Silences in Teaching

Les voix du silence dans l’académie

Clarissa P. Green

I had a teacher who understood synapses.
She used timing like a trapeze artist.

Every class began and ended in silence.
At nine o’clock she turned on the slide projector,
walked up the tiered steps,
locked the auditorium door.

The watchful eyes of 200 students,
sitting at wooden desks, followed her return to the screen
where she stood, an eerie silhouette,
in front of a 12-foot image.

At first we hated her for
     taking our time
     locking the door
     insisting we sit in silence.
We felt sent to our rooms,
punished with the click of heavy metal lock
the slap of her leather shoes on concrete
her faceless profile in front of the slide.
“Dracula’s wife!”
“Frankenstein’s’ daughter!”
We hissed to each other.
“It’s only a 100-level survey course!
No wonder she’s single!”

In the dark room her voice
hushed in the glow of Gothic windows,
caressed the draping of Michelangelo’s Madonna,
wavered with Van Gogh’s uncomfortable skies
quietly urged us,
 “Art cannot speak for itself,
its language must emerge within us.”

And posed carefully sculpted questions
that invitingly hung in the silence.

By midterm she had taught us
          to pause           wait           connect
image to retina, brain, heart:
medium texture colour shape
size content symbol
context personality health and family of artist
 politics meaning.

Our minds
sorting through
every strategy designed
to expand our knowledge, our love
of art.

At the end of the hour she returned us to silence:
a final slide
an invitation to
read, think, wonder          then
the slap of shoes, click of
door unlocked.
She always thanked us for
honouring the artists who made her class possible
as we left.