In September 2003 I got a phone call from my former primary school teacher offering me a part time job in the old primary school I started my education in. I felt extremely excited!
It was my first real job offer and I was supposed to work with teachers who had taught me the alphabet as colleagues! At that time, I was still a student at a university but as I had already completed my pedagogy and methodology courses, I was more than welcome in Szkola Podstawowa in Tuchom, Poland.
Tuchom is a small village in the north of Poland and the school there provides education for kindergarten and early years students from grades 1 to 3. There are around 10 students in each grade so the total number of children attending is around 40. There were many attempts to close the place down due to economic reasons and to send the kids to bigger schools but so far, luckily, these attempts were unsuccessful.
Teaching in a very small school like the one in Tuchom and bearing in mind the fact that it was the school I attended was an amazing experience. Teachers knew every child by name, they were familiar with their situations at home and had plenty of time to focus their attention on the kids’ individual development. The atmosphere in the school reminded me of home and students felt at home being there.
My students showed extreme willingness to learn English. A vast majority, if not all, of them had never been abroad or heard anyone speak the language before. They came from frequently large, poor or broken families. Their knowledge of the world outside the village was scarily scarce. I remember bringing toys from McDonald’s Happy Meals into the classroom and having the kids ask, ‘What is McDonald’s, teacher?’
The beginning of every school year was a torture test. I had to collect money for the course books from the students, order the books from the bookshops and then carry them on my own from the nearest city. As we were ordering an insufficient number of books, the bookshops did not want to provide free transport. The same story happened when I requested Teacher’s Books and audio CDs from the publishing houses. ‘Sorry, you need to order at least 20 books from each level to get them,’ I was always told. Fortunately, after calling the representatives repeatedly, explaining my situation and begging, I finally succeeded.
Still, half of the students could not afford the books, there was no computer and no VCD/DVD players to use in the classroom and no copying machine either. The only thing we had was an old cassette player that kept breaking down.
Yet looking back I cannot help smiling. All the effort and money I put into helping these kids was not for nothing. They loved learning English. With the help of ‘Songs for Very Young Learners’ and the forever breaking cassette player, my students had the chance to learn songs and sing in English. We spent a lot of time doing crafts work and sold what we created during the Christmas fair to raise money for the school. During a Spring Fair my students sang ‘Head and Shoulders’, ‘The Wheels of the Bus’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up’ for the whole village community and the ovation they got was worth a million! They managed to get everyone involved in singing the songs and doing the actions and I felt really proud of being their teacher!
At the moment I teach English to Young Learners at Istek Belde, a primary school in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s a private school that provides education for the more affluent members of society. Needless to say, I no longer face difficulties like the ones I faced in Tuchom. The classrooms are well equipped. Most children learned English in kindergarten. They all have their books and are eager to learn.
There is only one thing I am not sure of. Will they still say ‘Hello’ to me in English every time they see me even after years have passed like the students from Tuchom in Poland?
Anita Kwiatkowski holds a M.A. in English Philology from the University of Gdansk, Poland. She has been teaching kids and adults in Poland since 2001 and in 2007 she moved to Turkey. During the week she does her best teaching young learners. At the weekends she performs her duties as a Cambridge ESOL oral examiner, runs workshops for teachers or travels. She is a huge fan of Pedro Almodovar, loves face painting and sometimes indulges in Indian cuisine.