I waited eagerly for the school to begin. I was eager to take my class and start my work; eager to put my new plan into practice; eager to bring about peace and order in the class; eager to make classroom teaching interesting and win over my pupils. I felt my pulse throbbing.
The bell rang. The boys entered their classes. The headmaster took me to my class and introduced me to the pupils.
“Listen boys!” he said. “Henceforth, Mr. Laxmiram here, will be your class teacher. You must obey his orders and no pranks and mischief, I warn you!”
I looked at the children who were to be my charges for the next twelve months. I could see some of them smiling; some winking at each other; a few nodded stiffly. One or two stared at me in mock wonder; the rest stood looking totally unconcerned.
I looked on. “These are the children I have to teach; this strange mischievous lot!’ I thought to myself. I was a little unnerved; but I recovered. ‘Nothing to worry about,’ I told myself, ‘I will take them on by and by’.
I returned home a little dejected.
‘It seems the task is quite difficult,’ I said to myself as I sat down. ‘In fact, it’s going to be a really tough test. Well, no matter! I am not going to give up. I should have known one doesn’t play by the game of silence in this manner. In Montessori school a lot of preparatory work is done before the game is taken up. I was a fool to take it up on my very first day! I should have got to know my pupils and established a rapport with them. Only then would they listen to me and follow my instructions. These boys do not like the school and they want holidays! It is no easy task to work with them.’
I prepared a plan of work for the next day and went to bed. I passed the night dreaming of the day’s happenings and the next day’s work.
Next day I was at school when the gates opened. The boys crowded around me. “Sir,” they cried. “Why not have a holiday today also? Please, Sir, a day off today also.”
“All right,” I said. “I will let you off today; not for the whole day but only for two hours. However, you will first listen to a story that I am going to tell you. We shall discuss other matters afterwards.”
I began my story: “Once there was a king. He had seven queens. Each queen had a prince and a princess…”
The boys sat down around me to hear the story. There was some commotion and shoving. So I said, “Boys, this is not right. Sit around in an orderly manner.”
That brought about some order. They said, “Sir, please continue the story. What happened next?”
I smiled and picked up the thread. “Each of the seven princess had a palace of her own. There were, in the garden of each palace, seven trees of pearls…”
The boys listened with rapt attention. The whole class was quiet; not a sound or movement anywhere. The absolute silence surprised the headmaster as he came to the class to find what the matter was. He asked me, “Are you telling a story?”
“Yes,” I said, “a story, and a new kind of game of silence.”
The headmaster turned back. I continued with the story. There was some noise in the neighbouring class. I drew the pupils’ attention to it. “See how this noise disturbs us!” All the boys agreed.
Halfway through the story I stopped. “Tell me,” I said to my pupils, “If you want a holiday, we shall stop here now. If not, we may continue with the story.”
“Please continue the story; we don’t want the day off,” they answered – everyone of them.
I took up the library project after about eight or ten days. I had told the boys many stories. They were in Standard Four. It was time they had books to read.
I told the boys, “Bring money for the language text-book and the history text-book. We shall arrange everything here.”
But the next day, one of the boys came with the text-books for language and history. “My father had bought them for me right on the day our results were declared,” he said.
Another boy said, “I have also brought the books. They were my elder brother’s books.”
A third boy said, “I am not going to buy books here. My uncle is going to send them to me from Bombay.”
One boy said, “My father refuses to give money to me. He says he will buy the text-books for me.
‘Bowled over,’ I said to myself. ‘Setting up a library was quite easy to imagine. Doing it is quite another thing!’
Some boys had brought money. I accepted the money from them and gave them receipts. Next day, the boys came asking for their text-books.
I said, “I have bought these story books for you from the money collected from you. You had said that you would like to read stories, so I have bought story books.” The boys were happy to see the illustrated books with colourful jackets. There was a scramble for the books.
“Look here,” I said. “We have at present only fifteen books. Fifteen boys will be able to read. The remaining twenty will come to me and hear what I read.”
To avoid confusion, I added, “The first fifteen boys will pick up the books; the others will come to me.”
The first fifteen boys picked up the books and began to read. I said, “As soon as a boy finishes reading a book, he should return it to my table and should pick up another one which may be there. In this way, every one of you will be able to read all the books.”
I called the others to my table and began ‘model reading’ from a story book. I read with proper modulation of voice and proper accent. But what a noise those fifteen boys made, reading aloud all together! I stopped and told them, “Boys, please read silently. We are disturbed by your loud reading.”
The boys lowered their voices, but they had not learnt silent reading. They could only read aloud. They kept their voices low for a while and then lapsed into loud reading. I asked them to sit in the verandah and spread out a little. I remained in the classroom.
The ‘model reading’ went on. The story was specially chosen. All the children listened with interest. So ‘model reading’ and the reading by pupils went on till the bell rang for the day, and we all went home.
Excerpts from Divaswapna – An Educator’s Reverie, by Gijubhai Badheka, Translated by Chittaranjan Pathak; Published by National Book Trust, India