Yesterday, my first graders worked on an art project that took much longer to complete than I'd anticipated. They colored a page of patterns, then cut the pieces out and glued them to a paper sack to make a gingerbread house gift sack. It took over an hour just to color the page!
They meticulously used colored pencils and crayons to color the gumdrops and peppermint sticks, sugar candy windows and doors, and icing rooftops. They used scissors to carefully cut out the gingerbread people and candy cane trees, and then they creatively arranged and glued their pieces to their sacks.
I watched their expressions of determination and pride while they worked independently to create masterpieces that would delight themselves -- their smiles and nods and sweet expressions told me they enjoyed the task.
What I didn't anticipate was the quiet. The peaceful quiet that engulfed my room on a day when most classrooms are filled with the giddy anticipation of holiday parties and Winter Break. A day teachers have come to dread: classrooms filled with children overstimulated from holiday activities and sweets and the inevitable rowdy behavior that accompanies this day.
Instead, my classroom was filled with tranquil silence, only interrupted by an occasional cough or whisper of "Pass me the red". I relished that time. And I reflected.
My principal came by briefly, and after his initial surprise and raised eyebrows at finding a classroom where children were intently on task, he proceeded to "stir the pot" by exciting my students to tell him if they'd been naughty or nice. The silence was broken.
I thought it strange that he felt it necessary to distract my students and break the beautiful silence that we'd experienced for nearly an hour with what I thought was unnecessary silliness. But it reminded me that most people are uncomfortable with silence and think that it is merely a void that needs to be filled. We're accustomed to filling silence with idle chatter, music, TV, and other background noise. We somehow equate fun with noise and boredom with silence. Those perceptions are neither true nor appropriate.
I never realized how nice silence can be until I was forced to endure it when I lost my hearing. Being unable to hear made me come to peace with the quiet -- uneasy at first, but now I know how necessary it is. Not just for me. It is necessary for everyone. It brings calm and peace and important health benefits, as well. I admit that I look forward to taking my hearing devices off at night so I can turn the noisy world off.
In the silence of my classroom yesterday, my students experienced engagement, creativity, accomplishment, and pride. They didn't need conversation, background music, or other noisy-ness to fill a void because there was nothing to fill. Silence is not a void. It is not awkward. It is not weird. It is not uncomfortable.
It is beautiful, friends. Make peace with it.