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The Opportunity of Silence

Last week something occurred where I was able to implement a principle of education I had recently discovered and which I now thoroughly believe in, and that is that students learn best when they speak.

There is something powerful about the ability to clearly articulate the thoughts that are buzzing around in one’s mind; how making the effort to convey an idea through words and symbols does something neurologically significant in fostering the growth of one’s brain; and I realized that as a teacher it is my responsibility to ensure that all my students have this opportunity.

Little did I know that Friday how such an opportunity would manifest itself unexpectedly and almost unfavorably.

I arrived at school ready to instruct anyone and everyone who desired to enter my classroom. But something was different that day. In fact, it was so different that I couldn’t hardly articulate it, for the difference was had to do with my very speech.

After running a quick internal analysis of my respiratory system I discovered an unclassifiable obstruction located in or around the larynx. Or was it the trachea? Perhaps both?—the point is, I had a sore throat. But not just any sore throat. It was the type of sore throat so hostile to the body that it simply embraced every force that dared to oppose its design.

Each attempt to clear my throat was met with indifference. Vocal dynamics were subdued. Even a simple hum could not fashion itself amidst the internal conflict. Effort was futile. No voice could be found.

Okay I could speak a little bit, though the sound of my voice was so hoarse and unintelligible I think everyone would’ve preferred to listen to the sound of marbles crashing around in a blender.

But still, I wasn’t about to worsen my condition. So, I could either whisper really loud, or not talk at all.

By the time I had entered the arena that is my first grade class I decided it would be best not to compete, so silent I remained.

The class began as noisy as usual, greeting me with their most vociferous and lengthy, “GOOOOD MOOOORRRNNNIIINGGGG TEEAACCHHEERR!”
I then gestured for someone to pray for us which was honored with a normal response. But after a few minutes the class started to notice something was off. And I noticed that they noticed because the students who often find themselves placing their attention everywhere they shouldn’t be were looking intently towards the front of the room where the rest of the class seemed to be receiving their instructions.

As I went from activity to activity my students began to become more and more engaged. The classroom was much quieter, and the level of participation reached an all new high.

No one was whispering to their neighbor or kicking their other neighbor. They had seemingly lost their desire to act like their favorite farm animal, and everyone was eager to help the other.

The most difficult part was trying to lead songs. All I could do was exaggerate the hand motions and hope they would remember the words. But the beautiful thing was that I for once was able to hear what they were understanding from the words of the song. Some of them decided to adlib a little here and there, but overall it was good for them to learn how to conduct themselves on their own and put a little more thought into what they were saying, and it was good for me to know that “spaghetti” can be a difficult word to pronounce sometimes.

By the end of class I felt that the students had learned more that day than on any other day this year. They had to actively engage their brains to figure out what it was I was trying to help them learn, and I could tell that they really enjoyed that class.

As for me I must say that was one of the best days of first grade (if not the best). I really enjoyed class because I could see that my students were learning, actually putting forth effort and speaking more suitably where I would be instead. This may also have been the first time I was able to walk away without a pounding headache and a ringing in my ears.

My voice remained inoperable for the remainder of the day, but I was okay with that. I quickly made friends with lemon tea (a highly effective and not too distasteful tea for anyone who feels a sore throat coming on. Just add two tablespoons of each of these ingredients: vinegar, honey, lemon juice [or from fresh lemons], and a dash of cinnamon to a mug of hot water and experience the sensation of your sore throat melting away. Of course, depending on the nature of your sore throat you may need to have it more than once.

But anyhow, if ever I feel a sore throat coming on I know that I can make the most of it for the sake of those I am teaching, unless of course I have to preach the next day, in which case it’s probably not the best thing for me or my audience.

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