You can call me teacher

The NUT issued a mug some years ago listing all the roles, from nose-wiper to counseller by way of literary critic, that are needed in the classroom.  At the bottom, in big bolshy letters it said ‘But you can call me teacher’.  I used to keep my pens in one of these mugs, and cast wry looks at it as I felt my workload building.  I didn’t bring it with me to Kosovo, but I thought of it today, because I suddenly found myself wondering who I am.  One of the things that appealed to me about starting classes for Gjelane and her mates was that I would be a teacher once more.  Not burdened with all the stuff that gets in the way of teaching – I remember as a deputy head in a London primary school going bustling into my classroom after a lunchhour spent in meetings, with my arms full of files and my head full of plans, and feeling almost surprised and certainly unprepared to be surrounded by children waiting for me to teach them.

But in fact in Fushe Kosove I’m not focusing only on teaching – because there is so much else to do.  I woke up early today so that I could reply to an email before I set off to teach.  The email is from an organisation who are offering us a set of reconditioned computers, complete with software and training.  Now we have more volunteers, recruited yesterday at the American University of Kosovo , and are planning to open up in afternoons and on Saturdays, a set of computers could be transformational. There is a project proposal, and my responses are invited. I type as enthusiastically as 6am after too little sleep will allow.

When I’ve sent that off then I get to our building in Fushe Kosove and I start off by writing a note for our wonderfully warm and wise volunteer, Lisa, who’ll be coming in to do 1:1 work with the kids who need extra extra support.  I don’t think I’ll get to see her before she starts work as I have a meeting with the local school headteacher which should finish just in time for me to start with my group.  Hopefully my notes will mean she can meet the individual needs of the kids and build on what they did yesterday with another volunteer.

I go through the registers for yesterday and then go to buy the yoghurt and fruit before going off to the meeting at the big local school. The meeting with the headteacher is frustrating and inconclusive, though it establishes some important positive working relationships.  We end by agreeing I need to go to the municipality before he can help me any further in school.  But I don’t have time for the municipality right now, so after the meeting I am driven back to my classroom.  The kids are almost ready to come in when I arrive, and Vlora and Avdyl and Rob and Lisa are all in place.  They open the door and the children surge forward.  I find myself standing in a classroom with arms full of files, almost surprised and certainly unprepared to be surrounded by children waiting for me to teach them…

So is it me? Or is it teaching? Or is it just the nature of this strange hybrid project we’ve created? Even during my teaching time today I’m called out of class because someone from a local NGO has turned up unannounced to talk to me about possible partnership working.

In the evening I’m out at probably the most exhilarating part of the day – a fundraising pub quiz organised for the classes in Fushe Kosove by another of our volunteers, Joanna. The buzz in Paddy O’Brien’s Irish Bar is infectious, and our fellow quiz-goers seem to feel it too.  Not only do they donate over 300 euros in quiz entry fees and additional support (Joanna is selling one answer per round to anyone who wants to buy), but when the winning team offer to auction their prize bottle of Jameson’s, we find a generous buyer for 50 euros and once he’s bought it he offers it for reauction.  We get another 50 euros from the second auction round. Along with a note that gets crumpled into my palm by someone I know in the bar, that 5 minute period raises enough to ensure one child gets through the six months of our classes. In total the pub quiz raises 542 euros.  It’s astonishing; if it wasn’t going to buy the most basic resources to ensure the most basic of human rights for these kids, it would feel almost an indulgence to be given so much.

I get home from the pub quiz, head still ringing from Paddy O’B’s alcohol and music, and there’s the pile of work to be marked, lugged home with me like a weight of guilt hanging off a shoulder. Is this constant nagging guilt actually the real mark of a teacher?  Or should I acknowledge and embrace my roles as IT subject co-ordinator, Special Needs Co-ordinator, admin officer, catering manager, education social worker and fundraiser, and as the volunteer teacher team grows, let go of some of my teaching?

You might remember that last time I asked a question like that of our Ideas Partnership volunteer, Zsofia, she said ‘do both’.  It’s not bad advice though I could also do with some sleep.  And of course this kind of dilemma is a typical phase in the development of a group or a project; it’s just the speed of the thing which has caught me unawares.  Today was only day 13 of teaching this group of kids; I didn’t expect identity crisis to hit so soon.

Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

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