So Long and Thanks for All the Hummus!
When I decided to come to TYO, it wasn’t an easy decision. Not because the organization didn’t interest me—far from it. But rather because the position of teacher in a classroom, especially a classroom of my peers, is not something I’ve ever aspired to. In fact, the idea of it has always been intimidating, if not terrifying. I’m not someone who enjoys standing in front of a crowd, no matter how small. I’ve taught children, and worked in the education sector, but these are a far cry from teaching college students and graduates. So it was not an easy decision for me to sign up to be an EFL teacher. I was interested in TYO, working in Palestine, and continuing to practice my Arabic, so I signed up anyway.
From the very first day, it was easier than I had expected. Not that I would call the experience of teaching a class of students easy, but the parts I was so concerned about—speaking in front of a class, having to improvise and lesson-plan on the fly, corral unruly students—these were not the problems I had built them up to be. With a relatively small class and so many hours of time together, knowledge of the group dynamics led to streamlined lessons and more effective practices. Small numbers also made management easier, and for more flexibility in activities and structure. It helped that my class was extremely well-behaved and eager—they wanted to learn, and were happy to practice. What else could a teacher want?
Despite these simplifications, teaching a group of curious, educated, intelligent, ambitious young people was never going to be an easy task. It’s not enough to know the basics when you are teaching university graduates—you have to be ready for anything, from questions about the past perfect and the passive voice, to explaining the process of emigrating to the US, to answering the question “What do you think of Palestinians? What did you think before?”
None of these questions have an easy answer, and to give one would be to undervalue my students’ interest and intelligence. It would do them a disservice to whitewash difficult conversations and topics—they are adults, and are in the process of finding their places in the world. They are aware of the way their people are perceived internationally. At the same time, they deserve the chance to dream of being something more, and going somewhere new, that any 20 something dreams. They want the same security and the same freedoms. It would be unfair to pretend that they do not face obstacles that I never did, but it would be equally unfair to allow this to limit them in their ambitions.
I don’t know if I have impacted their trajectories, opened their eyes, or their minds. If I’ve succeeded at anything, I hope I’ve helped them come closer to self-expression in an unfamiliar language. If they have more confidence, in speaking, reading, writing, and understanding, then I have been useful. It would be wrong to say I enabled or empowered them—that honor belongs to them. They have worked to get where they are, and I hope to see how they continue to grow, as they have helped me to grow.
When I came to TYO I was nervous, concerned, scared of what I had signed up for. As I leave, I leave with memories and letters and confidences from my class. I hope they will feel the same.
The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
Phoebe, EFL Teaching Fellow, Spring 2016