Stage Fright with an Audience of Four Year Olds
On the first day of my internship, I was in my classroom 90 minutes early. I was a bundle of nervous energy, pacing back and forth, checking and re-checking my supplies and reading over my lesson plan so many times that I had it memorized. Despite my years of teaching experience, I had little confidence in myself during those waning moments before class was to begin. I knew this would be unlike any classroom I’d ever worked in. The children and I had no means to communicate other than hand gestures and smiles. The majority – if not all – of these children had never heard English spoken before. Many had never met an American. Yet I was tasked with creating a sense of comfort in this classroom, strong enough to ease the children into their first language immersion experience. I heard the first little voices minutes before class began. I seized the opportunity to make some friends and ventured outside the classroom to sit with the children while they waited for class to start. I pulled everything I could from my bag of tricks. They didn’t give me an inch – not a response in Arabic, not even a smile. I felt the day was doomed. No matter how I willed them to slow down, the next 15 minutes flew by. This was going to happen: no matter how nervous I was, no matter how frightened the children might be of an English-only classroom, no matter what, there were twenty 4 year olds headed towards my door.
On Thursday, I finished my first week of teaching the Core Child Morning Program children English at TYO and I am astounded by the ease with which the class has fit into the schedule and into the children’s lives. I can’t walk through the atrium without hearing 30 little voices shouting, “Hello, Jessica!” When I was approached about teaching an immersion-style English class to preschool aged children, I was hesitant and honestly, a bit doubtful. How could I possibly create a comfortable environment in my classroom if the children understood nothing of what I taught? The challenge seemed immense and perhaps, impossible. Yet the TYO staff seemed so confident in the idea that I could do little but trust them, trust myself, and trust the process.
I spoke at length with Suhad Masri, Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO, about my worries and anxieties. She helped me to understand that children all over the world, whether they live in the United States or Palestine, are born with powerful resiliency. The way in which I experienced learning in my classroom in the USA – the way in which children soaked up knowledge, craved it, looked for it around every corner – I, too, would see this in the Palestinian children. Suhad’s assertions were spot-on. Within the first few minutes of their first English class, the Core AM children at TYO were giddy with excitement, yelling out, “Hello, Jessica!!” with raw enthusiasm. The desire to learn, the thirst children feel for knowledge knows no boundaries.
The immersion method of language acquisition is well researched and well documented to have proven success. However, these children would only be immersed in English for 20 minutes a day. Will it work? I can’t know for sure. However, I do know that after only four days of lessons, the majority of the Core Child Morning Program students light up when they walk into English the room. I listened to dozens of children raise their hands and claim, “I am..!” when I displayed class pictures on Thursday. Children wave and say hello. The other Core AM teachers have proudly reported that they hear the children using English words outside of the classroom. As far as the first week goes, I feel it has been very successful.
I look forward to the coming weeks – the challenges and the accomplishments. I feel encouraged by the response from the children, encouraged and exultant. I believe this program will not only find success for years to come within the TYO Core Child Program, but also help to build a solid foundation that will allow for the children of Nablus to find triumph along their educational path. I am proud to be the children’s first glimpse into another culture, and a new way of thinking. As Suhad has said, I am helping build the bridge across two cultures that will stick with the children for the rest of their lives. I feel proud to help construct these ties.
Jessica is an intern at TYO in Nablus