needed to start supporting my family. I began teaching then.

I’ve been at Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School since 2006.

Before, I worked at different elite schools in Kolkata. I observed that the students there were coming from high socioeconomic groups, and they were getting all the privileges from society.

But children from deprived groups do not get support from society, and often not even from their parents.

I felt the urge to do something for them. At that time, I also learned of the work of Tomorrow’s Foundation and approached them.

Involving parents is an important part of what we do at Tomorrow’s Foundation. Without that, we will not be able to do our best for our students.

We ask parents to come into the classroom once a week. Mostly mothers come. This has motivated the children. Children always want to show their best before their mothers.

And interacting with school activities gives women a chance to realize and reflect on their rights and voice.

Parents have told me they couldn’t get the opportunity to be involved in other schools the way they have here and that they have not felt the same ownership of other schools.

The children we serve are from impoverished areas. Some may see them only as first-generation learners who are coming from gloomy places. They may assume these children lack creativity and intelligence.

But that’s not true. They are creative and intelligent. I think my children have full capabilities to do anything, they just need proper guidance. We do that here.

My greatest joy in teaching is when my students learn new things from me as well as when I learn from them.

I believe if I don’t like my job, then I cannot cultivate anything.

I take my job to heart, and that’s why I say I’m a gardener.

(By Soma Chakraborty; As told to Julie Bell and Melody Raj)

Soma Chakraborty, shown with student Ratne Prasad, is a senior teacher at Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School in Kolkata, India. MCC helps support the school’s efforts to educate children from impoverished communities and to involve parents in their children’s schooling.