This year, after months of being practically unemployed, I finally decided it was time to go back to work, for real this time. It’s a shame I made this decision so late and that it took me so long. That time was painful enough to let me realize that the only way to find work in Poland was to teach Spanish. I don’t consider myself a Spanish teacher, but that is exactly who I am now, and I’m working in a private bilingual language school in Raszyn. I teach teenagers, by the rest of the world it is considered shameful. Nevertheless, I think they are full of life and sweet, of course if they are paying attention not being chatty kathys. I have to admit, they are creative and they show me a completely different perspective on the direction the world is going to.
One of the most interesting aspects of my work isn’t only the fact that I ended up in a Polish language school, with Polish colleagues, in the Polish environment but the fact that I have foreign students in my classroom. One of them is a Vietnamese the other Russian. The rest of the students are Polish and I’m a kind of an alien for them.
I come from the same planet as Messi. But they have no idea how my country looks like. They only know that it is very far away from Poland. They consider my Polish as very poor and they look at me with pity when I try to express my mind in their language. The situation looks a little like: my Spanish for their Polish.
When one of my students looked at me and said that she doesn’t understand what I’m saying to her in Spanish, I answered : “ I understand you completely, because I have the same problem since I moved to Poland.” I don’t have all the answers, I’m a sort of a moderator, a person who is there in order to give clues. Her expression showed some kind of empathy, so I think she understood my point.
My student from Nairobi and I had fun looking for her home town on a map and checking how far it is from Poland, it was closer than my home town Buenos Aires, or the home town of her friend who was from Azerbaijan.
I asked my student from Russia, to write his name in Cyrillic, for everybody to see that he isn’t the odd one, we are. He knows something we don’t – his language.
When I showed my students the number of countries where Spanish is the official language they were very surprised. By that I try to encourage them to see the merit of learning new things.
I asked them, to imagine their life if they were born in one of Spanish speaking countries.
We worked on it as a part of the project “Avatar”, where Aleksandra was Alejandra, Marisha – Maria, Grzegorz – Gregori etc. Then they had to choose a birth country and each group had to prepare some information about that country, and that is how we created two girls with fake Mexican biographies and one boy with a Colombian one. They imagined that their food consisted of burritos and tacos, they ate it listening to mariachis while growing up in the huge federal region.
I also asked them to imagine what languages they would speak if they were born in Miami or Paraguay or by the border of Brazil. By that I encourage them to ponder how one’s point of view changes depending on where they were born or where they travel around the world.
The distant west isn’t that far away when you live in California, and the eastern countries aren’t really eastern when you live in India.
For me it is more important to teach the children that they live in the world with more colours than they can see in their closest surroundings than teaching them conjugations.
One day I asked my students to imagine what kind of questions would they ask a person they just met, and after a long discussion they decided the question “what do you do for a living?” is pointless. When I asked why did they think so. They said something like “what’s the point of asking what does he do?” I try to explain it to my students that even if they spend most of their time with the group of people who do the same (spend many hours at school, study and play computer games), they are learning Spanish in order to use it in their future lives. They will surely meet various people, who work, study, are parents or caretakers or both.
These children look at the world form their own perspective: my neighbour, my school, my friends, my own time/my life. But soon it will change.
The children, like their parents before them, sooner or later will be forced to re-evaluate their expectations and they will take into consideration also “other” people in their lives. It doesn’t only pertain to tolerance and respect but the simple, basic questions. People from different parts of the world live beside us, not far far away, here and now.
At the moment, while the feelings about foreigners are divided, it is important, to contemplate the meaning of the word “multicultural”. It doesn’t only pertain to learning languages and eating ethnic food. It is also about being aware of the stereotypes, which are deeply engrained in our minds, about being a conscious citizen of the world, a critical thinker. School is thought to be an inappropriate place for advertising these kind of values, because the institution is focused on results, tests and exams, even though the struggle with bullying is growing.
Unfortunately majority of educational institutions isn’t prepared to undertake multicultural education in their classrooms. Multicultural education requires staff who is not only diverse but also culturally adept. Teachers have to be aware, flexible and open to different points of view and experiences. Such a teacher has to also be willing to address controversial topics. Topics like: racism, sexism, lack of religious tolerance, class division, growing old, etc.
Preparing teachers to take on such difficult topics will be the key subject for the next decades. Many European countries have several years of experience with ethnically diverse classrooms. But Polish people live their dreams, believing that immigrants will not come to Poland, and people in different clothes and having different religions want to share the space with them. Well, I’ve already taught some immigrant students, and I think the number will be raising – I don’t see any other option. It is happening now and it is better to start dealing with it in a positive way as soon as possible.
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Translation from Polish: Dominika Chmielewska