The post from svalter today about hearing an encouraging word like “Good job” when things are not going so well, got me thinking about just how difficult it can be to get any kind of feedback, let alone a supportive word, here in India.
Children are just not encouraged to have, let alone give an opinion. Their world is quite drab and very routine. So when ten new five year olds come into my school every January and are met with bright colourful paintings on classroom walls, see movement and dance and hear songs, shouts and laughter, (mostly in a language that they barely understand) they are quite stunned.
For the first few weeks they look as though they’ve stepped out onto a new planet. Which in some ways they have, as they are from nursery schools where everything was recited and chanted and repeated and repeated and repeated….. You might have up to 50 to 70 students in one class with just a couple of teachers and no room to be an individual or have an opinion.
As the weeks pass, they sparkle with a new found confidence and their faces blossom when they begin to realise it’s possible to learn to understand stuff and how to answer questions by thinking things through in a new language….. and even to have your own opinion (which starts off with your favourite fruit or animal or colour!)
I was once asked to teach an English conversation class here by a local NGO organisation. I agreed to give it a go and on the first day a group of about eight or nine older students gathered. I insisted they sat in a circle with me as part of it. They were slightly perplexed by such unorthodox behaviour. I was meant to sit on a raised stage while they sat below me.
I tried to initiate a conversation. Environment is a compulsory subject that is studied in India up to matriculation, so I asked them, “Do you think it is a good idea to chop down so many trees?” The hills around here are (were) covered with trees which are being rapidly decimated and sent off to sawmills.
Arms crossed, they just stared at me. No one volunteered a word. I then tried to ask individual students, but with little success. Finally I asked them what they thought an English conversation class meant. I explained that conversation needs to be a dialogue… No, they understood they were there to take notes and I was supposed to be the sole speaker. After a few weeks, I stopped taking the class. It was simply too hard.
Let’s start them young! has become my motto.
Even when I have a weekly staff meeting with my five local staff members who are currently being trained by me to teach, using very different methods from any other school around, I am still the only speaker. In vain, I ask them if they have anything to add (please, please, even just a tiny, tiny comment). Week after week they smile at me warmly and politely shake their heads. Apparently I am the boss and I have all the answers….!
Even if one of them just said, “You’re doing a great job,” it would make such a difference!!