“Silence brings you close to the fruit that words cannot express.” St. Isaac the Syrian
I began my career as a ‘noisy’ teacher, believing my job was to speak and provide opportunities for my students to speak. Time at school was meant to be filled with purposeful and meaningful learning activities and conversations that I planned for my active and engaged students. Silence was imposed when necessary for learning activities to be completed, or simply for my own sanity when overwhelmed by the vocal demands of 26 six year olds for five hours, five days a week. But these were meaningless silences, and full of the noise of my teacher agenda.
I don’t think I was the only noisy teacher. There is a discomfort with silence in education. We seem to fear it as much as radio broadcasters. There is the sense that it is “dead educational air”. We don’t trust or even really believe that there is something of value to be revealed in silence. Many of us rarely take the plunge into the ‘eternal sea of silence’ ourselves. We forget that true encounter, perfect communion, is only possible in a silence that flows from love – “Be still and know that I am God.” We forget what a pedagogical gift silence can be. We forget to trust that our students can listen and receive and then offer from greater depth. We forget that silence is the language of heaven, the cradle of incarnation.
If I weren’t such a noisy teacher and offered my students more silence and moments to float in stillness, they would get to hear more voices than mine and each others. Their attentiveness would increase as they became used to being rather than doing and experienced, again and again, the reality of embodiment in this beautiful, good, complex, and suffering world. They would see things anew, ask better questions, and find their unique place in a web of relationship. Their hearts and worlds would be enlarged, and their egos made small in the humility of interdependence and communion. They may even find themselves overwhelmed with inexpressible gratitude and compassion. Most of all they would know that they are not alone for this is the true paradox of silence – it is noise that makes us lonely, separates us, fragments us, distracts us, and it is silence that reconnects us, integrates us, transforms us and deepens us.
If only I weren’t still such a noisy teacher.
by Kimberly Franklin