Welcome Class, March 7th, 2016

Today begins with music hours at school. It’s a bit hard to get up to teach music at 8am to kids who are still half-asleep. And who beg you to have a “Schlafenstunde”, a sleeping hour, instead. I tell them that I’d rather be sleeping as well, but that we can’t really do that. What if the headmistress walked in and saw us all asleep?! “But, she’s human as well, she’ be glad to sleep along, I’m sure!” answers one Polish kid. What can I say? Sorry, all I can do is try to make you enjoy two hours of learning about music. They’re very easy going though, so it’s not a big deal to keep them interested, despite them being tired.

I divide the class into two groups. Those who want to finish up their posters on Bach, Mozart and Freddie Mercury. I like keeping things eclectic, and alternate one class on classical music and more recent artists. Sadly, all the ones we study are dead, so we can’t go listen to a live gig together. That’s how young people make you feel old, when you introduce them to music they never heard of, being invented and played by people dead before they were even born. Anyway, I had taught them a little bit about Freddie Mercury back in November and today they could pick one artist to talk about in their posters, and the Queen’s frontman was picked alongside the German and Austrian composers. The kids who are already done with the posters can gather around the piano and we’re singing together. The warm up is always funny, as I make them do weird sounds and they’re very self-conscious, so they’re conflicting between trying out because they want to sing and not passing for fools as they all laugh at each other anyway – in a friendly way.

We sing a song in Hebrew, to which the Palestinian and Syrian kids immediately object and ask whether there is any religious reference. My bad, I hadn’t checked. After a quick online search, I reassure everybody, we’re talking about snow falling outside and it’s likeness to love. We’re safe. We move on to songs we worked on already, it’s getting better each time, and quicker to learn new songs. We end up with two songs of the Beatles, Yesterday and Michelle. As I’m not sure how much longer I’ll see the kids following administrative issues with my contract, it’s an emotional moment to be singing that with them. Since September, I measure the progresses we’ve made together. They used to be afraid to even open their mouths in German, let alone sing in the language or any other, for that matter. Now, they sing all I bring along: French, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, English songs. The Beatles are a hit (who would have guessed…) as they all pick up on the lyrics really quickly. I’m so proud of them and love what we share in this moment.

Later on, after a short break, I have to prepare the same kids to a written exam that will determine whether or not they can integrate regular classes from next year on. They’re all very anxious to do well. Some of them spent the week-end revising their grammar, so they complain when I take out off-putting sheets with grammatical points, but others have shiny eyes and can’t wait. I can’t fathom that, I always hated grammar, but there they are. So the class is divided again, between those “who already know”, and are still at their poster, and those who are craving for grammar. The two following hours are spent debating the dative and accusative cases in German. Explained to six different nationalities. It could be torture, but we all laugh all along as the kids ask around, to me but also between themselves. One of those easy-going days.

I still have three hours to go, which I spend with the newcomers. The interaction with them is not the same. They’re generally younger, and still can’t express themselves very well in German. Today they’re relatively quite. One of them, a very clever boy, had to leave because his mother was brought to the hospital and no family member speak German. I doubt he has enough medical vocabulary (if at all) to help out, but obviously his place is near his mother, so he leaves at the beginning of the class. I’m surprised to see a new face: a Syrian girl. That means there won’t be only the one Polish girl in these class of 12 boys anymore, I’m glad! She’s very shy, and answers “yes” to all my questions, although she doesn’t seem to understand any. Fortunately, another Syrian kid has arrived last week, and he already speaks good enough German to understand. The only issue I can foresee for both of them is that they are so eager to make a good impression that they never say “no” or “I didn’t understand”, when I say something, and more often than not I find out ten minutes later that despite their heads nodding energetically at my words, they haven’t gotten any of it.

I provide everyone with exercises and go from one group to another. Two things make this day special. First, the Syrian kid arrived this week. I thought it would be difficult to talk about him using his name, Amer, because there already was one in my other group. I found out today that he was only using Amer because he liked the name, and that his real one is Shawaryn. It makes him laugh to know he fooled me for a whole week. I’m amused as well, because why not? I had asked him how he’d like to be called, he answered honestly with his favourite name. But I’ll use his real one from now on. He’s beaming today, I ask him the reason. His brother, whom he had mentioned was making his way to Europe, has reached Croatia. I’m happy for him and tell him I hope his brother will reach us very soon. Although with the new laws being passed and changed every day, I’m not sure what to believe anymore. At least he won’t have a sea to cross anymore.

A problem soon appears though. Shawaryn disturbs the whole class, and is very distracted today. It’s partly due to his other worries in life, which are more important than German grammar, but there is also a part of “I know that already”, as he’s a smart kid and has gone through a lot of his German books by himself already. Yet, when I question him, more often than not he can’t answer. But he thinks he knows, so he laughs my exercises off, deeming them too easy for him. And he does it loudly, inciting the others to follow suite. I just can’t allow that. But at the same time, I’m aware that it’s a minor problem in the bigger scheme of things. I don’t want to berate a kid that has been through so much, yet he has a couple of things to learn about authority and respect. So I tell him to complete his exercise outside (the classroom, not outside in the cold!) and come back when he’ll be finished because he disturbs the others. I don’t like that method, but it’s the only one I find on the spot.

As I go over to Hussein, the new Afghan kid, he asks me again about music. This kid really wants to learn how to dance and how to play music, because someone told him in the shelter that Germans schools were all about dancing and playing music. He’s not happy with his task of copying a text about world population. But it’s full of funny German letters and he needs to learn how to write properly. He confided last week that he barely knew how to write in Dari, because he had never been to school, so we take it slowly, but he’s willing to learn. He calls me “boss”, all the time, which I don’t like, because I’m not one and it somehow puts a Bruce Springsteen song in my mind all the time. This time, he’s arguing that his hand hurts. A lot of kids try that to skip the writing, which I always find hilarious. I shall once post a top ten of the lame excuses I get for not completing an exercise. To date, this is my favourite. Hussein, with his hurting hand, writes away though, and he’s getting good at it. As I look over, from the other side of the table, I see him suddenly looking up. My necklace is dangling the table and he seems intrigued by it. I’m very surprised as he moves towards me and seizes it into his hands. I briefly panic, wondering why he’s touching me and how I should tell him not to. But his fingers just brushed the stones lightly and his eyes are very sad. “This necklace…it reminds me of my great-grandmother, she had one who looked exactly the same!”, he says in English. He can’t keep his eyes off of the necklace. As ever in such situations, I don’t know what to say because if I ask anything I risk bringing back even more memories and more often than not unpleasant ones. So I just say “yes?” tentatively. Now his eyes seem to remember a good moment about it as he nods. “Yes, just like it”, he repeats. And he bends his head towards the silly text again and copies it in his notebook.

In the meantime, Shawaryn, still laughing to himself, came back in the classroom. I come over, and explain to him that I can’t let him disrupt the class by laughing out loud and refusing to work. He’s trying so hard not to laugh. I remember those times, so I don’t say anything further. The class is over anyway. Everyone packs up, put the chairs on the tables. Within seconds, the classroom is empty again. It was a good day.


Regular day in a Welcome Class



5 thoughts on “Welcome Class, March 7th, 2016

    1. It really depends on the child. Some learn within 5 to 6 months, others need more time. Some newcomers also instill a better or a worse dynamic into the group, so it’s an ever-changing process. A girl had been there more than a year but she had no interest to learn whatsoever. I don’t think that’s often the case though. Especially not for refugee kids, are they are well aware the language is part of a social survival strategy.

      Liked by 1 person

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