The Power of the Student
After classes let out on the last day of summer EFL classes at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization, I went back to sit in my classroom. For eight weeks I’d led a class of amazing, strong women and earlier in the day I’d watched as they recited poetry, did a powerful skit, and gave a speech on women’s rights. Afterward, we played Apples to Apples and said our goodbyes. And there I was again.
The closing of my time in Nablus is bittersweet. Both inside and outside the classroom, there has been so much to absorb: from cultural differences to work-life balance to continuous curriculum development. On the whole though, my students have been the driving force behind the effects living in Palestine has had on me. The bulk of my impression of what it means to be Palestinian and what the country’s hopes and fears are comes directly from these ten ladies. As I monitored speaking exercises, edited speeches and moderated debates, I learned about water infrastructure, changing views on traditions, life in the camps and the everyday difficulties of residing here. Ranging from teens to forties, my class was a diverse, well-rounded group. They frequently had differences of opinion; though they were respectful towards each other, this set a fire over which their conversation and negotiation skills boiled. I was not surprised when, towards the end of the session, I saw the exact percentages of their improvement.
Even before they tested, I was proud of this class. Everybody compounded their skills– some dramatically in a couple areas, some slowly and steadily for every competency. Despite their improvement, I still feel as though I probably learned just as much from the students as they did from me. A young professional, this was the first class, long-term, that was completely “mine,” and my first monolingual adult group. Getting them to speak only English in class was a challenge, but under a points system, the students came to hold themselves accountable and I learned to be forgiving. We slowly developed a sense of trust in each other, so that I let them lead their own projects and they accepted my reasoning for structuring a lesson a certain way or doing a particular activity. In particular, I know that using art as a medium for learning English was something my students found difficult, or at least perplexing.
In the end, they found the motivation and propelled themselves through it, discovering new creative abilities along the way. I tested their boundaries, and they tested mine, but these ladies’ raw perseverance has ultimately instilled in me a trust in the power of the student to shape their own experience — as the old adage goes, “You get out what you put into it.” And as I sat in the classroom after these students left, I couldn’t help but hope that, moving forward to Germany, I bond with my next class as much as I did with them.
- Katrina, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow
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.