“Welcome” back to school

It’s been quite a summer. The completion of the biggest democratic exercise in the world, a new (old) government in place, political shifts in some parts of the country…and of course soaring temperatures of the kind we have not seen before. But this last fact, unfortunately, is something that we remark on every year even as we prepare ourselves for worse times to come. From extreme heat to unseasonal rain, agrarian distress to unplanned urban growth, loss of green cover to alarming loss of biodiversity, it’s not a pretty picture of the future that we can draw for our children.

Yet. Yet. Life – as it is – goes on and there is work to be done, things that need to be addressed in the present that could, possibly, mitigate the perils of that future.

We need to turn our thoughts away from the world at large and all its problems to the smaller, more contained worlds we build for ourselves and our wards. These are the spaces we co-create (in the words of Sharmila Govande, in this issue) and learn within. The idea for this cover theme came (as many of our ideas do) from a casual conversation in the Teacher Plus office that turned into a brainstorm. We wondered: what is it about spaces that make us feel like we belong, that encourage us to take ownership and participate? What kinds of environments take us in, and conversely, which signal that we must stay out? Which walls enfold and which ones shut out? Which conventions – visible and invisible – help us find ourselves with gentle nudges and which ones force us into uncomfortable shapes that we must suffer for a lifetime?

These are big questions, and ones that cannot be answered in a couple of thousand words and a few pages, but as is the nature of things at the magazine, we decided to take one small step towards understanding them. How can we, as teachers and makers of learning environments, organize our classrooms so that they invite rather than threaten? We may not always have control over the physical structures we work within, but where possible, can we bring in colour and light? But we do have control over our person, at the very least. So how do we organize ourselves – our faces, voices, bodies, and our words – so that we welcome and nurture, rather than admonish and constrain? We can ask of ourselves: Do we smile enough? Are our voices friendly or fearsome? Do we lean away from or lean towards our students?

Raising the questions is the easy part, but it is a beginning to thinking differently. If the worlds we can control (to some extent) can be made friendlier and more caring, then there’s a possibility that we can take that attitude to the outside, as well.

Oh, and before I forget…this issue marks the completion of 30 years of Teacher Plus! It’s been a remarkable journey, shared by some remarkable people who have pushed us to think in different ways, and learn so much in the process. We embark on our fourth decade with deep appreciation for those continued relationships – thank you readers, contributors, and all manner of supporters!

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