Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mister I Am Games!

My fellow expats and I have been teaching at Mar Qardakh for over five weeks now.  The experience has been difficult but rewarding.

The work week starts on a Sunday at Mar Qardakh.  In Islamic countries, Friday and Saturday are taken off, and we follow that schedule as well, though we do have a somewhat shorter day on Sunday.  Each morning, students arrive around 8:20 and are divided into homerooms based on grade group.  At 9:00, the first of three one hour periods begins.

During the summer program, 1st through 8th grade are put in four grade groups consisting of 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, etc.  At the beginning of the program, students picked Art, Computers, Drama, or Gym as a major.  Students attend their major class during first period every day.  For second and third period, students cycle through their non-major classes.  After classes are over, students leave the building around 1:00.

The students at Mar Qardakh are both charming and frustrating.  If they are told to be quite, they will remain silent for what they consider to be a reasonable amount of time (3 to 10 seconds) before resuming loud conversations in Sureth.  When the students speak English, many do so in a hilarious pidgin dialect.  For example, they are under the impression that “I am” means, “I want,” or “I will.”  One kid enthusiastically told his teacher “I am games!”  Since then, expat teachers can often be heard shouting the same exclamation to each other.  Students who want to do some task will yell “Mister, I am!  I am!”  The constant shouts of “Mister” are a source of annoyance to all the teachers.  We tell our students that we will only call on them if they quietly raise their hands, and seconds after we say this, they start yelling “Mister!” again.

These are of course generalizations.  Some children are quiet and respectful, and even the loud ones are not malicious.  Almost all the students are good natured and very forgiving.  You can loudly scold your class for talking for the fortieth time, and they seem to love you anyway, cheerfully saying “Bye Mister!  See you tomorrow!” as they leave.

I teach drama to 5th and 6th graders.  The drama majors are working on a play that they will perform for their parents at the end of the summer program.  I have been teaching the same play to my second and third period non-drama students, instructing them in vocabulary, diction, and emotional expression.  My drama majors will perform The Boy who Cried Wolf.  It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it helps them develop their English and public speaking skills.  The students are all eager to participate in the play.  Whenever I tell the class that I need to cast a part, fifteen voices shout, “Mister, I am!”


  1. “Mister, I am!”
    Sounds like you have 15 Yoda wannabes.
    I like the idea of using a play to help them understand proper English. It is 1 of the hardest languages out there when you think about it.
    Are you going to do a video of the play for us to watch?

    1. Sadly, I will be leaving just before the play is performed. I will ask someone who is staying to send me a video.

  2. I, for one, would love to see a video of the play!