My students are called Dina, Sarah, Zein and Nour. They are beautiful girls with full chestnut curls and large almond eyes. Most are Jordanian, although within this majority, many identify as Palestinian. Although born and raised in Jordan, the Palestinian-Jordanians must carry different passports than those with Jordanian bloodlines. Those recently from Palestine are generally refugees from the Gaza bombardment. Those not from Palestine are Iraqi refugees, although several students are from Iran and Sri Lanka. All have seen oppression, violence and discrimination in ways that most Americans of our generations have not and hopefully will never know. They write about relating to Anne Frank because they also hid in basements during bombings. They ask me why Americans hate them so much. And yet they also know each word to every Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift song.
They call me "Miss," and whine it as, "Miiiiiiisssssss," whenever I assign homework or administer an exam. They love to chat with me and with each other and cannot make themselves stop even when they know they should. It drives me crazy, but on the scale of classroom management issues, I can hardly complain. They stay seated (usually), do their work (usually), and never challenge me in threatening or shocking ways. They are much more disciplined about academics than their counterparts in the U.S. Most girls study their English lessons after school every day and come with questions the next. They check well in advance about topics that might be on exams and they often turn in work early. Moreover, they bring unassigned presentations to class and beg to present to their peers. Considering that I must cram in an astonishing amount of curriculum and test the girls monthly, I sadly don't often have much time to let them.
We are coming to the end of the year and they will be moving across campus to the secondary building next year. They are growing so fast physically and emotionally. They look like little women now and not like overgrown kids, and their writings show that they have a lot on their minds. At the beginning of the year, they were terrified to write, but now they proudly present me with poems and essays that they have written in their free time. I'm flattered that they trust me with their thoughts and feelings. I remember the traumas of being twelve years old and in the sixth grade and I thank God that these girls are in such a nurturing and protected environment.
They wear ugly uniforms, are not allowed to wear make-up and must tie back their long hair into plain ponytails. Dating is so far into the realm of "absolutely not" that they focus on the normal friendship dramas of their age and willingly participate in their frequent family gatherings. They beg me to be helpers as I set up the classroom or carry stacks of books to the teachers' lounge. And they are so generous with hugs. I love that I can pat them on their heads or wipe their tears without fear of repercussion, where in the U.S. teachers literally cannot touch the children for fear of a lawsuit. Here, the parents really do respect and trust us as teachers. We communicate freely and never critically. They know we love their girls and will do everything possible to keep them safe, educate them and help them grow into the strong women that surround us at our school as administrators, teachers, and teenage students.