Some workshops are memorable just for the right reasons! The workshop in a school in Belgaum, where I was trainer for primary and middle school teachers, was one such experience. The participants were teachers of the English language and other subjects. In such workshops, I sometimes find that the teachers of other subjects such as mathematics, hindi, science, social studies, art and craft and physical education are uninterested or indifferent participants because they feel that the workshop is not for them, even though they use English as a tool to teach their subjects. As teachers, if we are fortunate enough to be exposed to any kind of knowledge that may be beneficial – to us, our students or to our children – we should have the sense and the responsibility to grab it, especially when it comes without a price tag attached to it! We need to acknowledge that no matter what subject we teach, if the medium of instruction is English, then it is mandatory that we equip ourselves with the right kind of English so that children (who most often spend more time with the other subject teachers) pick up correct English, and they do not unnecessarily spend a lot of time unlearning the ungrammatical English that he/she has picked up from someone else; as we all know, unlearning is the most trying and time-consuming exercise.
In the workshop mentioned, an art and craft Sir volunteered to speak about the importance of English. It had such a profound effect both on his fellow teachers and on me that I would like to share his comic narration, which was also very moving.
This happened about 20 years ago on my first day at school as a primary school art and craft teacher in an English medium school. I had no knowledge of English; I didn’t think I needed to know English because I was going to teach the children how to draw. I would be drawing on the board and I would help children pick up drawing skills. I did not foresee that I would need language skills to do this or to do any kind of classroom management!
I walked into the class and I drew an object on the board and indicated to the children to replicate it. There was light chatter in the class, which soon turned to a rumble and then plain noise. Since I was not equipped with the right English vocabulary to make them quiet, I used the familiar, “Sh…”. I said it rapidly, and I also used the prolonged version, but it was to no avail. The students just wouldn’t stop their chatter and the noise level was increasing dangerously. A young girl (who I later discovered was the class monitor) came up to me and asked, “Shall I mind the class?” I am now able to repeat these words to you, but back then, I had no idea what she was saying. So I shooed her away! I then went back to silent acting, hoping to make an impact on the students. The child came to me again, with the same request. Again, I shooed her away. By the time she came to me the third time (yes, what a lovely, relentless child!) I thought to myself, “Let’s see what she means. It couldn’t be worse than what is happening!” So, when she asked me, “Shall I mind the class?”, I nodded. The little girl immediately went around saying the appropriate words and handed a very quiet class back to me. I had learned my first English sentence! I also understood then how important it is for me to learn English. I needed it to teach and manage my students.
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at email@example.com.