On Mondays we do the cleaning...
Updated: Jan 29
I always look forward to a return to the English teaching classroom and my first days as a volunteer at the Habibi Center have been as rewarding as I had hoped in every sense…the students, my colleagues and the overall camaraderie.
I’m planning another post on my reactions to this new teaching experience and how it compares with past English language classrooms I’ve worked in. For now, however, this post is an overview of how things work at the HC on the off-chance that you are inspired to come to Athens and volunteer at the Habibi.
We come from all over the world. The present intake consists of volunteers from England, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, France and Greece. English truly is an international language! I’m the oldest (for now) and the average age of the rest of this cohort is probably about 35…maybe less. I’m the only retired volunteer. The others are in between jobs, working remotely, Erasmus students or figuring out what to do next…we have a budding social worker, a hospitality manager, a ballet teacher and a future doctor. We never lack for conversation.
We have a weekly meeting at 1pm on Mondays during which we draw up a list of housekeeping chores to be tackled before lunchtime. Oh yes, Greek lunch hours happen around the time other nationalities are sitting down to afternoon tea! Once the kitchen is scoured, bathrooms cleaned, mats shaken and the floor mopped (along with the “brooming”*** that one of my Dutch colleagues added to the list last week), whoever’s turn it is to buy lunch takes orders for souvlaki and heads out while the rest of us drool in anticipation. My favourite is the falafel but the chicken looks inviting also. It’s close to 3:30 when lunch is over and that’s when we all go to our classrooms and wait for the students to arrive.
Classes run from mid afternoon until 8pm during the week because the students are attending state schools during the day as required under Greek law. I have two ninety-minute classes back-to-back giving a weekly total of 15 hours. My teaching day starts at 3:30pm and ends at 6:30pm. It doesn’t sound like much until you factor in the preparation time which I usually do each morning from home. Most other teachers have a similar schedule. If we need photocopying done prior to the afternoon classes, we are able to email files to the very efficient Aliki at her copy shop around the corner from the school and pick up printing on our way to class. As a plus, to reach the copy shop you have to traverse parts of the Varvakeios Market, Athens' largest "everything" market.
There is an established teaching curriculum but plenty of flexibility within each level. Less experienced volunteers probably prefer the comfort of ready-made materials whereas more seasoned teachers will be relieved to know that they are encouraged to keep making use of their tried-and-true language learning activities. Have Cuisenaire Rods will travel!
The students who attend the Habibi are selected based on their ability to commit to a study contract. Tuition is free and in return they are required to attend regularly, conduct themselves appropriately and complete assignments on time or risk losing their place at the school. By the same token, teachers are expected to be on time and be present, understand the school’s policies particularly as they relate to working with minors and create, above all, a peaceful learning environment.
*** We checked and "to broom" really is a verb according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Unlike "to sweep", it's regular :-) .