Teaching the Teachers of Refugee Children

Apr 24, 2017 7:54:21 AM Sarah Rymer

Something about conducting a teachers meeting from a preschool-sized chair helps keep things in perspective. Any sense of superiority or pride vanishes while we discuss the challenges and struggles that our small refugee preschoolers will face when they start school in the fall.
fingerpaint-3-1171652.jpgThe five young women who I call “my teachers” are students themselves. They have learned to trust the strange American woman who does things so differently from what they’ve known. Many conflicts have arisen because “that’s not how we do it.” But this teachers meeting is different. Teachers from our teen girls’ classes have joined us to learn about making learning objectives and lesson plans. They are struggling to teach Turkish to these Arabic-speaking girls who never attended school in Syria.
“My teachers” explain how they’ve taught our preschoolers to read and write their names. This is really a big deal since the children have never seen their names written with a Latin alphabet nor seen anything written from left to right. "My teachers" start sharing word-for-word everything I’ve told them, giving the girls’ teachers advice and suggestions, and clearly proud of their own success as instructors. At the end of the meeting, one of the teenage girls’ teachers asked, “What curriculum are you using? We need to use it too.” I looked up to see all five of "my teachers" smiling and proudly pointing at me. They were finally beginning to understand that we are on to something new, exciting, and effective with our program.
While Turkey has accepted millions of refugees, it is not equipped to deal with the educational and language challenges that these younger refugees come with.  Several other refugee centers around the country are looking at our center as a success story and begging for our materials and lesson plans. In the next few months, my goal is to create a month-long pilot program that other refugee learning centers and camps can use for language acquisition and literacy. I will also be working with the teen girls in the following weeks to determine their unique needs and hopefully create a program that is better suited to them. 

It’s exciting and overwhelming to be involved in this project which is way bigger than me!

(Katherine is an IDEAS Associate who lives and works with her family in Turkey.)

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