Welcome Class, December 15th, 2015

A month and a half ago, I was talking about a Syrian girl being bullied at school. Tasnem was the only Arabic speaker of this group and unlike the Afghans and Bulgarians didn’t have any other language she could use to get by. It made her an easy target for bullies. Things started with one of them stealing her smartphone. She knew who had done it, we teachers knew it as well but had to let it go for lack of proof. And because there is that policy when you are a teacher that whenever there is a fight between two kids they are both at fault. I fail to see how fair is that, but know by now that life is unfair anyway, so the sooner they find out, the better for them. Or something like that. Tasnem had denounced her bullies, which resulted in further troubles for her. So much so the other teacher in charge advised her family to move her into another school. But Tasnem had hesitated. Today, her father is meeting her main bully. A conciliatory talk was planned in order to solve the issue. When I show up in my first class, I notice that both culprits, the Roma girl (also known as “main bully”) and the Syrian one (who will be called a “victim” in a fair world) are gone. I begin the class, and twenty minutes later, they both come back. Both seem in high spirit, although not for the same reason.

Tasnem comes towards me and says her father waits in the corridor to talk to me. I get out to meet him. He doesn’t speak much German. He’s a very friendly man, but he looks terribly disappointed. After we greet each other, he points out at his daughter: “Tasnem, finished, here, not good, we, finished”. I don’t want to understand but I do. The conciliation attempt failed. Tasnem is going. The other teacher is all smiles: “See, that’s sorted!”, she tells me. A flow of anger overcomes my whole body as I have to fight hard not to tell her what I think about her splendid solution. Instead, as I know I won’t see Tasnem again, I turn towards her and tell her and her dad that I deplore the situation very much. I then give my phone number to them and tell them to call me at anytime if needed. The other teacher tries to intervene: “What are you doing? Do you speak their language?”. “I help people like them every day, we don’t need to speak the same language”, I retort, shortly. She can’t say much more, since Tasnem is no longer my student. Tasnem looks happy, that’s the only positive side of it. She thanks me for my teaching. I really don’t see how I helped in any way since she’s leaving. I hug her and wish her good luck. Shake her father’s hand and make her laugh a last time with my poor attempt at Arabic. Hopefully starting afresh will prove the best option. I will probably never find out.

I go back to my class and see the rank of four bullies looking expectantly at me. “Where is she gone?”, one of them asks. “To another school…” I say. There is an explosion of malevolent joy. They all cheer. I want to slap them all. I hate them this very moment. The Afghan, Bulgarian and Serbian boys look in wonder, they don’t understand – for lack of vocabulary – what is going on. “You got what you wanted, are you happy now?” I ask the bullies, shooting the coldest stare I’ve ever given to a kid. I fix the Roma girl. I tried to help her escape her own sad circumstances. Despite every one else in the room, this stare we exchange isolates us from the rest of the children. In a split second, she realizes she has lost my sympathy, interest, and that I’m no longer her ally. I wish her gone right now. But I know she’s a lost kid and that her bullying is the sad result of her own upbringing.

I breath deeply and resume my class. I walk straight to the bullies and assign them today’s homework. I really want to walk away from them and never help them again to anything. But they are children and I have to be neutral. So instead I sit and begin to explain today’s new grammar rule. The three others look a bit abashed, they like me and see that they obviously didn’t win any favours with their reaction. They are silent now and look down at their notebooks. I reach out to the Roma girl and ask her to read aloud. In an act of defiance, she gives me her most contemptuous look and puts on her headphones. It’s a psychological war, and she’s determined to win it. I chose to ignore her for this time. Just as the other kids start to protest that I shouldn’t allow her, the other teacher comes back in the room and asks the girl to take her belongings and follow her. She’s expelled from school for one week. That means she’ll have plenty of time to be under the spell of the father who beats her. There is no happy end to that story, no matter which direction it takes.

The three other bullies seem even more taken aback now. As much as they repeat they don’t like school, they don’t want to be expelled from it either. I let what just happened sink in, and  walk over the other side of the class. To my Afghan boys, who never cause any kind of troubles. Because they know the value of an education, and the real meaning of “having troubles”. We have a peaceful class, and at the end as I go check the bullies’ homework, one of them tells me they prepared a Christmas decoration for me during the arts’ class. I can’t but accept the stained-glass-like paper representing “us as three angels”, one of them is giving to me. Three angels. I smile and thank them. I leave school with a bitter taste in the mouth.

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