I’d like to invite you to visit my refugee English classroom. Come into the building that houses many different offices and church groups. Please stay out of the flower beds, come up seven steps, and go down the hallway to the right. Before you reach the Gateway of Grace doorway, hear loud voices of mostly women speaking Arabic, Dari and Farsi and pre-school children crying and shouting. When we open the door, see an ocean of colorful head scarves and long dresses and notice the pervasive smell of perfume from Dubai.
Smiling students rise to greet me, “Good morning, Teacher!” with hands outstretched or with hugs and kisses. I enter my classroom where the AC struggles to compete with the sun shining in a whole wall of single-pane windows. Several of my level 2 students are already seated and waiting for class to begin.
At 10:30 I take attendance. Gulmina, Muzhar, Manijeh, Nawarah, Akbar, Fatima, Suheila. Fifteen in all today sit around tables arranged in a U-shape. On the smooth whiteboard I write with colorful markers: “Duration = how long; Frequency = how often”. They raise their hands eagerly when I ask for examples of questions and answers about duration and frequency. Students who understand more quickly turn to their baffled friends and translate for them. A cell phone rings and a student silently excuses herself.
The children’s room is beside ours. Today we clearly hear Miss Kathy and the children singing happy birthday to Zaineb. When our class plays a game, our loud laughter attracts Felicia, the school director. An attractive, petite African American woman, impeccably dressed, she stands in the doorway and smiles.
At 11:55 I announce break time. Mothers get their children and we soon smell pizza and qabali palaw in the microwave. I sit with my fellow teachers, surrounded by a half dozen students talking with each other and their children in their own languages. I have brought my own snack and a Syrian student offers me some of her falafel. I enthusiastically accept a piece and insist that one is enough.
Stay for the second half of class starting at 12:30 if you’d like. At 1:45 I ask for volunteers to vacuum the classroom, sweep the floor, clean up the hallway, wipe the tables and pick up toys in the children’s room. You have plenty of time, I tell them; the van will not leave without you.
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