Gaza Strip – The start of the school year is a particularly special time for me.
Normally me and my students are starting to get to know each other and build that bond of love and trust which will grow through the year.
For me, it is an almost maternal relationship, that between me and my students, and it extends beyond schoolwork.
Now, it is more than two months since the start of the school year, but I have not had the chance to get to know my new fifth-graders. I miss that aspect, the most important part of my work that I have always cared most about – finding that space in which my students can trust me without any barriers between us.
On November 6, the Ministry of Education suspended the 2023-2024 school year for the 625,000 schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip, as Israel’s offensive that began on October 7 continued, unrelenting.
Of the more than 11,000 people who have been killed by the onslaught, more than 4,400 are children, with another 1,400 young souls missing under the rubble. At least 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced, and tens of thousands are taking shelter in schools.
‘Was I able to reach their hearts?’
Over time, I usually get to know the students and their personalities little by little, so six weeks was not enough time for me to familiarise myself with all 90 students in our four fifth-grade classrooms.
I remind myself that the important thing is that I love them all even though I have not yet learned all their names.
Sometimes I’d mix up their names, and they would correct me. Or I’d call them by their family names, and they would say: “No, call me by my name,” which always made me laugh.
Was I able to reach their hearts? Do they love me as I love them?
They have this knack for making me laugh even when I am annoyed at their naughtiness – I cannot keep a straight face.
They know this, which is why they don’t worry too much about their punishment.
I am a science teacher and the curriculum in Palestine is demanding. It requires real effort from the students to grasp the subject fully and learn what they are taught. I try to deliver my lessons with extra activities to keep things simpler, easier, lighter.
I found this batch of fifth-graders precocious and smarter than previous ones, each one has their own style and personality. I already developed the strong impression that these are young men and women, not merely 10-year-old children.
Two years ago, I began asking my students to write notes to express their thoughts and opinions about what they were learning, and about their teacher – me.
On October 5, two days before the war began, after writing a lesson summary on the blackboard, I asked the children to write their notes anonymously.
They loved the idea. I have to confess that a small part of me was worried about what the students might write about me. I gathered their papers and told them that I would read them later.
Some of the students wrote their names on their notes and some did not, but I felt I knew who some of them were from their handwriting and their funny drawings.
Salma, the sweet girl who hugs me when I enter the classroom, said: “The curriculum is good… you explain things so clearly and your voice is lovely.”
That certainly brought a smile to my face.
Rafiq, a supersmart student, wrote: “The best teacher and the best subject,” which I suppose is also high praise since he knows his teachers.
Another student, Hassan, wrote: “The subject is very easy and the lessons are nice.”
Qusay and Qais, the twins, said: “The subject is nice and the lessons are good.”
I left their little notes in the science lab where I sit during my free time. I was planning to ask the other fifth-grade classes to write some as well, but the war came and threw all our plans out the window.
I miss their morning sleepiness.
I miss their naughtiness.
I miss hearing them shout “Miss!” when I greet them.
I want this war to stop so I can go back to getting to know them.
I miss my students.
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