This account is based on my journey as a teacher educator in the last academic year. I have over the years seen my 50 student-teachers herded into a small room that does not have either adequate air or light. They seemed restless to me – both physically and otherwise. I abhorred the way the broader educational structures impinged on their being – especially the way it treats the bodily self. Their bodies were meant to be controlled- they had to sit within a class for a requisite time, were largely allowed to eat only in breaks- depersonalising them and compromising their agency and fundamental dignity. I questioned – why was external discipline and attendance pressures so important? What I ease them off? What will happen? I was apprehensive. I was teaching in a professional degree programme that required all of them to be adequately trained. I was responsible for their training. What if the attendance dwindled?. I teach them a paper called ‘ Human Relations and Communication’ which students explore an authenticity and meaningfulness of human relations in education. I figured an experiment was well worth a try. If meaning and authenticity does not emerge as a personal curriculum as compared to an imposed one- I have failed as a teacher in any way. It was not sufficient to teach theoretically students to trust the being of the child. I teach that children if given fundamental freedom would ‘want’ to learn provided we trust them. I needed to take the plunge into exercising this ‘trust’ myself.
Letting Go: I decided to let the attendance requirements slacken. It was a silent experiment. I did not talk to them about what I was doing or any expectation of an alternate responsibility. I simply wanted to hand their own classroom back to them. They could come in and leave as they wanted. I wanted to see what this would do them as well as to me. How would it affect my teaching and communication process. I was in for a surprise. While the attendance was a little less than normal, I found that many students chose to a part of the class discussions. The freedom of students to leave and come in whenever they wanted gave a release from an ‘authority’ that I never did want to exercise. My relationship with al of them became much more lighter, humane and humorous. It was wonderful to shift from being a ‘moralising top dog’ to a more humane ‘underdog’. The students were a little tentative about this change in the beginning but soon became used to exercising their freedom. I wanted them to experience this freedom fully. They were not expected to listen to everything- they could leave in case they were preoccupied with something or bored or even doze off if tired. I had to face my fears to do this. They could be missing out on so much! However, I observed that teaching-learning does not proceed in a linear way. If something transformative must be internalised in understanding of nature of human relationships and communication process, it only takes a deeply touching human moment to do so- continued and mechanical engagement is not necessary for this. I was training them to express the relational process through an exercise of sensitivity and respect for each other’s being in freedom rather that prepare them to write about it in the exams! The last year has brought to me many such moments where I was able to deepen my relationship with my students and they have been able to nourish me with the sharing of their beings. Our classroom discussions had a deeper passionate tenor this year. Those ‘quiet’ students who had ‘let go’ of themselves and would not make eye contact with me during discussions in the beginning of the year were leading these discussions. I let of the assignment deadlines too and found that all the students eventually handed in their work.
On Giving Feedback: As a part of teaching practice, we do observation of student classes each year. I have been struggling with the role of entering a classroom and assessing it. The dominant feeling that
I would not like to be ‘observed’ for a judgement of what happens in small slice of my life was very strong.
Over the years, I have made the process of supervising and giving feedback much gentler. In giving feedback for improvement, we underestimate their intelligence. They have a good assessment of what may not have worked in their teaching. I decided to just flow with their being, celebrating all that was learnt in the class rather than giving suggestions for ‘improvement’.
A simple affirmation of what worked can be a wonderful way to avoid negativity and release the joy and enthusiasm of the teacher to try more in forthcoming classes.
On the Bodily Self: I experienced my own body and those of my students differently this year. They could eat and drink in class and I could eat with them. It did not take anything away from our discussions. We discussed about our own bodies – how the market has a pervasive influence on it, different type of bodily experiences- on alternate sexual orientations, bodily self and sexuality of differently abled persons and those experiencing mental illness. We went to an place called the Monks’ Retreat– a place in Uttarakhand for a self-development retreat and a physical education camp in Sri Aurobindo Ashram where we learnt to open our being to the rhythms of the nature, learnt to climb trees ( I climbed with them), play fun children’s games, meditated on the mountain top and did collective star gazing at night. My being was ‘taught’ by their rhythms this year. I need not have taught anything at all.
On Need for Gentle Touch: I wonder why our touch on this world and our own being (our self- expectations) so heavy. In letting go of expectations from my students, I also experienced much deeper self- compassion for my own being and to experience the perfection of being ‘imperfect’. I had to fight my ‘controlling self’ to experience this grace of the ‘imperfect self’.
Of not wanting to be on the pedestal as a bright spell binding teacher but to reverse the process and listen to the heart beats of my students instead. It revealed a different world- much warmer, with real living core and tender. Tenderness is the intensity of the being when it feels so full of delight for a person that it might break into pieces. The care that my students invest in their worlds, their relationships, and their incredible emotional generosity towards me has been humbling.
I feel that the education is in search for a pedagogy that can recover the maximum freedom for the learner to self-express.
To give each being the maximum sunlight ‘to grow’ and ‘to be’. Yet the structures within which we expect them to grow make the docile, subservient, less- self compassionate and dis-engaged with the rhythms of their own being. It will take a much gentler touch to bring them in sync with the tenderness and grace within them. The world needs it desperately.