Frank Thoms

Each child is a drop of rain

Sep 17, 2023 by Frank Thoms

It’s my first day in my first classroom in my first school. The door flung open. Little ones, seven and eight years old in their blue and brown uniforms, poured in as if in a tsunami. They scrambled to tables and sat in pairs while catching glances at the American. They took out their texts, pens, and paper. About fifteen of them, quiet, waiting, anticipating. Their teacher in back, the American in front.

The teacher handed me the text opening it to the day’s lesson. I perused it enough to begin. I was to ask questions based on the text. I asked my first question. Silence. I asked another. Silence. Another. I see a right hand, angled up, elbow fixed on the desk. I look at my list of names: ‘Alyosha.’ He stands. Rigid. His eyes looking up. Silence. Does he have the answer? I hear a whisper. No answer. More whispers. What is happening here, I ask myself. Another pause. Finally, Alyosha answers. He sits down folding his arms joining his classmates.

When Yuri, Natasha, Dima, Nikita, Yulia, Vika, André…stood and hesitated—even for a few seconds––the whispers came. The longer the hesitation, the louder the whispers becoming a cacophony. When a student could not answer, the teacher would lean forward and join in the prompting and whisper it, loud enough for me to hear. A teacher whispering, too? Impossible, I thought to myself. I never imagined such a thing!

I was flummoxed and fascinated. I pleaded, boy did I plead! “I want to hear from Yuri, please give him time to think.” “Please, please, let Natasha speak, I want to hear her answer.” My pleas fell on fallow ground. The teacher said nothing. This pattern repeated throughout the lesson. That pattern happened at every lesson that first day teaching the younger ones using Soviet pedagogy from Soviet texts.

Later in the week, when observing a Soviet teacher and her class, the whispering persisted. Despite a lot(!) of whispering from classmates, a child still could not answer. I leaned forward…