“In second grade, my teacher crossed out my entire homework because my handwriting wasn’t good enough,” Ram Bahadur Silwal, a teacher in his early 60s, read from a short essay he had written during a focused free writing session. This focused free writing session was a part of Book Bus’ Write to Think program, one of the programs within the Teacher Empowerment Program, facilitated by Muna Gurung. On 26th August, 2019, a Monday afternoon, Muna di had asked teachers from Kitini Higher Secondary School to write about the most helpless moment of their lives.
“It seems I will never forget that day,” Ram Bahadur sir had written, “and how I had lowered my head.”
Focused free writing is Muna di’s signature icebreaker for starting a Write to Think session. Since, she says, everyone is not mentally present at the beginning of a class, a five-minute writing session creates a focused atmosphere in the classroom. Her preferred method is to get all the participants to write for a prompt without lifting their pens or stopping, writing down whatever comes to mind.
On this day, we were to read Baadal, Chori ra Ma, a heartbreaking poem of helplessness and scarcity by Pancha Kumari Pariyar. But before we read the poem, the teachers had to write, without thought or pause. After five minutes, teachers could choose to share what they had written with the class. There were three rules for sharing: to share what they had written, to share the experience of writing it, or to say just no.
Most of the teachers shared their writing, while few said no. Some wrote about parting from their loved ones, about death and loss. One participant shared grief over losing her dog and recalled the helplessness she’d felt when it passed. Another teacher told us about how hard it had been when he lived on his own, without anyone to take him to hospital when he fell sick.
Among the stories, Ram Bahadur sir’s account of having never forgotten being unfairly shamed by a teacher stuck with me. After his teacher crossed out his homework, he said that had felt so ashamed that he hadn’t been able to face anyone at school the whole day. It made me consider how important our actions towards our students are. It made me wonder if it was just a coincidence that Ram Bahaur sir had grown into a teacher, dedicated to the classroom for almost three decades. Could this one incident have ignited the spark in Ram Bahadur sir to become an educator? Could his empathy for his younger self motivate him to emotionally connect to his students?
Ram Bahadur sir himself was amazed that he could remember the day like it had been yesterday. It was as though the writing session had dug it up afresh. That was the magic of focused free writing in Muna di’s Write to Think sessions: it didn’t allow you to think, analyze and then write. It compelled you to think and write simultaneously, and discover what had been hidden even to yourself.
After an outpour of raw writing on helpless moments like these, participants were emotional, empathetic and reflective. Free writing had gotten teachers right into the mindset Muna di had wanted them to be in, and that was when we began to read ‘Baadal, Chori ra Ma’.
Bishal is an artist and a Language and Arts instructor at the U.S. Embassy’s Book Bus.