Greece, Day 10: Pensive

Tuesday. There are only three more days of teaching left.

It’s fourth hour and I’m sitting alone at the back of the school, thinking. Today is Sonny’s turn to supervise the kids while they’re out playing, and I can faintly hear his shouting as he engages in a game of foursquare with them. Their enthusiasm for that game is inexhaustible; not even kickball can compare.

Our lesson plan is as follows:

Lesson Plan 7

First Hour

  • (Teams) Survival game: Give the students a scenario (lost at sea) and a list of items. Tell them that they can only pick five items and make them provide a written rationale for each one. Give them 10 minutes.

Second Hour

  • Storytime: Make the students write as many verbs as they can think of on a piece of paper. Start off a story (once upon a time…) and have the students continue it by making sentences using the verbs they wrote. The same verb cannot be repeated twice in a row.

Third Hour

  • Writing task: ask the students to write at least five coherent lines about what their fears are and why. Prize awarded to students that write seven lines.

Fourth Hour 

  • Free time

While there weren’t that many kids on Friday and Monday, as they were away for the weekend with their families, many come today. As a natural consequence, it’s ridiculously loud.

“Quiet, please,” I shout, exasperated, trading throat pain for a millisecond of silence.

The most problematic aspect of the day turns out to be the storytime segment. Getting the kids to understand the idea takes a while, and the execution of the game itself also proves to be difficult, noise levels being one of the contributing factors.

On the other hand, the best part of the day is seeing the students rise up to the challenge of writing more, for the most part. Yesterday we had them try to write up to five lines; today, we decide to up it to seven, and many of the kids definitely deliver. One thing I will say is that, while looking over the work, it can be hard to resist the urge to correct every single mistake. But that tends to be far too much information for the student to absorb. Much better to focus on a particular point-how to handle plural versus singular, for example- and drive it home hard.

And lastly, the most quiet hour is…

2015-07-07 10.47.08 HDR

Only reason fourth hour was peaceful. Looks surprisingly clean for the mess that went on…’

Fourth hour often gives me the opportunity to not only reflect on the day’s events, but also to explore. I enjoy walking the grounds and inside of the school, trying to grasp the character of the place. Trying to envision the bustling environment when the school year arrives. Though the country and culture are foreign to me, stepping inside the school gives me a flashback of sorts, to my own elementary school days. Decades ago. Well, maybe just one. Or less than one.


One of the many cartoon illustrations that decorate the walls.

It’s these little things that get me, I guess. The little things that remind me that, even when I think that the students are so different from myself and others of my upbringing and that we can’t understand each other as well as we should because of the language barrier, there’s always a common denominator somewhere. So I gather myself together and keep pushing, both myself and them.

But there are only three days left now to push. And really, it’s easy to think that not much has been accomplished. That there’s so much left to do. I mean, yes, of course there is. However, we’re only one of many teams and we’re working within a cohesive network. Someone will pick up where we left off. We might not get them to the degree of English proficiency required to qualify for university, but someone else will. Hopefully. And hopefully they too will push themselves to accomplish that.

“Always remember that they don’t have to be there. They come because they want to. Little Giannis, for instance– his parents both work. No one pushes him. He gets himself there every day on his own,” Sam tells us insistently.

Giannis can be a cause of trouble in our classroom. He can be disengaged at times, teasing other kids rather than paying attention. So when Sam explains that to us, I’m shocked. But I can’t deny it. There are a number of different programs and activities available to them, both for a price and free of charge, so something else must be holding them here.

Perhaps they actually enjoy the lessons. Perhaps they just want to see their friends. Maybe it’s an escape. I think of the current financial situation in Greece, and I know that not all of the families of our students are well-off. There’s struggle somewhere. There’s stress somewhere. And yet, they come faithfully, day after day. And yet, I don’t hear a single complaint about it out of our students.

“They just want to have fun,” Sam states. And I get it. It can be easy to begrudge that desire-why can’t they just focus and learn-but it’s unfair to do so. Especially when they may already be dealing with a heap of personal issues. When you put the matter into perspective like that, their rowdiness doesn’t seem as troublesome anymore. Not that I’m giving up on having them learn to be quiet and listen when their peers and teachers are speaking. I just want to find a happy medium.

It’s not like fun and learning have to be mutually exclusive anyway.


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