“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you have to keep moving”
At times like this the title of a book written by an outstanding racing cyclist, largely about his brother, an even better rider and three times winner of the Tour De France comes to mind. “Tomorrow We Ride,” was a phrase shared by Jean and Louison Bobet every day as they prepared for the many races that they rode and often won in the 1950s, and was used as the title of the book that has become a classic for the cycling tifosi, riders and fans around the world. It is the title of the book, rather than the story it tells that came to mind this evening as along with my colleagues we put the final touches to our preparations to teach here in Bangalore tomorrow.
Working here always feels a little like a ride. Maybe not the pushing on the pedals, leaning over the handlebars flat out lung bursting exhilaration of racing on a bicycle, but more like a wild, tumbling, helter-skelter dash into the exciting and always unpredictable challenge of ensuring a positive experience for our students, in a situation that is often outside of our comfort zone. When I say “our” comfort zone, what I actually mean is that of myself and my colleague Mary who have come to India from the UK as guests in a country that we both love but continue to struggle in our efforts to understand. I am sure for Jayashree and Johnson, this is less of an issue.
I suppose it might be assumed that after nearly forty years’ experience of teaching, delivering a couple of MA modules should be as simple as falling off a bike. (I have had this latter experience and believe me it is not to be recommended). Actually I always find myself a little apprehensive before every session that I teach – outwardly I hope I appear calm and in control, but I can assure you that there is a lot of splashing taking place beneath the surface. But here in Bangalore there is an added frisson to the task in hand. This relates not so much to the subject content or the preparation of resources; it certainly has nothing to do with confidence in my colleagues with whom it is a privilege to work. The apprehensions I feel are far more related to undertaking this work in India, where the educational experiences of our students, the expectations of those who have previously been their tutors and the methods by which they have been taught are so different from our own educational journeys.
Addressing questions of inclusion in someone else’s country, in a culture that is so different from that in which my own thinking has been shaped, and with teachers whose lives are so different from my own, requires a significant degree of adjustment and understanding. How to approach the teaching in a manner that is respectful and inclusive has always been the question to the forefront of my mind. The horror stories I have heard about “wise men” from the west arriving on these shores to instruct teachers in the ways that they should teach, leave me cold and add to my apprehensions. How then should we approach tomorrow and every other day that we are here? This is a question I have pondered for the past fifteen years during which I have worked with colleagues here in India and still I seek the best answer which may enable me to strike the right note.
The nearest I can come to a solution is to approach every teaching session as a learner as well as a tutor. By listening to the students with whom we work, and trying to appreciate their stories; by respecting their interpretations of the ideas we ourselves express, and through an effort to immerse ourselves in the rich culture in which these teachers live and work, we may hope to create a learning environment in which we can all share. I am sure, like teachers everywhere, there will be times when we get things wrong. When this happens, I hope that our students will have the confidence to tell us and help us to learn.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I will retire to bed tonight, hopeful of a good night’s sleep. Because “tomorrow we ride” and I can guarantee that over the next couple of weeks we will climb many hills together, hopefully gain some free wheeling down the other side and cross the finishing line feeling that we have given our all and ridden a good race. I look forward to working over the next fortnight with good colleagues and with students old and new as we endeavour to ensure that we are inclusive in all that we do through this great learning experience.