“Mr. Michael, I want you to take this with you to your house.”
Ranim, a girl from my class of 9-11 year olds, said this to me today at the end of our lesson. We’d spent the morning colouring in various animals and the places where they live and finished off by writing sentences about them in English: ‘The fish lives in the sea,’ ‘The cow lives on the farm,’ ‘The monkey lives in the jungle’ and so on. Ranim managed to write five different sentences all by herself and when she gave me her animal collage at the end of the lesson I felt a sense of satisfaction, and got the impression that she did too.
Today was my third day volunteering at Jusoor’s school in Beirut. The school is located in the neighbourhood of Tariq al-Jdideh, a working class quarter packed with cafés, bakeries, charging mopeds and local and Syrian people going about their day. In short – teeming with life, and a macrocosm of the staff and students at the school.
It’s not a normal school. Many of the children are traumatised and know nothing of the norms for classroom behaviour that are so familiar to the rest of us. Fistfights between students are common, moments of complete calm rare. We were given three days of well-organised and thought-provoking training by the Jusoor team after our arrival. But for those of us who – like me – have no prior teaching experience, standing in front of your new class feels rather like looking over the edge of the deep end of the pool on your first ever swimming lesson. The learning curve for children and teachers alike seems to be steep.
My Syrian co-teacher, Rwaida, mentioned to me recently that the students had found it difficult so far to put English sentences together in writing or in speech. During last week’s introductory days, Mohammed, Jusoor’s project manager, mentioned that the team had chosen the structure of the volunteer programme in part because of a belief in its lasting impact on the students. Today, when Ranim gave me her collage and five sentences, I understood what he meant.
Michael Barrett, 34, United Kingdom/Denmark