A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

the volunteer proctor who got paid in gold May 14, 2011

Filed under: Children,life,love,Me — gurdas @ :

Being around kids make me happy. Specially when they are aged 5 to 10. I find that age group old enough to have a conversation. And young enough to display marvel and surprise me.

And then there is this desire to be a part of the local community, to receive and give love, and to contribute in an organic way.

So, when East Cary MS (ECMS) asked for volunteers to proctor their end of grade tests I grabbed the opportunity. To contribute while I would get to be around kids in their natural setting was just too good to pass. I had to undergo a 1-hour proctor training where we were informed of our responsibilities and testing regulations. I missed my first training appointment due to a schedule clash but made it good on the second one, which was May 9. I was one of 6 volunteers being trained that day. And I was the only non-American. As we went through the motions I could not but compare to what I have experienced in India. The two systems could not be more different. The system in India is a little bit of rules and mostly human. The American system is completely driven by rules, highly efficient, but somewhat robotic. For example, to ensure every kid takes the exact same test, the class teacher will read instructions from a book. Such as “I will now give you answer sheets”. Yes, she will not say that in her own words. She will read that from a printed text. And every teacher in every school across the state will say the exact same words. And, the teacher cannot explain in her own words if something is misunderstood! All she can do is repeat what is written. I thought this was taking it too far. There is no way any two kids will be taking the same exam. Because they did not have the same morning, the same parents or the same worries, to name a few things. One of them might have witnessed an angry fight between parents last night, while another could have gone for a movie with the parents. Some of the other rules that caught my attention : (a) students who do not finish in the stipulated time can continue to take the test and (b) if you’ve closed your test booklet at the end of stipulated time you cannot open it again even though other students might continue to work on theirs.

That said, a few of the rules may be silly but nothing very damaging. The merits far outweigh the silliness. The uniformity does help keep things equal. The Proctor’s Guide that I had to read can be found here.

With the training done, I was all set to proctor  🙂 which I did these last two days. I had to be at the exam center by 7:30 am and the test would start by 8 am. I proctored during the Math Active (when they can use calculators) and Math Inactive (no calculators) exams. I returned from the experience a rich man, who feels he has been paid in gold. What marvellous kids! My class had 18 children. Gender wise, 12 boys and 6 girls. Ethnicity wise, about ten whites, four blacks, two Indians, one Mexican, and one that I cannot place.

During the exam, which lasted 3 hours on day one and 1.5 hours on day two, I had to walk around the room and make sure the kids were answering in the correct section, not out of step, or cheating. I did not have to worry at all about the last. Note that I can only notice and point out any irregularities to the class teacher, Ms. Ruff, an impeccably dressed and smiling middle aged lady. Overall, I did a good job and managed to catch a few students who had gone out of step. The answer sheet had choices that students have to circle. And sometimes they are marking the correct answer choice against the wrong question.

As expected, each of the 18 students demonstrated very distinct test taking strategy and behaviour. Some were slow and meticulous, others fast and impatient. Some bright, some not so bright. Some neat, other untidy (in how they worked). Kids that finished the exam before time would start drawing on scrap sheets handed earlier. And they could ask for more sheets. The boys and girls demonstrated distinct gender differences, too. The boys were drawing monsters, streets, writing their own name, block/patters/abstract designs, helicopters, shoes, aliens, excavators, and robotic faces. The girls drew flowers, superheroes (female), and decorative patterns. Some of the boys had pencil graphite all over their hands and needed wet wipes to clean up, some wanted to talk, and many wanted to show other boys their art work. The girls would draw or sit silently, be impatient to leave, or fiddle with their calculators.

However, they were all well disciplined. Ms. Ruff must have done her duties rather well! Oh, and she was great in making them feel active and ready for the exam. Between 7:30 and 8, she’d make them do some exercises and towards the end darken the room while they close their eyes and relax. Great technique! She smiled often and spoke softly but firmly. The kids did not hesitate to approach her, trusted her, and accepted her answers. I would be happy having Ms. Ruff in charge of my child!

I was almost sad leaving the test center yesterday knowing that I won’t be back the next day. I have a few more days of proctoring with ECMS in June. And I have offered to volunteer with Davis Drive Middle School this coming week. I hope they call me to volunteer. If they knew how much I like hoarding this kind of gold they’d know I would gladly pay to be a volunteer  🙂


giving thanks November 25, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love,Me,philosophy — gurdas @ :

Thank You

To those who did not help, for introducing me to life
To those who helped, for upholding my belief in humanity

To those who were impatient, for helping me practice patience
To those who were patient, for giving me the space to be and become

To those who were weak, for the opportunity to be strong (for you)
To those who were strong, for inspiring me

To those who were dishonest, for the examples that it is just not worth it
To those who were honest, for telling me it is worth it

To those who were unkind, for testing my ideals (and hopefully I lived up to them)
To those who were kind, for encouraging me to be the same

To those who did not love, for the moments of soul searching
To those who were loving, for showing me the only way to live


William the 99999999th July 6, 2010

Filed under: Ethics and Values,Inspiration,life,love — gurdas @ :

I love being surprised and do not suffer my ignorance of high cuisine menus. So, I often tell the person taking my order what I feel like having, and not necessarily what is on the menu. And I let the person attending our table advise, often even pick for me. The advantages of this approach greatly outweigh disadvantages (which are almost non-existent). One, I get to relish all kinds of expressions – questioning, curious, thoughtful, surprised, caught off-foot to name a few. Being a turbaned Sikh, I have the advantage of appearing different. So, when I get into my ‘lets have some fun here’ ordering style, it is almost always something they did not see coming. I have never ever received a normal expression when I start ordering. And this gives me a high 🙂 Plus, I get some free character study to do. I see confident, knowledgeable attendants (because they shoulder the responsibility of understanding my taste needs and matching it best to a menu item) and I see confused, ignorant types. None of this is available to folks who display a mastery of the menu (sometimes faked) and reel off their orders. And the fun does not end there. Since I am basically eating their pick, they take special care in making it right, and always come back asking how good their pick is. I shower them with my smiles and praises. Great relationship (however brief) tactic.

So, the other day my friend, Mina, and I went to a Starbucks for chit chat over coffee. Taking our order was a smiling African American gentleman named William. My order was this “I am in the mood for something cold, very little ice, and a strong taste of coffee.” William jumped to the challenge of meeting my desire. He asked me a couple of questions and placed the order. I had no clue what he was going to serve me. I did not ask. Surprises are best when savoured at the right moment. It was Mina’s turn. On our last visit, she had a strawberry drink. The other options were mango-orange and chocolate. William completely ruled out mango-orange saying it had no taste. I fell in love with the guy right then. For anyone to confidently say something on their menu is not worth it, needs to be acknowledged. Mina did not want chocolate and she already had strawberry. Hmmm…this was looking like a jam. But William bested himself. He offered to make a mix of strawberry and mango. He had not tried it before, but was confident it will be different. Mina felt secure in his confidence and she agreed to be game.

We took our table and shortly after that my order was announced. My drink looked inviting, very dressy with a dark bottom layer, a light brown middle layer, and cream top layer. My expectations doubled. I took a sip and smiled. William had nailed it. Just what I wanted! And this was not on the menu. I praised his selection and thanked him. He made double sure I liked it. I told him I loved it. A minute later, Mina’s order was ready and while not as dressy as mine, it still displayed an interesting mix of colours. She took a sip and then another. And she smiled. Check-mate! What happened after this moment is why I am writing this post.

William walked over to our table and asked Mina how her drink was. She said she liked it. Her praise was gentle and maybe William thought she was just being polite. So, he said this “If the drink is not what you feel like having I can make you another.” I was sold. His smiling face and humility coloured that room. Mina took the cue and this time her praise was equal to how much she liked the drink (she loved it).

I pondered on this and both Mina and I talked about it. What William did was exceptional. It might seem otherwise, but I thought his gesture was grand. It is not about the cost of the drink, but the attitude.

My next visit to Starbucks is not going to be for the good coffee they brew. But to be able to say hello to William.

ps: The name William, to me, has a kingly tone to it. And so the title of this post.


cup of joy June 22, 2010

Filed under: life,love,Me,photography — gurdas @ :

Starbucks 'London' mug

Some things are meant to happen a certain way. My Starbucks ‘London’ mug seems to be one of those. On my first visit to London, this mug was the only thing I had bought for myself. Unfortunately, it did not last long. To be precise, I dropped and broke the mug within an hour of buying it. And that was the evening before my flight and there was no Starbucks nearby for me to replace my lost souvenir. The next morning, I tried locating the Starbucks at Heathrow airport, but it was in a different terminal or at least too complicated to reach given the time available. So I returned home with only memories in my head. To make matters more bizarre, I had lugged along a SLR sized camera and tripod all the way across the Atlantic, and guess how many photos I made? Not one. Zilch.

But as fate would have it, I am lucky to have dropped the mug. Because, on my second visit to London, I had the same mug gifted to me.

The same mug. But now many times more precious.


feels like a father June 21, 2010

Filed under: Children,family,life,love,Me — gurdas @ :

As I observed Father’s Day wishes being shared, it struck me that the wishes were for men who are fathers. That they either have a biological or a legal child. Obviously, you might remark.

But then not all men who lay claim to the title of ‘father’ are worthy of that honour. Many do not feel, think, or act like fathers.

On the other hand, there are men who cannot call any child as their own and yet may be more father-like in thoughts and deeds than many a ‘real’ father. It is to these childless fathers that I send my wishes.

Happy Father’s Day to each of you.