Into the Wild: Ms. Leaf and Mr. Dinesh

Venturing into the literal wild, new staff leave the safety of their monkey-less roads and tackle the great unknown we call Woodstock. The Woodstocker caught up with some of them to chronicle the first chapter of their adventures. 

Before even considering working in India, Mr. Dinesh Ayyappan and Ms. Leaf Elhai visited the country in December 2016, only six months after their wedding. They visited his family, not realizing that soon they would live and work here.

Eighteen months after that visit, they’ve joined the Woodstock community. Ms. Leaf teaches sixth, tenth, and eleventh grade English, while Mr. Dinesh teaches Middle Years math and design.

Coming from teaching public schools in Boston, they have encountered a new experience in Mussoorie.

The most striking thing to them, of course, is the profound sense of connection with nature.

Ms. Leaf said, “We used to live in Boston, and it’s a big city. Right outside our window there would be trucks passing by. We’d take the subway to work and, you know, all that stuff. Here, it’s quiet and calm and green.”

She hopes to “be in the outdoors more and take advantage of weekend treks and camping trips.”

Mr. Dinesh shares her enthusiasm.

He said, “I really like the walking. We live at Mount Hermon and it’s nice to walk through woods on your way home.”

Surprisingly, they don’t mind the monkeys.

Mr. Dinesh said, “The monkeys are cool. It’s nice living with large mammals and have so many animals around. I really like the grey monkeys—they’re very, very cool.”

Another interesting thing that stands out to them is the respect that teachers receive here, something that was often missing at their previous schools.

Mr. Dinesh said, “I got an email from a robotics student and it said ‘respected sir.’ I’ve never gotten addressed that way before. Every country has its own perception of teachers. In East and South Asia, teachers are very respected, but in America, teachers are even struggling to get paid. So the respect and kindness teachers are treated with here is very new.”

Also new to them has been the time in the classroom. Whereas the two taught for about 25 hours a week in Boston, here, they have to teach only 17.

Mr. Dinesh said, “It’s a lot more time to plan, grade and do all these things during my workday, so it’s nice.”

Although their experience here so far has been largely positive, there have been some challenges along the way.

Since Ms. Leaf teaches English to a wide range of grade levels, it often becomes difficult to switch between the widely different needs of the three grades.

She said, “I just came from my sixth-grade class and they are, basically, kids, you know? They’re 11 or 12 years old, and they want things like stickers and points and games. And then I go to my eleventh-grade class and we’re deeply analyzing literature.”

However, she plans to deal with this optimistically, too.

She said, “I hope to be stretched as a teacher and take advantage of the more planning time. I hope to use these challenges to push myself.”

Mr. Dinesh shares similar hopes about teaching.

He said, “My hope is to become a better planner and teacher here and to get to know people. We’re also excited to get to know students outside of the classroom because, in Boston, I never saw my students’ homes or even their neighborhoods.”

The two also look forward to their extracurricular plans.

Mr. Dinesh will be leading the robotics and programming extracurriculars. Using his game development skills, he plans to add a unique twist to the programming PASSAGE.

He said, “I’ve just started learning about game development, and I think it’s a really good way to learn programming because you’re building something you can interact with, and there’s so much room for creativity. I want to see the kinds of games students can make. So many students play games, but very few make them.”

Just last year, Mr. Dinesh learned how to make video games. The first video game he created was about running a newspaper.

Mr. Dinesh worked with a team to create the game in 48 hours for a contest of political games. Themed “unreality,” the contest was held in Boston and run by the German government. Mr. Dinesh’s team was a finalist that made the top three.

Called “You Are What You Read,” the game is played from the perspective of a newspaper editor. The player is given a choice of five articles, from which three are chosen to make the cut. The articles are pulled directly from Each article has an assigned truth and popularity score.

He said, “Your chosen articles reflect your reality. So if you pick articles that are fake, the trees start to change color, the sky turns purple, people turn into frogs. You’re choosing fakeness so your world becomes more fake.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Leaf will be leading the Visual Arts PASSAGE and the Honor Council. She herself was on her school’s Honor Council for two years.

“I’m curious to learn more,” she said. She has also started working with the Journalism PASSAGE.

Mr. Dinesh and Ms. Leaf are excited about everything the school offers.

To Mr. Dinesh, the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy and wider teaching opportunities came as a special attraction.

He said, “When I was deciding between schools to take the job at, one school wanted me to lead the technology program, but I wanted to become a better teacher first. I’ve taught for a bit, but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. One thing I liked about Woodstock was that we’re switching to IB. The idea of everybody doing the same thing with the same philosophical values is very, very cool. So I’m very excited about the alignment.”

The school’s philosophy also intrigued Ms. Leaf.

“When we started applying all over the world, Woodstock was actually the first place we were interviewed at,” she said. “It stood out as being the most different in terms of its philosophy. It’s not just a school where kids go to boost their scores or get a good GPA and go to Harvard only. The school really cares about the whole student.”

Another reason they chose Woodstock was that they are situated closer to Mr. Dinesh’s family, who reside in South India.

Although he comes from an Indian background, Mr. Dinesh doesn’t feel connected enough to his culture.

He said, “I feel very bad that I don’t speak either language that my parents speak: Tamil for my dad and Malayalam for my mom.”

He doesn’t have a strong hold of Hindi either. But here at Woodstock, he plans to change this.

He said, “We’re taking Hindi lessons starting next week. I’m very excited to finally learn it.”

Photo by Knema Gardner



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