Books and us

Nimesh Ved and Anshumalika Rai

We have written about our journey with books in our school in the July 2020 and February 2022 issues of Teacher Plus. In this article, the final in the series, we move beyond the rooms and walls. We look at ourselves.

The only way to grow is by looking inwards – Tim Noonan

We sensed the need to visit and observe other book places to broaden our horizons. Things fell in place and we secured a membership of the library at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) at Sarnath. To say that this library is different from the book room in our school is an understatement; be it the objectives, the collection it houses, systems in place, or the aesthetics. A love for books, however, is common to both spaces and this has enabled us to learn from the practices at the library and strive to bring in improvements in our book room.

Besides books on philosophy and religion, the library has a rich collection on travel and literature. The manuscripts brought from Tibet had us in awe while the scanners of different ages, stored long after they had stopped scanning, left us amused. During one of the initial visits, a notice got us thinking, “Please do not put the books back on the rack”! As our visits increased so did our conversations with the people there, and like it does at many places, tea helped fuel these conversations. We visit the place every month and also borrow books.

Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities – R. David Lankes

Similarly, every other month, we visit a bookstore in town. Here we get to see, touch, and smell books that have been recently published. We also come across books, published earlier, that we had no idea of. Books on arts and our country take significant space on the shelves. And we bump into people who read these books. Here too, the boat of conversations sails happily on the river of books. Especially with the owner who is a store-house of stories on books and people!

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Repeated visits to these places and an occasional visit to bookstores at Allahabad have not only had us learn about books, talk about them, and read them; they have also helped us make friends. Friends who love books.

We have also begun to review books, together. One of us is closer to Hindi and the other to English. We try to access these books in both these languages. By the time we reach the final draft of the review we can sense our language skills smiling at us. The process which entails reading alone, reading together, re-reading, agreeing, disagreeing, and discussing these children’s books has been an invigorating one. Discussions on these books many a time veer to our conversations with children; they help us look afresh at some of these conversations.

Books have also made us more adventurous. We had been investing time, during the language classes, with books from the book room. Some time ago we decided to go a step ahead and make these books a part of the curriculum. This made them a part of the examinations as well! This warranted both us and the children to venture out of our comfort zones. Generous doses of course corrections came in as we planned and implemented the shift. Today we realize that this journey has helped us shift our focus from analyzing children’s performance to ours. Our questions too have changed: Which activities (at the book room) are more effective? Which books interest children more? How should we shape our book room? And, of course, what changes we need to bring in ourselves? We are now able to assess ourselves better.

Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside – Neil Gaiman

When it comes to activities that we take up with colleagues at schools, language sessions take the cake. These sessions, in English and Hindi, are planned based on the school’s needs. They include loud reading and deliberations on the topic. What we read and deliberate on is selected after giving ample thought. The idea, at the end of the day, is to enable colleagues to engage more meaningfully with children. Poetry and discussions on gender and sexuality too have gotten a boost from books.

There have been challenges and frustrations as well. New colleagues joined the school, and by reason of their teaching languages, became a part of the book room. They came from schools that teach languages in a relatively conventional fashion. The activities at the book room, during their initial days, many a time, left them flummoxed and bewildered. Engaging them, one step at a time, has slowly but surely, encouraged them to bring in a shift in their thinking and actions. At the same time, some of their questions have helped us identify and plug gaps in our actions.

Stock taking and maintenance of records have brought in more than a few moments of frustration. We have been able to involve children in some steps. The entire process however has taken significantly more time than we envisaged and questions, to which we are yet to find satisfactory answers, still confront us. However, when the excel files begin to get stubborn and make our lives difficult, we get back to the books!

We have also written about our journey with books, including this article. This has had us revisit our actions with a magnifying lens and on more than a few occasions left us pleasantly surprised. When things fall in place it feels good. More about this some other day.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect – Anaïs Nin

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