I am proud to be part of the hands-up project as one of the volunteer teachers for the Gaza Strip learners because this has offered me the opportunity to meet lovely people and feeling more a learner than a teacher.
In fact, whatever you may assume a teacher must be, this experience is a very distinctive one. The fact that those smiling kids live in danger and constantly have the sense of fear and death make them different from any typical Italian or European teen; the experience of teaching is not only related to practice in a foreign language but also to sharing a sense of humanity. As much as this could sound strange, I hadn’t reckoned on how much this could impact on me and my class.
For this reason, I want to share with you something about the four classes we had during the last two months (instead of the scheduled six), due to the bomb attacks happened in less than twenty days meanwhile.
The first lesson with Inas’ class, together with my 12-year-olds’ class, was conducted by Nick who gave kids some instructions about making up a story starting with the letters of their names. This was a task that my students loved to prepare and share in the second lesson.
The first meeting though was something of mess, at least from my point of view in my class. As a matter of fact my students had just come back from a week’s school trip so I had not had the time to get them prepared for their first online shared lesson experience. They jumped in and out of the camera-range, all talking together, making comments, showing a lot a chaotic interest and acting excited. At the end of this first session, my class was enthusiastic and we all had the feeling of having made new friends. We spent some time talking about Gaza and Palestine, looking at a map to see where they are located. My students were shocked to know about how difficult life in Palestine can become, always being afraid of bombs. However, they were all conscious of having experienced joy and found happiness in small acts like sending each other little hearts, shaped with their fingers framing their face.
By thinking of how to improve our lesson technically, the kids realised that some rules are necessarily to be followed in front of the camera. Specifically, they noticed that the Palestinian students were more used to staying in front of the camera, speaking one at a time, pausing and repeating, drawing big signs to make everything clearer. This kind of feedback after the lesson was a way to become aware of how powerful English is as a lingua franca and at the same time how our culture can influence our way of speaking. Despite the fact that my students are only 12 they show an understanding of this point and become more respectful towards the others. So for example, during the second meeting they were expected to prepare a presentation about their country and habits. My students noticed how their assumptions about being teens could be different, so when they were preparing a quiz for the girls of Palestine they started wondering what it was best to ask. For example, my class assumed that kids in Gaza can have the same opportunity to travel as they have. Discovering that there are kids just like them, who have the same ideas of beauty or love but a different concept of freedom, can be enlightening when you are only twelve. Maybe this can help you become less selfish and more aware of the others when growing up.
Therefore, I had the impression that this way of working in class in connection with Gaza has not only been a great opportunity to improve their way of speaking and listening, but also an opportunity to broaden their horizons. They truly realised that they have a different culture due to the fact that they live in a different place but also they feel the same and share same desire to have fun, to be accepted by the others. In other words they saw what is to be friends.
Finally, I think that the person who has learned most from this experience so far is me: I’ve noticed how kids do not have to overcome barriers in order to reach a common ground and they also minimise cultural impact; they simply act naturally, giving the best example of communication.