The most beautiful thing about a classroom is the unpredictability of a situation that awaits you there every time you walk into it. The more you insist on making it predictable, you douse the creative possibility and the myriad miracles lurking there or you lose an opportunity you could probably have used for a fruitful day, an epiphany.  While working at a Kendriya Vidyalaya in West Bengal, I had to teach the poem, ‘A Little Grain of Gold’, prescribed for Class XI in their English textbook. It was taken from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. This poem has always been read and taught focusing on the repentance of a selfish beggar and his revelation of the infinite grace of the Almighty. The beggar who waits by the roadside is full of hope seeing the king on a golden chariot coming towards him. But when the king asks him, “What have you got to give me?” he is taken aback.

He reluctantly gives the tiniest grain from his day’s collection and looks in disbelief at the king. In the evening when he opens his bundle, he breaks down seeing a tiny grain of gold. He is filled with self-contempt for not having offered everything he had! I was teaching the poem summing it up as the mysterious ways of the divine and the narrow- mindedness of the beggar and the spiritual poverty among many of us. But that day when I walked into the classroom, I never knew that the Babel tower of interpretation I was desperately building would collapse by a single question from a student.

Understanding concepts

“Where is the proof in the poem that the little grain of gold is the outcome of the blessing of the king? Don’t you think that it is a mere assumption?” This question at once exposed the futility of the interpretation I was trying to drive home.

Wow! Beautiful! The gaps in the poem came into view. We clapped for Madhumita who had asked the question and the whole class came alive triggered by the new dimension of approaching the poem. The centre of an argument that persisted all these years has been thwarted by her. We discussed the poem from a social, cultural, political and religious point of view. Though she did not anticipate this, Madhumita was happy that she could set the whole class on a new path.

That evening when I walked back home, I marked it as one of the most memorable days in my life as a teacher. I have always shared it with my colleagues, students and friends that it is the not the teacher alone who inspires a student but many students inspire a teacher, too, with their creativity and unconditioned thinking.

A classroom is not a mere concrete entity, but of teachers and students who make it. It becomes a volatile space if it does not allow space for reconstructive ideas and creative discourses between teacher and students.

It is a misconception that the teacher is the centre of the classroom. Neither the teacher nor the learner, but the discourse is the centre of the classroom. The rigid, classical approach with a strict hierarchy and power structure maintained by a teacher disrupts this discourse and turns out to be teacher-centred. It also tries to emulate a mainstream power hierarchy seen in the society, thus leading to creating marginalised sections and ideas in the classroom. The classroom is and has to be a democratic space. The seeds of democratic thinking need to be sown in the classroom.

The teacher acts as a mere catalyst in the creative experiment going on in the classroom. He or she needs to participate, and not dictate, in the experiment, actively or passively. A teacher should shed a puritanical approach in dealing with errors committed by a child in cognitive outputs like tests, seminars, etc., because an error is not in the present.

It is the accumulated outcomes of the issues that contributed to it over the years like the domestic environment, social influences, peer interaction, the effectiveness of the communication of teachers, etc.

Therefore, one person alone cannot be penalised for it. And, it is not a single teacher who walks into a classroom but many, and each one has a different influence on the child. What one does can be undone by another.

Multiple ways

Therefore, teachers need to enter a class with plans but not with preconceived notions. At the same time, they should be ready to devise new, spontaneous strategies when plans fail. A classroom is a text written and read by the the teacher and the student and there can be multiple ways of reading it.

If you are open to the new readings by students, you will come out refreshed. Be spontaneous and you will discover miracles every time you are there with those vibrant minds. Remember, you can’t step into the same classroom twice! by Santhosh Kana (published in the Deccan Herald supplement DH Education on 17.01.2019) Click on the link below to read the article on DH Education page: https://www.deccanherald.com/you-can-t-step-same-classroom-713343.html