On Communicating

“Immersive Bootcamp: Reading, Writing and Pedagogy” was one of several training modules we offered to our new cohort of Book Bus instructors. As part of this short-term, intensive module, instructors were asked to write a narrative non-fiction reflecting on some key moments of their own educational trajectory. They were asked to remember influential people or memorable phases, as well as particular inclinations or themes. These essays were presented to the whole group and workshopped during the Bootcamp sessions in order to get the instructors to be more thoughtful and effective while working with groups of young students. Here is an essay written by one of the instructors.”

Human society thrives on communication. I feel that everything we do is somehow propelled by the need to communicate. From the day we are born, we are educated on the whens, whos, whats, hows and whys. Science claims that a child’s sense of hearing develops earlier than her sense of vision, making sound a first medium of communication.

Ironically, my education has been permeated with soundlessness, with a culture of silence. It does not matter where the learning takes place, within the walls of my home or the locked gates of my school.

I clearly remember a teacher telling a chaotic group of third graders one day that the more one speaks, the more one’s brain gets blunt. So that day, a quiet student solemnly decided to remain silent. Maybe that day was the beginning of my own silence, the beginning of a habit of taking solace in silence.

Sit erect. Fold your hands. Eyes on your teachers. Follow – follow him! Only nod your head slightly when asked to. And the most important thing – speak when your teacher asks you to speak. Silence, the golden rule. A rule that never changes no matter where you go – home, school, college or university. Even in my university years, too often, I was educated to be quiet, to not speak.

Having gone to a school where the teachers could at least show some interest in their students’ learning, I consider myself lucky. There were some great teachers. I remember two English teachers –  Sukanya Waiba and Nara Pallav Gurung. Nara Pallav sir always encouraged us to ask ‘Why’. He insisted on us reading the book Sophie’s World just so that we could develop the habit of questioning. I will cherish that forever. It was because of him that I learned to ask questions despite having a quiet nature. Being literarily inclined himself, he used to lend us books from his personal collection and lists for us to note. He was the one who introduced me to Emily Dickinson. I remember the class where he asked me to recite some of Dickinson’s poems and letting us brainstorm what she might have meant. It was after reading her poetry that I loved the mystery and the freedom of interpretations that poems hold. That how one can never be completely wrong when it came to poetry; how one can share but still hide somewhere within those words.

Another teacher who greatly influenced my love for reading and writing was my dear teacher Sukanya Waiba. Her “Speak Up” and “Don’t Stop Writing” during school days became an anchor that allowed me to find my voice. More than anything else, I remember her non-tolerance for thoughtlessness. She is the only teacher I have met that actually made lesson plans and followed the teaching and learning principles that a teacher is supposed to. Both of those teachers’ teaching and learning methods inspired me to develop my own when I had to enact the role of a teacher myself. Theirs were the only classes where I felt learning could be fun and that my mind was not trapped somewhere it shouldn’t be.

However, the high school years were an entirely different experience for me. That was when I became even more silent. I remember all of us, all new faces, trying to fit in. There was a gossip that the college had hired a new DI (Discipline In-charge). During the break before the third period, the sensational DI arrived and threatened everyone, “Don’t even speak with your eyes! I will be able to hear.” When I thought he was gone, leaving everyone quiet, I looked at my benchmate, wanting to connect, and smiled, a natural impulse. But the DI noticed that gesture and made me stand up in front of the whole class, wanting to set an example. He was a dark, seven-foot bodybuilder wearing sunglasses and a crisp tie and a shirt. He shouted at me, asking questions, questioning my sanity, ultimately threatening me to be silent. This is just one incident that I remember. That day I wondered how important it was for administrators to silence others that they had to hire a special person to maintain it, to foster it, to give out that message. But still, I don’t think they became entirely successful at keeping us silent. After all, at the end of each class, just before the bell rang, we were asked, “Any questions, class?”

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