Let our Children Be
In working as an English teacher in Qatar, Farzana Gardee shares her thoughts on the classroom as a sacred space for a developing multicultural nation.
“I want my child to have a proper British accent. Where did you learn English? Is it your home language?” inquired Khalid’s* mum.
“Yes it is my home language, but if you’re looking for a British accent, that I do not have.” And I attempted to soothe her with an explanation of my qualifications.
I left work that day feeling utterly deflated. Quiz me about my life experiences, gauge my value system, and ask me about the type of person I am – after all, I’m your son’s teacher. And in being his teacher, accent is the least important thing I have to offer him.
The classroom is a sacred space and everyday brings the chance to learn and grow. It’s home to a beautiful blend of fresh minds from a diversity of cultures and backgrounds. It’s in this intimate space that we are responsible for the barriers we create, or the ones we break.
But more and more, we’re prioritising a single language over a value system. We’re pressuring our children to have the ‘right’ accent, to say things in the ‘proper’ way. And what is this ‘proper’ way? Whose way is it?
…we’re prioritising a single language over a value system. We’re pressuring our children to have the ‘right’ accent, to say things in the ‘proper’ way. And what is this ‘proper’ way? Who’s way is it?
In parent-teacher meetings, I have met some of the most devoted parents yet. Mohammed’s mum was anxious to know if he’d been making any friends. Ayesha’s father informed us of the extent of her allergies before placing her in our care. Jassim’s father asked about his son’s behaviour in the Quran class, did he enjoy it? And every morning, when Saud’s father left him at the front gate, he cried and cried, and his father would call later in the day, “Is my son okay now?”
You see, we all want the same things for our children. We want our children to be loved, to be mindful and respectful. What we want, more than anything is to know that in the care of others our children’s faith and spirit are both well kept. We want what is best for our children.
In this particular school, the children were primarily Qatari, with a generous sprinkling of Syrians, Filipinos, Americans, South Africans and a few more from other countries. Truly multicultural, as a reflection of the communities we now live in.
And it is from here that we have the power to create an inclusive global community. The classroom is poised as the perfect starting point for beginner international relations. Qatar’s geographic placement and its involvement on the world stage, allows us to cultivate a creative and resourceful space for our children – together.
Children are not born with prejudices towards other races or with judgements about the accents of others. They aren’t born with a love for money, status and pride. They don’t harbour notions of destructive definitions of who is civilised and who is not.
They are born free.
And as nationals and expats, it’s our job to keep our children free.