The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus shut its doors after 146 years, in 2017. Before that, for a good eight years, I happened to be part of it. It is always an honour to work for a company that’s a century-and-half old. The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey is a prestigious circus. There is pride in every person who works there. How privileged was I to be part of this company! Why I take personal pride is because in all its 146 years, I was the only Indian employed. I am originally from Chengannur in Kerala but was raised in Chennai. Personal reasons took me away from home to the US. I needed a job and had tried two mundane teaching jobs before taking up the job with the circus. I found myself as their on-location educator in 2004. Was the tsunami that hit in 2004, in the same week that I joined the circus, a sign for the life that was going to be mine for the next eight years? My “school” consisted of one room (the size varied), on an average 16 students, all grades, two huge boxes (7×6×2) which when opened became our book shelf, library, a kitchenette, work station. Unbelievable right? It was, for me too.
The staff and employees lived in a train that was a mile-and-a-half long (the longest privately owned train in the US).
Mine was a 7×12 room with a bathroom, stove top, refrigerator, microwave, a sink, and storage for pots and pans. It even had a little spot for a TV. Crammed? Not at all. That’s all a single person needs. I even had two cats. They are probably the most widely travelled house pets on earth!
This question is to teachers. How many lesson plans do you make a day? 2? 4? Maximum 7 right? I made plans each day for 60 to 64 lessons. Here’s the math. Four subjects /day/per child, 16 students, and 64 lesson plan.
When I had three 2nd graders, I thought that means two lesson plans less. But, no, each student is at a different level. The high functioning, the standard functioning and the low functioning. I made IEPs (Individualised Educational Programme — for special children) for each.
Despite this heavy onus, I loved it. I love challenges.
Other than having regular classes for all under 18, I kept my interest and those of my students alive by coming up with alternative learning methods. Projects, field trips, trainings were some other activities…
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