Day 17: Thursday, August 8, 2019
Vivian Zhang, United States
As we finish off our penultimate day at Jeb Jannine, I find myself feeling prematurely nostalgic for the days in classroom 10. The last two weeks have been survival mode, an ongoing churn of planning lessons, buying supplies, making sample projects, and preparing demonstrations. In these final days, there’s now time and experience for reflection.
I wrote over 30 pages of curriculum before setting foot in Lebanon. I had visions of teaching a series of lessons based on one of my favorite books, The Little Prince, and doing a number of science experiments which embody foundational concepts in physics and chemistry. I used rigorous planning to combat my nervous-excitement for teaching students of an age group I’ve never worked with and who speak a language I don’t share.
In the end, I only used about 6 pages from my initial plans, less than 20%. When I entered into my classroom on day 1 and blew through the first 40 minutes of my carefully laid out plans in less than 10 due to language barriers, I rapidly realized that verbal communication was going to be an ineffective means for teaching, even with the aid of translation. Our discussions would have to take place through body language, miming, facial expressions, artistic expression, and collaboration. Once I realized that I needed to convey my ideas to my students through these forms, I also became more sensitive to reading the same indications to understand their thoughts.
It is astounding to me how much the students and I have been able to accomplish together with little shared verbal vocabulary. Yesterday, we did a full science day, nearly 2.5 hours of lemon volcanoes, lava lamps, edible alginate spherification, and the classic mentos and coke demonstration. Today, they made catapults and built towers out of marshmallows, straws, and tape. They absolutely love to get their hands dirty, learning the nuances of science and engineering through personal explorations with the materials we provide. They’ve done brilliantly in understanding concepts that would be hard enough to learn in a native language. They’ve also conveyed a trust in me—whenever I call their attention to explain our next activity, they follow my guidance even when they don’t understand the end goal yet because I can’t verbally tell them. This to me has been deeply humbling.
The walls of the classroom are a lovely reflection of the organized chaos of their learning process. The students hang their own work and as a result, nothing like is grouped together. From pasta art scenes to illustrations of Syrian proverbs, the collage represents their musings, their aspirations, their creativity, and their perceptions of identity. I’ve loved giving them new mediums to play with. They inevitably figure out how to use the materials in ways I didn’t instruct them to, but that show their innovative natures.
For the last 14 camp days, the students have journaled their favorite memories on colored strips of paper. Tomorrow, I’ll return them so they can make paper chains, a tangible representation of their stepwise progress. There will be no easy way to say goodbye, but a souvenir of their accomplishments and the fun we’ve had in our time together seems like a good way to go out. I won’t have a paper chain to bring back with me. Instead, I take with me the gratitude of being invited into this wonderful community of teachers, students, and staff. While I find myself saddened to leave, I also know that Jusoor will continue to thrive far beyond my short tenure here and that it’s time for me to do the same.