By Rekha Balakrishnan
Why was this story, about a little boy from Portugal, important in my life?
To answer this, we must first meet Harini. She could never sit still. Instead it was the swing outside, which she longingly looked at from the class window, that fascinated her. I didn’t know how to handle her. This frustrated me. And in those days of my teaching career it was ‘me’ that was important since ‘I’ was the one in class doing the most important job- teaching. The students were there to learn.
So, Harini would run off to the swing often, even during my famous story sessions. I decided to ignore her interruptions since I didn’t know what else to do. At the end of my term at that school, I happened to see Harini flipping through the pages of a book I often read in class. I sat near her while she flipped through the pages. She acknowledged my presence by looking up and smiling at me. To me it felt like she had forgiven me for my insensitivity, for completely ignoring her presence in the class. That was a defining moment in my teaching career. All I could do for that little girl by then was to give her the books she seemed to love.
Damien came into my life a little later. By then I had become far more experienced as a teacher and matured as an individual. I realised that he too couldn’t sit during story times. But as I observed him, I noticed that although he seemed inattentive, he could recall details from the story when questions were asked in class. And in his own charming way, he would shout out answers from whichever corner of the room he had decided to sit during the story session. Another aspect that I noticed about Damien was that he did not like changes in class routines. For him, a big part of feeling safe in the class was knowing the class-routine.
He would constantly repeat cartoon dialogues from shows he had watched and although he made eye contact with relative ease, he never answered a question in comprehensible language. His language to show frustration at any change in the routine was to hold my arm, look up and wrinkle his nose and speak some mumbo-jumbo. But as I understood his method of communication, I could reassure him that the change was necessary.
As a teacher these children showed me the need to look at the individual in the class rather than the collective- class A or second grade. Each child had a different temperament, learning style and character. Each was as important as the other.
Now all my fresh classes start with understanding my learners and their learning styles before teaching them the content or a lesson.