Lesson 29 on The Value of Peace and Quiet.
One thing that I learnt to value, right from training onwards, was Quiet Time.
Many of my pupils had few enough of such times in their lives. They frequently lived in overcrowded noisy environments, which lacked routine and order. The more troubled pupils were, the more they felt reassured and comforted by a settled pattern of work and activity. At primary level it was possible to build various opportunities for Quiet Time into the day. There was storytime, carpet time, milk and biscuits time, handwriting practice time, Sleeping Lions time in PE. (For those who don’t remember this activity, it is when the whole class has to lie down very still and not move).
It was much more difficult at secondary level, when times of peace and quiet seemed even more necessary. At the convent I came across one initiative in RE. I had to interrupt Sister Catherine’s class one day to deliver an urgent message. When I opened the door the room was in total silence and Sister was sitting benignly gazing out of the window. My first thought was that they must be doing an exam.
“I’m really sorry to interrupt, Sister” I hastily apologised.
“It’s quite all right, dear,” Sister replied placidly. “We’re just having Silent Prayer!” (I think that probably worked best if you wore a nun’s habit).
There was a whole teacher folklore of quiet peaceful things that take a long time. I expect technology has done away with many of them nowadays. Tracing was one. It fulfilled a number of purposes. Firstly everyone could do it. You didn’t need to be talented artistically, you just had to be careful. Secondly it wasn’t particularly messy or dangerous. Lastly it involved cheap materials, just tracing paper and pencils. It didn’t demand a lot of space or equipment. Geography lessons in particular lent themselves to endless tracing of maps, but an inventive teacher could include the activity in various other areas.
Tests were another stand by to achieve concentrated periods of calm. Not nasty end of term serious tests, but short manageable ones that could let people feel pleased with themselves. (Think pub quiz).
I used to love spelling , even when it fell deeply out of educational fashion. You allowed quiet revision time first, then conducted a solemn distribution of identical pieces of paper. Names at the top, then numbers 1 -10 in the margin. The ritual had to be faithfully observed. Each word was read out, then repeated using it in an example sentence. Answer time was strictly limited. Papers had to be ceremonially swapped for marking, then checked and moderated. It was quite a skill to draw up a selection of words that included both easy (but not too babyish) and challenging (but not too disheartening).
My housemate working at the Sec Mod was once totally stumped as to how she could devise a test for her History group. They had been working on Julius Caesar, Hadrian’s Wall and suchlike, with a trip to the fort at South Shields thrown in. The problem was, that although the level of interest had been rewarding, the level of reading and writing skills was very limited, ranging from around Sun readership to pretty much non-existent.. She needed to create something that would allow for success and recognition of effort, but at the same time enable a fair distribution of merit.
In the end we came up with a task that would meet all these requirements. It was “Draw a Roman Soldier”. Extra marks would be awarded for neatness and for labelling the various items of soldierly apparel and equipment.
That afternoon’s lesson was a perfect model of peace and calm.