Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Kosovo: Chapter 10, Scene 2 Forever Changed

As I write this I am looking at the calendar. My class of fourth graders will be moving on to fifth grade next year. I suppose all teachers look over their class at the end of a school year with mixed emotions. A sense of relief that we all made it…a feeling of concern for that one child who still struggles with reading…and of course the pressure to finish everything, get grades in, and supplies put away for next year.

I’ve been through this transition nearly twenty times with elementary students and fifteen times I’ve watched my college students graduate. You’d think I’d be totally prepared to say my goodbyes. I’m not. 

This year is different. I’m not sure when I’ll see these students again. 
I’m not merely saying goodbye to fourteen students…I’m saying goodbye to Prishtina High School, to the friends I’ve made here. I’m saying goodbye to my church family at Drita e Bot√ęs. I’m saying goodbye to Prishtina, a city I’ve come to love. And I’m saying goodbye to Kosovo.

Not that I will ever leave it all behind. I’ll still be working for the school recruiting teachers in the US. Although we have a few teachers who have been here much longer, most of our American teachers make a two or three year commitment. As a result, we are always on the lookout for new teachers. I want the best teachers I can find. I made an investment in fourteen very special people. They deserve the best. 

My students have been reflective these last couple of weeks as well. They give me hugs and tell me they’ll miss me. They’ve been talking about what they did and what they learned this year. It has been an incredible year.

I pull Ardian aside. “You’ve learned so much this year,” I tell him. 
“I know, Miss! I can divide and multiply and I understand fractions,” he says enthusiastically. 

Celeste tells me she’s writing faster now. She is… and she is growing every day in what she knows.

Cedric is a smart cookie. His English and Albanian are both strong. He’s learning to navigate the tumultuous social waters of fourth and fifth grade. We have a good rapport. I tell him I only want the best for him. I do… and he knows it.  He flashes me that big smile and tells me he’ll miss fourth grade.

Naser has really made progress. We talk about it. His reading, writing, and speaking in English makes him one of my top students. He loves math. We’ve been doing a lot with fractions of late. “Miss, I thought changing fractions [to like denominators] and adding them and all that stuff would be too hard, but I remember when you promised you would never give us something to do that was impossible. And now I can do it!”

Zana , my one who is always thinking and asking questions for clarity tells me how much she loves school.

Fortesa asks me if I’ll come to her graduation. “I hope to,” I tell her. “And when you are President of Kosovo, I hope I am able to celebrate with you.” She offers that smile that I know will win her a million votes.

I give the students their weekend reports. Every Monday they come in and write about what they did over the weekend. Now I’m having them put them in order by date. It is a long process. They want to read everything.

“Look at my writing back when we started! I wrote like a little kid!”

“Miss! Look! Almost every weekend report says ‘I did gymnastics.’”

“Wow! Miss! This is so funny! Look how I used to spell cousins!”

“Sometimes I didn’t want to do a weekend report, but I’m glad we did!”

“Miss! Look! This is funny. I wrote down that I had bread for dinner. That’s all. I must’ve had something else, right?”

“Miss? When was the Winter Dance? I forgot to write the date on my weekend report.” [And no, the fourth graders didn’t have a winter dance, but Ardian’s older sister went to it.]

It wasn’t all about reading and writing and arithmetic. We engaged in science experiments. We made water filters and fossils among other projects.

And this year we studied history, geography, government, and economics through the lens of Kosovo. We made books to highlight what we learned. The students interviewed people who lived here before the war, during the war and after the war. It was a ten year window. They wanted to learn about the birth of their tiny nation but they also looked for the unexpected stories. Those similar to the one I posted about Bajrush Ibishi a couple of weeks ago. 

We made fold out books to highlight what we learned this year. My favorite part consisted of the stories they dictated to me in response to the question, “Who is your neighbor?”

Here are a few excerpts:

Florije: My neighbors are caring, loving, and have hospitality. People who help us when we’re in need and people we help when they’re in need.

Naser: My neighbors are the Balkans: Montenegro Albania, Serbia, Macedonia… the countries that help us whenever we are in danger or when they need help we help them. That’s how we can be better at everything.

Zana: My neighbors are caring people who are helpful. That have hospitality. They are people who are nice and friendly and they’ll help you and you’ll help them.

Ylber: My neighbors are Albania, Montenegro, Serbia. People who are around Kosovo who care for us and we care for them even though we don’t know them. The caring, loving and “kindful” people who saved this country are the ones that are the true people we care for. 

Rezarta: You’ll help them when they need help. Everyone in the world can be your neighbor if you help them and they help you.

Ardian: My neighbors are Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and other people around the Balkans. The people who care for us even though we don’t know them. What’s inside is what matters. The ones who cared for us and respect us. Albanian Kosovars are true people… these are my neighbors.

Yes, this has been a wonderful year. A year to grow and change and explore and learn. But I’m not talking about my students now. I’m talking about me. 

I’m more independent. I feel far more capable of tackling the difficult without thinking it is impossible. My sense of who is my neighbor has stretched across an ocean and deep into a different continent. 

My life is forever changed by the hearts, the smiles, the love and trust and the hard work of fourteen fourth graders and the people of Kosovo.

Each week I share my experiences living and teaching in Kosova. Leave your comments and questions below. I’ll try to address each as best I can. And if you don't want to miss a post, simply add your email address in the box on the right where it says "Follow by email." 

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