Posts Tagged 'teaching'

Preschools from Palestine to Pennsylvania

Watching pint-sized preschoolers at play, I think about how I’d never have expected to work with kids this young if you asked me a few years ago. When I went to Palestine, most youth work I’d done had been with teenagers. I approached the art class I taught at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization with a healthy dose of fear amidst my excitement. Though my students were ages 8 to 13, the core program at TYO is a preschool. It was there that I first got exposed to the importance of early childhood education and the value of school-readiness programs for children who don’t have other learning opportunities.

In fact, the similarities between Head Start and TYO were among the chief reasons I applied for this job. As a substitute, my training sessions are sporadic, but when I’m in them the kids in Nablus are frequently in my mind. What is the difference between training in human services in Harrisburg and orientation to childhood development in Palestine? Both are holistic—discussing how to consider home life and family circumstances in students’ behavior and development, yet doing so in Palestine is inescapably political. You can’t know why a child regularly wets the bed, for example, without learning that Israeli soldiers have entered their home at night and blasted through the walls to arrest a neighbor.

In human services in Pennsylvania, we may look at the context for what we see at work—like when an infant arrives at daycare with only socks and no shoes, despite the fact that his parents know he will be expected to go outside for an hour each day—but we don’t necessarily talk about how that context is at its root a political problem. Some families can’t provide the basics for their kids not because the parents are any less capable, but because our society is set up so that some people are born into poverty. People who weren’t born into poverty can also end up there through what we blindly call “tough luck.” Either way, the possibility to get out of such circumstances is restricted by unequal access to education, family resources, unavailability of jobs, and so on.

The way we identify problems determines how we strategize for solving them. Programs like Head Start are important to improving individuals’ lives, but we must also understand and address the political dimensions of poverty in order to change it on a larger scale.

Mohammed in Action

Mohammed, an 8-year-old in my TYO class. Spring 2010.

A Lesson for the Teacher

Teachers must have compassion. Reading some of the personal stories that my 13-year-old students share in their notebooks is just a classroom-based example of the life lesson that I like to keep in mind wherever I am: You never know what struggles the person beside you is going through. We must treat everyone with the love we would give them in a time of crisis. (The things you don’t know about the person next to you are also why I love being an anthropologist and a journalist–all the opportunities to ask questions!)

This lesson is why the job that my mom does is so incredible. She teaches in a social and emotional support classroom at a public middle school. While many teachers see her students as misfits who don’t do their homework, my mom sees that they are struggling in multiple ways. Teachers should be able to understand that. Our educational system should be able to respond to that. True, sometimes there are physiological factors in youth’s struggles (“chemical imbalances” if you want to give these issues a biomedical description), and medications can ameliorate some of those factors. But from my mom’s descriptions and now my own experiences I know there are many more forces at work in students’ behavior.

Kids and Cameras

I have vivid memories of taking photos in the art class I taught at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization in Nablus. Why? Because as soon as the shutter clicked, the kids scrambled toward me in a mob demanding to see the image. The experience looked a bit like this:

March 2010

The excitement of the kids over having their picture taken made me want to teach them to take photos themselves. Perhaps you can connect points A and B to see how I ended up in India teaching digital storytelling with The Modern Story. I’m happy to be doing it and also proud of my students’ work so far. Like the following picture:
APRS Staff

Cow Herder at Andhra Pradesh Residential School, Nalgonda; 10/12/10

I’m grateful to be part of a process of creative exploration with kids, especially to be facilitating the sort of reflective expression that the memorization-focused education system here neglects.

I still like taking some of my own pictures of the students, though. This week Ilana and I stayed overnight when we taught at APRS (it’s a four-hour commute from Hyderabad each way if we don’t!). The extra time at the boys’ school gave us so much more contact with our students as individuals, and also the opportunity to interact with other students in the school. When I took out my camera on the playground during the hour between classes and dinner, the Nablus photo mobs came back to me.


What starts like this...

Quickly turns into this...

Followed by this!

Michael Jackson in the Classroom

What job these days doesn’t require a social media component? Part of my role as a TMS fellow is to blog about life and teaching in Hyderabad. Of course I’ll be reflecting on these experiences here, too, but check out the TMS blog for more regular updates on the classroom happenings, as well as to see photos by my students!

First blog entry: Michael Jackson in the Classroom


Student photography: framing the shot (pictured: Pratyusha, Tejashwini, Sandhya, Shravani)


Student photography: experimenting with perspective (pictured: Krishna Veni)

More on Hyderabad

I haven’t written much about Hyderabad so far. It’s quite a shift from the West Bank…they’re both intense in their own ways. Hyderabad is not a huge city but so much looks the same–from the omnipresent Bollywood billboards with unattractive middle-aged men surrounded by sexy younger women, to  red-and-white-striped booths in the middle of roads proclaiming that “Speed thrills but also kills,”  to the endless rows of stands selling fried snacks to eat for chaat. The seeming sameness amidst the city’s dizzying diversity of religions, dress, architecture, wealth, and modes of transportation makes it difficult to create a mental map for myself. Little by little, a few things start to feel familiar. Establishing a routine helps. I just wrapped my first full week of teaching, and my students are delightful and incredibly eager. I can’t think of more to write at the moment but if you want to read about some of the daily adventures that have made up my life over the last two weeks, you should definitely check out my roommate/co-fellow’s blog, Ilana in India. She’s a talented creative writer and has already become a valued friend.

Next Stop India

Over a month ago I wrote about my nerves regarding an upcoming fellowship interview:

If I am not wanted for exactly who I am—a passionate person with lots to share and also lots to learn—then it’s not somewhere I want to be.

I’m excited to announce that the next place I’ll have to chance to be me is Hyderabad, India. In August I will begin six months of teaching digital storytelling for The Modern Story. One other fellow (who coincidentally also hails from PA) and I will teach classes at one boys’ school and one girls’ school, as well as conducting other workshops in the community. I’m not very familiar with India, its politics, or history, so I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of learning as well as teaching!

In the meantime I’ll continue reporting and reflecting on life and death in Occupied Palestine.

Public Schools in Palestine

A few months ago a friend asked me what types of schools my students go to and about the educational system here in general. I’ve been frustrated by the difficulty of learning about this subject over the past few months. Replying to Camille’s e-mail, though I discovered that I’ve absorbed more information about the subject than I realized. I still want to go beyond the surface level, but the overview I gave her offers a view that those of you living elsewhere may be interested to read.

The kids at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization are mostly from Nablus’ refugee camps, so they go to UNRWA schools in very overcrowded classrooms until their two final years of secondary school, when all Palestinian students enter tawjihi–two years of specialization in something like sciences, literature, or industry (I tried to get more detailed info. in my time in Nablus, but everyone told me a different number of tawjihi branches). Near the end of the second tawjihi year students take long exams for several weeks, and their scores determine what they can study in university (if they go to university). The highest-scoring students inevitably study engineering in the hopes that it will assure them a job. More women than men attend university, and a majority of women study English or Arabic Literature in order to become teachers, which is again something that’s considered “safe” in terms of job availability, but also acceptable for women, as they can work in gender-segregated schools and be home at the same times as their children.

Besides tawjihi, the whole school system is based heavily on testing. We did a check-in at the beginning of every class, and generally one third to one half of the kids’ responses related to how they scored on exams or whether they had just begun or ended a testing period. I also interviewed the director of Nablus schools at one point, and all her comments regarding the quality of education in Nablus, achievements, and areas for improvement revolved around test scores.

Until recently, the curriculum in the West Bank  came from Jordan, while the curriculum in Gaza came from Egypt. A few years ago, the Palestinian Authority implemented a new curriculum, which, according to officials, better reflects Palestinian history, culture, etc. I read an article criticizing the new curriculum as being driven by Zionist and colonial ideologies. While I’m inclined to believe the criticism (apparently USAID and Israeli administrations had a major hand in shaping the curriculum), the article provided no particular evidence for the claims. One of the authors is a professor at Bir Zeit University, so I emailed her department requesting suggestions for further resources to learn about the topic, but I received no reply.

The only picture of my TYO class that I'm actually in!

Video of “my” kids

I recently posted a video of the children in my class holding a mock press conference with Imad, a local staff member and friend.

The Butterfly Effect and Being Me

Inevitably when living abroad people ask why you are here/there. The question comes from fellow foreigners as well as locals. I remember studying abroad in Egypt and not having a specific answer to the question. A variety of factors landed me in Cairo, none of them as simple as the prevalent, “I’m a Middle East studies major.” Two years later in Nablus I do have a more evidenced record of connection to the place I’m living, yet the simple answer—that I did an internship in D.C. about human rights violations here, realized how much I didn’t know, and continued to stay involved—still seems an inadequate explanation.

Why does anyone move away from “home”? Why does anyone stay? Our lives are webs of interrelated events and influences that are difficult to untangle. When I describe that D.C. internship I know that it altered my life significantly, yet it feels like a lie to say it changed my life. The “changes” happened incrementally, and the decisions affected were simultaneously influenced by other aspects of my life. For example, I would not have studied abroad in an Arab country without having done the internship, but I also wanted to study in Guatemala, and my university didn’t offer a program there.

Sometimes I love to make mental maps of the ways my past experiences, the people I’ve met, and seemingly random occurrences have led me to the place and mindset I’m currently in. I see that D.C. internship about Palestine as a pivotal experience, but I wouldn’t have done it without meeting my friend Andrew, who told me of the website where I found the posting.

I’m kind of amazed that I applied to the internship, actually, because I truly knew nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the time, and I must have said so in my interview. I have a very exciting interview in a few days, and though I know I’m qualified for the job, I’m nervous whether I’ll be seen as being qualified enough.

The reasons I applied for the D.C. internship despite my lack of knowledge on the topic were first that my communications experience met the demands of the organization, and second that the language they used to describe their values and mission spoke to my spirit. From reading the blog posts of past fellows in the project I’ll be interviewing for, I know that the fellowship will expect and encourage me to work with youth in the way that invigorates and challenges me—which is to say, getting youth to listen to the world around them (not just me as an educator) and to speak for themselves, particularly through the use of digital media.

If I remain confident that I have the skills, ability, and commitment to living and working in the ways that I value, then I can only hope that others will see that in me. I’ve never done things for the sake of my resume, and pretending to be someone other than me isn’t a skill I have or want. In the end, in any job, if I am not wanted for exactly who I am—a passionate person with lots to share and also lots to learn—then it’s not somewhere I want to be.

Photo by Gulnaz Khan

Sounds of Nablus

I focused on the theme of sound a few weeks ago with my kids. We finished by making musical instruments that you can see here, but as a warm-up, we spent one minute listing all the sounds we could hear from our classroom. I’m going to repeat the exercise now by listing the sounds I hear from my bedroom window, which I’ve kept open ever since the weather has warmed up. Maybe I’ll add an audio track soon! My audio recorder has a lot of background noise though, so I’m regretting not buying a Zoom before I left the states.

  • The Palestinian national anthem from a nearby school in the morning.
  • The call to prayer reverberating across the valley.
  • Israeli military planes ripping through the sound barrier (audible like thunder, but rarely visible).
  • The indecipherable Arabic shouting of a man from a truck loudspeaker. I’ve been told that these sounds are probably calls for people to load their junk onto the trucks, but I haven’t confirmed that.
  • The tune of “It’s a small world” playing on a car that drives around the neighborhood selling cotton candy.
  • Cars honking in the distance. Sometimes lots of cars honk together in rapid succession for a few minutes. When I’ve asked others about the commotion, they said it could be in celebration of a football team winning or a prisoner being released from jail, or else a response to long lines at Hawara checkpoint.
  • Children yelling on the street.
  • Roosters crowing.
  • A jack hammer or other construction equipment pounding all day.
  • The beats and chanting of Arabic music from what is likely a wedding party.

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