By Aryeh Ben David
Published in Ayeka’s newsletter
April 19, 2015
Recently, an Ayeka educator proudly described her successful teenage class dynamic to me.
She said that usually a third of the kids actively participate, a third sometimes participate, and a third remains on the side throughout most of their activities.
I paused, took a chance, and asked her: “When you were that age – which group would you have been in?” She smiled and said: the first group, the active ones.
I hadn’t taken much of a chance. She is a very dynamic and outgoing person. Most teachers are. Most teachers did well in school, received recognition, and thought to become teachers and continue their path of success.
I asked her to reflect for a moment on what she thought it might be like for the kids that sit silently and don’t speak out. I asked her: “What do you think is going through the minds and hearts of those kids, as they sit on the periphery, without a voice? Can you imagine their discomfort, day after day? Do you feel their silent anguish?”
She looked a bit sheepish. As if the questions had not crossed her mind before. I can well understand that. She is a teacher and is concerned with the welfare of the class. And when most of the kids get involved in a program, it is easy to consider the class successful.
I asked her: “The kids who usually don’t say anything in class, do you think that they have nothing to say?”
She said, “No. Of course not. Everyone has something to say. Maybe they are afraid or anxious and don’t want to risk talking in front of everyone. Maybe they’re naturally introverted. Maybe someone once embarrassed them.”
For many years as a teacher I made the tragic mistake of being primarily consumed with the group experience. People would ask me how teaching was going and I would say: “Terrific. We had an amazing discussion yesterday. They were really into it.”
I was intoxicated by the energy of class. But I didn’t fully recognize that the “they” I had been referring to was really only 2/3 of the class.
When we train teachers, we need to dedicate significant time to these issues:
How are you enabling the quiet students to hear their own inner voice? Even if they never talk publicly in the class setting, they need to express what is going on inside them. How are you facilitating that?
Do you feel the discomfort of these students? Do you see them?
Do they feel your love as much as the students who are actively participating and hearing your positive feedback?
In each educational setting there are 2 processes happening simultaneously:
The group experience
The individual experience
Often educators measure their success in light of the first process only – the group dynamic. We need to focus on both levels. The silent students also have a voice; they also have something to say.