Day 12: Thursday, 1 August, 2019
Maggie Dougherty, United States
Most days in my class at Jarahieh start out the same way, with my kids spilling into our classroom after their sports period, a collective mass of movement and eagerness. After the students take their seats, we start the day with some routine warm-up questions in English: “What is your name? How old are you? Where are you from?” The students’ answers roar back at us. They grow louder at each question, finally shouting with great pride, “I am from Syria!” It is easy to forget the bigger picture sometimes when you’re in class—they’re kids just like any kids you know: silly, goofy, eager to please and to learn. Each day, hearing “I am from Syria!” ring strongly through my classroom grounds me to reality, if just for a moment.
Then our class shifts into theater-mode as we lead the students through a session of acting out English antonym pairs and action verbs. Big! Small! Run! Dance! Cry! Laugh! Climb! The students oblige us, panting as they throw their energy into the exercise.
They sit, and before we can even start our lesson there is usually a call to check on our class flowers. Planted early in the first week, we now have 4 seeds sprouted. I carry them around, and the students inspect the progress, counting the number of plants to make sure no new ones have appeared yet.
Now almost two weeks in, our classroom is decorated with the art from past crafts. In the middle of our back wall is a bright orange poster covered with red handprints that we made as a class in the first week. On both sides of it, you can find lines of paper sheep, covered in fluffy cotton, or woven paper fish, along with drawings students have made of themselves and the things they like. The centerpiece of our room is a string of paper lanterns that stretches across the center of the room, each lantern created by one of our students. I think it’s a great reminder of the beauty that results when the students are able to make something creative as a group.
The lanterns, each uniquely decorated, also remind me of the students’ individual differences. I know that when I lead a lesson or ask the kids to do an activity, there are some who will not be interested at first. While the majority of my kids are extremely passionate and want to try every activity, there are some who need a little more attention and convincing. However, as we get to know the kids more, we better understand their interests and restrictions. Many of my kids want to create something with their hands, to show a physical manifestation of their success. Some want to clean up the classroom when it’s messy to receive praise for how hardworking they are. Others just need an activity explained differently in order to understand and enjoy it. No matter what motivates them, seeing the kids engaged and happy is incredibly rewarding and makes me so grateful for this opportunity to get to know them.