Photo Credit: Zhi Zheng (China, Class of ’17) [ Member of MUWCITV]
Everyone at MUWCI knows Nehal Chheda as the passionate English teacher with the ability to ignite sparks of interest in every student, no matter how indifferent they might be towards English language or literature. She isn’t just defined by her charisma and quirkiness in the classroom. People also know her as the innovative chef who hates following recipes, and one who just decides to create a chocolate and raspberry cream cake topped with caramelized onion because she thought it would taste good. It’s no surprise that it did taste delicious. Amongst her myriad skills also lies adventurous wildlife photography that reveals patterns and abstractions in nature. Her most recent photographic exploration took place in the grasslands of Tanzania, where she managed to capture undeniably perfect shots of zebras and lions – her favourite animals.
Recently, I got the honour of sitting down with Nehal, my English teacher too, when I got to pick her brain and learn a little about her opinion on all things MUWCI.
“One of the most striking features of the faculty selection process here is the involvement of students in decision-making processes. Being interviewed by the students for the varied aspects of the hilltop life (academic, residential, Triveni) really struck me as unique and invitational and so, I decided to accept the position here,” she said, on what impelled her to choose our life on this hilltop in 2014.
After almost two years, some of her beliefs about MUWCI remain the same, but others have evolved drastically. “I had imagined this to be an intense place, where a lot happened on a regular basis, which is how it has been for the past one year, five months and twenty days (yeah, she’s also someone who loves precision). Everyone is always doing a lot, shouting a lot, planning a lot. It can be quite overwhelming for students and faculty alike to adjust to such an abundance of options. But it’s all about getting used to the muck as you go along,” she said laughing, making a reference to her favourite play, Waiting for Godot. We, her class of Language and Literature students, have learnt to love and hate this play because of the ways in which she contextualized it all in the class.
When asked about life different from what she had anticipated, Nehal added, “While I had expected MUWCI to have a lot of systems in place, what’s been remarkably different is the comfort with which wheels are reinvented every couple of years. One might argue that it eliminates the likelihood of the institution to stagnate, but it can also get quite nerve wrecking and time consuming to roll out processes ever so regularly. But I guess that is one of the defining features of MUWCI and makes it very special to everyone associated with the college.”
I could not agree with her more, with every week feeling like a month, we have plenty of experiences to cherish and rich memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. And perhaps, one of the most special aspects of MUWCI is that these memories have not just been created around the classroom.
According to Nehal, “sometimes there appears to be a constant contest between the co-curricular and curricular learning here.” She strongly believes that “once the meaningful experiences of both these spheres coalesce, a holistic learning empowering our students with skills to survive in the real world will contribute to their enriching MUWCI experience.” She further added that the most striking constituent of academic learning at MUWCI is the way in which most teachers are facilitators of dialogue rather than powerhouses of knowledge. Moreover, she loves how there’s scope to learn something everywhere and from everyone, especially from students – not just about oneself, but about their lives and histories.
This doesn’t just give students the ability to grow for themselves, but it allows for a safe environment to do so. We know that if we miss a step, teachers like Nehal, our facilitators and guides (and reminders of the realities of the world), will get us back on track. And so, to keep up this dynamic of learning, growth and healthy relationships, we are always looking for new and interesting people who could add to an environment like this. The advice Nehal would have for prospective teachers applying to MUWCI would be, “to utilize the unrestrained freedom to conduct your classes the way you deem right for students’ growth.” At the end of her rather long list is this real piece of advice: “as a teacher here, you’ll find yourself meditating on questions such as ‘are these students really 17-18 year olds?’ It’s only natural. Don’t fight it.”
On this note she turns to her laptop and with a peculiar spark in her eye and a grin on her face types in an idea she got for her next non-IB day. Our Day 6 classes are non-IB work days. On these days, Nehal makes us go around campus taking photographs of unusual patterns (and very intelligently connects it to Virginia Woolf), makes us write reverse poetry or plays games like taboo and smart mouth).
– Stuti Behari (Class of ’16)