France: Beeing a Fraternity Educator at the Paris’s ‘banlieu’
Maria Amata works as a teacher in a higher education institution of a disadvantaged area on the outskirts of Paris. Her experience lead us in a contest where choosing to live in a fraternal way is not an easy choice. However, it can lead to unconceivable consequences in the cultural and human development of the students as in Maria Amata experience.
“I teach the Italian language in the northern suburbs of Paris, a disadvantaged area in socio-economical terms, with a multicultural student population. There’s rampant drug peddling.
Normally, teachers at the beginning of their careers come out here, and then, having gained points, ask for a transfer to less demanding schools. I could have done so too, but I decided to stay – I’m out here since twelve years – to give the children the same quality of teaching as the best schools in Paris.
It was tough in the beginning. I was insulted by the students and once they even wrecked my car with kicks. Not knowing how to react, I was on the defensive … Then gradually I learnt to accept my pupils, even through a dialogue with their families, with the certainty that school is also the place to have positive experiences that further human development. Many of my colleagues arrive unprepared into this reality: some have a nervous breakdown, others continuously send students to face the council of discipline. I try to support them.
What’s important is to help children deal with their aggressiveness and remain calm in the classroom. It takes time to communicate in an appropriate manner, to let them know that I respect them, and at the same time, setting limits, always giving special attention to those who, through an unruly behaviour, express their difficulties. I’m reminded of S. who has five siblings, one of whom is physically challenged. Since the mother works throughout the day, he needs to take care of him. He’s unmotivated at school. He knows that I’m close to him to help him overcome his grief, and to encourage him to give his best.
One of my objectives is to appreciate everyone’s participation. I set the rules at the beginning of the year. For example, no one has the right to ridicule the others. Gradually an atmosphere of respect is established, wherein each one is free to speak up. Preparing a good lesson depends on me, but also on them if they actively involve themselves.
From a didactic point of view, the interdisciplinary cultural projects are of primary importance. They conclude each year with a school trip funded, besides the appropriate bodies (Municipality, General Council, Banks), by small self-financing activities.
It is a beautiful experience of fraternity for the boys to come out from their own environments that condition, judges and marginalizes them. They almost become different people and their positive potential comes forth. For example, Y is passive and characterless in class. Speaking with him I discovered that the teachers and his father for years told him that he was a good for nothing and he ended up believing them. He displayed a hatred for history in the classroom but while in Sicily he displayed sensitiveness to artistic beauty: has been fascinated by Greek theatre in Taormina and the Roman aqueduct in Syracuse.
I don’t know if what I do will have a positive result. I’ve learnt not to expect immediate results. Even when a boy doesn’t change, the most important thing is to continue to believe in him, without delving on what is not going right, but to recognise all the positive aspects that he possesses, thereby appreciating him and giving him a sense of gratification.
And then I have a good relationship with many colleagues. It’s important to listen, talk, and share experiences.
The same holds true while giving a sense of direction. To someone who wanted to become a chef I said: “You are lucky to have clear ideas. It’s rare. Be ambitious, and aim to obtain a good training”. He was accepted in one of the best culinary schools in Paris. Giving me the news has added: “I’ll create some recipes and one of them will be a tiramisù dedicated to you”.
(Maria Amata – fount focolare.org)