Monday, January 17, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 22 "1st Day of School"

Asalamu Alaykom,

All of the preparations were never really going to be enough---not enough to fight off the H1N1 and not enough to handle a room of four-year-olds being away from home for the first time.

I had imagined it differently.

I thought that the children in the American school would AMERICAN!  Or if not fully American, I thought they would be maybe mixed kids (like my own) from American moms married to Egyptian dads.  Or maybe these kids in my class would be from Egyptians who had lived for some time in America and wanted their kids to also be Westernized.

Oddly, none of these imagined classroom demographics turned out to be a reality.  On the first day of school, I realized that I had a room of very scared children from Arabic speaking homes who knew NO ENGLISH.  This was English immersion, or the equivalent of throwing the non-swimmers into the deep end of the pool and hoping for the best.

Alhumdulillah, I have had training.  Alhumdulillah, I had plenty of experience.  I also had some serious determination.  I could not fail.  I needed to prove that I was worthy of that plane ticket.  I also needed to prove that the last job in America, which I quit, was an anomally and not the norm.  I could be a successful classroom teacher despite all odds.

There were the quiet children who only smiled.

There was the boy who said, "Hello," alot.

There was a lot of, "Miss!"  "Miss!"  "Miss!"

There were the two little boys who entered screaming and flailing with more or less a shove from an older woman.  They were completely beside themselves and wouldn't even stay in the room.  The smaller one looked like he was casing the joint for a way to escape.  The stockier, curly headed brother or cousin (I wasn't sure which) took to peeing on himself---twice. 

And just when I thought I could handle a room of 15 kids, another one would be brought in crying and screaming.  That made 16.  I was told that one of the kids from the other room would be changed into our room.  Up to 17.  Had to make new name tags but couldn't.

Oh, and the young lady who was going to be my assistant had to get switched out at the last minute since a teacher quit.  So, I was working with a woman I'd never met before.  She was cute-ing it up with the kids, as Egyptians do and I had to ask her to stay more low key, if she could. 

Well, all that was with many of the parents still in the room.  Yes, the turmoil of seperation was going to get more intense as I asked the parents to start saying goodbye.  More clinging.  More prying off their little fingers.  I made a lot of promises that everything would be alright and meant each one. 

Years before, I had been one of those parents when I dropped my own girlie off at Montessori pre-school.  My four-year-old had thrown a complete meltdown temper tantrum to the point if I wondered if it was worth a paycheck to put her (and me) through hell.  Later, when I came to pick her up, she didn't want to leave.

"Honey-Boo," I broached the subject gently,"you aren't crying now....why is that?"

"Mom," she responded matter-of-factly, "no one can cry forever!"

It's really true.  After only one day, that nice lady helping out decided not to stay.  The second one quit as well (mostly because of those two horribly challenging boys). I tried to remember that this hard time wouldn't last forever.

Nothing does last forever.

I had to ask adminstration about my toughest pupils.  What was up with those boys?!  Were they brothers or cousins or what?  Turns out that they were cousins whose parents were all killed in a car accident.  Egypt has 8,000 automobile fatalities a year.  They were orphans taken in by relatives; that older woman and her husband (a well-known political figure).  I had to step away from the conversation so I didn't cry.  I had no idea. 

All the time I had treated them with kindness and respect was the right approach.   I hadn't known how much they needed to sit quietly on my lap, I had just instinctively done it.  It was that loving kindness which humanized them once again.  After two months in school, they were enrolled at the Egyptian school on campus instead.  When those two left, the room could simmer down.

Little by little, I started to see a big change in the classroom.  I had insisted from the beginning that they use correct sentences and politeness. 

"Excuse me, could you please open this," was the phrase everyone had to say in order to get packets and bags opened by me.  Amazing how quickly someone can learn proper English when they want to eat.

I demanded they be big kids who were independent.  Eventually, even the non-talkers began to interact.  The criers met with my inability to submit to their sadness and they gave up the behavior.  It took time but I became proud of my class.

Unfortunately, not everyone's experience was the same as mine.  The woman with whom we had traveled to Egypt, had been dumbfounded from the very first day.  In fact, that's the only day she worked at the school.  She was new to Islam, new to living in Egypt, and new to teaching ESL.  It was too much.  She left and never came back.

Before she left, we sat down to dinner at the Yacht Club. She shared a comment which will forever haunt me.  "I didn't pray that day.  I was thinking so much about the lesson plan and what to say and do that I didn't pray.  I wonder if I had prayed if I could have handled it.  Now I'll never know because I just didn't take the time."

She flew back to the States soon after that---feeling depressed and like a failure.  She has since gotten her life together, alhumdulilah.  She's done with that fiance, is wearing hejab, attending Islamic classes and determined to find a career path which suits her better.  I'm so proud of her.  She had to have this experience in order to know what she needed...and didn't need.

Yes, prayer is important.  I said my morning prayer every day before heading in.  Once at school, things became so hectic that I wasn't always able to say the noon prayer.  If I made the effort, I would feel the calm wash over me. 

Certainly, I would say my prayers once we made it safely home on the bus.

I was still nervous about schools closing from H1N1 so I made other arrangements to cushion against the possible harsh blow of losing the school job.  I accepted an afterschool tutoring job which would give me a whole other view of life in Egypt.

Chapter 23


Umm Aaminah said...

Salaam sis. I taught at a British school in Sharjah, UAE for about 1.5 weeks. :-) Like you, I was thrown into a classroom where NO ONE spoke English and I had 20+ kids. (shuddering). Unlike you, I had no experience and no training.

I told them I was a preschool teacher, related great to children, but I needed to be in a class where the children spoke English. Umm yeah. lol Anyway alhamdulillah I ended up leaving UAE (long story, bad marriage, sure you can see how that ends) and was grateful to Allah.

Insha'Allah everything goes well for you sis and you enjoy your new job and new home. :-)

Ma salaama...

Yosra said...

From Mostly Anonymous Halimah:

Heeheehee, as a teacher of young kids (although not THAT young) this post made me smile. I can just see the kid hatching his escape plan, and all the others eager to use the only English they know, "miss" and "hello". So cute!!

But alas, I don't think I could hanele the babies very well. See me when you turn eight! (Im waiting more less impatiently for my own kids to reach milestone...sigh)