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  • Writer's picturePippa

What a wonderful world...mostly

The weeks fly by because life, the Habibi Center, my students, my colleagues and all things Greek are keeping me busy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve settled into my teaching routine but one class this year has come with its own special challenges and I sometimes feel as if we’re sliding backwards instead of forging ahead with the learning. All my classroom experiences last year were positive. This time, sadly, a couple of students are proving disruptive and, despite warnings, one of them was asked to leave the class…and consequently the school. I don’t like taking disciplinary action and I hope the other students see it as necessary to preserving a positive classroom experience.


I learned a couple of days ago that one of the students in the class, M, really sets store by this opportunity to finally learn English.  Seventeen years old, he starts work at 5 am and finishes at 4 pm leaving just enough time to get to his 5 pm class with me. After that he goes to the gym and then returns to his shelter for the night. Saturday is also a working day. Via a translator, M related a bit of his story in which I learned his family in Afghanistan are totally dependent on the money he sends from Greece. Every student has a story and it may be that the disruptive student who has left is also struggling with problems he thought he’d left behind. What I do understand, however, is that education opportunities offered by NGOs like the Habibi only succeed if there is mutual respect.

My other class is an absolute delight. The students are three young Somali women. When 3:30 pm rolls around I often feel like I’m meeting friends for 90 minutes of fun. Everything is up for discussion especially what I call the three Cs: clothes, cosmetics and coffee shops. I regularly have to remind the ladies that we all need to be speaking English and then the liveliest and most proficient, S, tells me she’s translating for the others so they can keep up. She may have a point because my own Greek language learning also benefits from the sometimes disdained Grammar Translation Method.


I re-discovered an old trick the other day while they were copying sentences from the board while chatting back and forth in Somali. Play music as background! Thank heavens for smartphones and YouTube! We’d been working on “this/these/that/those” so on went the Guess Who (throw in a bit of culture too!) and the three of them swayed to These Eyes while they completed their classwork quietly. I remembered that songs can be a great substitute for run-of-the-mill listening comprehension if the lyrics are manageable, the refrain memorable and students are already familiar with some of the vocabulary. A few days later I settled on Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What a Wonderful World and by the end of the lesson the gals were ready sing to anyone who would listen.


*Update I penned the above before some changes occurred. The lower level class still exists for the weakest students and that means we’ll be able to focus on their specific needs at a slower pace. The stronger students including M, have combined with two of the Somali girls to create a brand new class where they’ll finally be working from a textbook. S, the self-appointed translator, has been promoted to an even higher level. She’s entirely self-taught, has never attended school. At home in Somalia she was in charge of caring for the animals, cooking and cleaning. If she ever gets to Sweden to join her older sister she has grand plans for her life and I feel certain she’ll achieve them. Anyway, we juggled students, times and classes before re-juggling one more time and hopefully the new arrangement will be to everyone’s advantage. Our “ladies group” has been disbanded but we can still talk clothes, cosmetics and coffee shops out in the hallway.

The double rainbow was photographed from my classroom late January.

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