Here we are approaching week 4 of the second semester and it is probably about time to say something about teaching again. Given that it is really the whole purpose for being here and that it occupies almost every waking minute of 5 and a half days a week, a lot has been going on in that domain for both of us.
Having begun the new semester with an extensive analysis of the very disappointing exam results and a one week blanket extension on the summer break assignment no-one attempted, with the class XI students I decided to follow up with the first ever text I have not taken from their course book. There is an innate fear and loathing of poetry and it was almost without exception the section of the exam in which everyone scored the worst. With this in mind, I chose what I though would appeal to their sense of respect and responsibility nurtured by the Buddhist doctrine of the country and what I believe to be an inspirational piece of writing by a young American poet. If you don’t already know it check out Jonathon Reed’s “Lost Generation” on youtube; http://youtu.be/MWSYPDh7O5Q
It is palandromic and as such presents a very grim view of the current generation of young people and their future when read in one direction. This totally pessimistic perspective however is completely spun on its head after the palindrome is exposed. We discussed the bleak outlook and the views of the poet and set to trying to discover the “trick” in it. I left this conundrum with 3 separate classes and was delighted that 2 of them found it. The true joy came when it was then re-read with the optimistic perspective taking the stage. As the lights went on for those who had at first not seen it smiles broke out all around the classroom. Spontaneous discussions erupted and questions flew. Isn’t this what teaching is meant to be about?
The oral presentations that followed were an eye-opener for me. Now armed with 2 diametrically opposed views of youth and their future they needed to form groups to present the poem and follow up with some analysis of what they understood it to mean and how it related to them and Bhutan. In all 3 classes there was an even spit between those who presented the optimistic perspective and those who painted it black. I was surprised that all that exuberance and commitment to GNH and responsibilities their country and king have placed on their shoulders that emerges with monotonous regularity, didn’t translate into an overwhelmingly optimistic outlook on the future!
My naïveté perhaps.
Nevertheless they did some outstanding presentations and many spoke with more confidence and self-assurance than I would have dreamed possible just 5 short months ago. They shocked themselves by having fun with poetry and surprised me with some very insightful responses. For those who were really game I filmed them and they got to see themselves speaking in front of their peers for the first time. Not everyone was up for this final display of confidence and I left each group to decide for themselves but for those who gave it a shot it was a really worthwhile exercise. They certainly never tire of watching themselves and pointing out their own mistakes and weaknesses.
Just 2 short days later it was back to the textbook and another poem to keep the ball rolling! The response of “This one is easy Mam,” speaks volumes to me. Maybe we should set the text aside a bit more often….