Memoir written by Minerva Faddoul, Fellow of 2010 cohort.
Stepping out of the bus I slam the front door with all my might, the weight of my pink Dora bag pulling me down. It looked lovely at the time when I bought it, but not as much anymore. It made my back and legs hurt.
I approach the school gate which has been left ajar, most probably forgotten; the front playground (an open space of emptiness) already quiet. I’m still not there as I have four flights of stairs to take. How will I do it? What will the supervisor say when she sees me? I can already hear her barking shouts as she speaks out her disapproval for being late again this week. What will my teacher say? Wait…I have Miss Minerva today first hour! How I love English with Miss Minerva. I wish she was my teacher all day long! I know Fadwa and Mariam would agree with me too. We love her so much.
Going up the stairs has never felt this easy. I sneak past the supervisor and head straight to the Grade 2 door. I stop. Miss Minerva always likes a polite morning greeting. I knock at the door. I hear her firm melodious voice say, “Come in”. The class is quiet and everyone is writing their homework. Fadwa and Mariam are already raising their hands, quietly waiting for Miss Minerva to read over and sign their agendas.
“Good morning Miss Minerva.” I say shyly.
“Good morning Rodayna.” She says looking at her ticking watch. We all know how important time is for our English teacher. “You’re ten minutes late today. Quickly bring out your agenda and write your homework. You have one minute left.” I head straight to my desk and get to work.
Miss Minerva always expects us to act in our best behavior. She tells us that she believes we can all become excellent English writers, readers, and speakers. She says nobody is dumb but that some of us are at different levels in our English. “It is okay”, she says, “because we are all a part of a team and we must help each other to reach the top of our Ladder of Success and grab those writing, reading, and speaking apples so that we can make it to Grade 3 next year.
I don’t want to stay in Grade 2, so I work very hard and want Miss Minerva to continue to be proud of me. Miss Minerva wants us to have order in class at all times. For this reason there are three classroom rules with which we start English hours every time. The rules are so clear and I no longer have to read them since I know them by heart.
First, Miss Minerva expects no talking in class. We all must sit properly. Second, when we have something to say or want to answer a question, Miss Minerva expects us to raise our hands in class and WAIT. Miss Minerva tells us that learning how to wait is very important because we are twenty-seven students and she is only one teacher. Also, she says that sometimes I won’t get called on even though I raise my hand and wait, and this is because Miss Minerva wants to give everyone a chance to answer in class. I wish she only called on me-especially when she calls on my friends to go up to the board and write.
Finally, our class’ GOLDEN RULE is that there must be “only one voice in class: teacher or student”. Miss Minerva says that sometimes the best way to learn is to listen. So when Miss Minerva is talking especially when introducing a new lesson we should hear only her voice. The only time she accepts me to talk is when I have a question—after raising my hand and waiting. Miss Minerva wants to make sure the class completely understands her big words, the examples she gives, and that we are able to answer questions correctly. I think these questions help her check our understanding. (Sometimes my hand gets tired from raising it so I understand that what she is saying is very important and that she doesn’t want any interruptions, so I put my hand down and continue to listen and think about what she is teaching. Sometimes though, I wish she calls on me because I have a question or I want to connect what she is saying to something that has happened to me or something that I have already learned. I guess because the class is too big she doesn’t want me to talk because then everyone else would want to talk. This will waste time and Miss Minerva likes us to finish our lesson on time...)
English class makes me feel good about myself, smart and safe. Miss Minerva always follows the same morning pattern before starting her English lesson. After the morning greeting and picking on some students to share about themselves, she calls on three students to remind the class about the classroom rules. She then walks over to the board and writes the date on the top right-hand corner, the subject in the center, and finally a line labeled “name” on the top left-hand corner.
Everyone knows her next words. “When I say go bring out your agendas and wait. You may begin to write only after you have read what your homework is on the board. You will have 2 minutes only. At the end of the two minutes I will come and sign your agendas…Go.” Sometimes I’m faster than she is and I bring out my agenda, homework and English notebook before she tells the class. She nods her head at me in approval, and when my hands are together and I’m facing forward, Miss Minerva praises me for following the classroom rules, with an: Excellent Rodayna! You’re sitting properly, not talking and waiting for Miss Minerva.” It always feels good as I see my friends quickly do the same thing. But they don’t always get the same praise.
As I write the last word of my homework, Miss Minerva checks the last agenda and finally walks my way. “Since Rodayna was late when Abdel-Hay read us our homework, I will read it again. I want everyone to follow along as I read. Your homework for tonight is: Read and copy the meaning of Common Noun and Proper Noun. On a separate piece of paper write five common nouns and five proper nouns. So, like I said earlier, Grade 2, today we are going to be starting a new lesson on common nouns and proper nouns. In order to understand your homework and do it correctly we need to work extra hard today and……”
Phew, I’m glad I made it in time for the new lesson today. I know singular and plural nouns very well, so common and proper nouns must be easy too. I’m going to listen very well and write everything Miss Minerva tells me to write so that I can do my homework correctly all by myself. ….I wish Hussein didn’t make Miss Minerva mad. He takes things from Razan and talks to Malak and when he does this he never finishes his classwork on time. Miss Minerva has done many things to teach Hussein that how he is behaving is wrong, and still he does the same thing. She’s given him the 2 warnings, written a sad note to his Mom in his agenda, made him stand in the corner and not participate in fun activities in class, write 30 lines of “I will not talk to my classmates during work time and I will follow classroom rules”, until finally she sent him to the supervisor. Still Hussein continues to get to her.
I don’t like it when Hussein makes Miss Minerva angry because then she becomes very firm and serious about English work…I guess this is good because then everybody pays attention in class. But sometimes she becomes angry at everyone because of one person, Hussein.
Miss Minerva tells us about the importance of learning about Common Nouns and Proper Nouns. She tells us what a common noun is and what a proper noun is. The meanings of each are on two brightly colored papers, which go up on the wall where the meanings of singular and proper nouns were yesterday. The meanings are in English so they’re a bit hard to understand…but I know that she’ll explain more, so I don’t speak and I don’t raise my hand. I wait. Miss Minerva begins to give examples and every time referring back to the meaning, so that I understand that “girl” is a common noun and “Rodayna” is a proper noun. “Girl” could be any girl in the class, but “Rodayna” is one girl in the class and her name begins with a capital letter. Miss Minerva gives more examples of common and proper nouns for places, animals, and things. I come to identify that “school” is a common noun and “Bakhoun Mixed Official School (English Branch)” is a proper noun; “Sasha”, the name of Miss Minerva’s dog, is a proper noun and “dog” is a common noun; and “chocolate” is a common noun because it could be any chocolate, but “Tarboush” is a proper noun because it is the name of my favorite chocolate (yummy!) and it begins with a capital letter.
I’m getting excited as Miss Minerva shares the examples, because I am starting to understand. I can’t wait for the next part. After all the examples have gone up on the wall under the bright yellow common noun paper and the bright green proper noun paper, Miss Minerva says, “Now, Grade 2, I am going to say a noun. If you think it is a common noun I want you to stand up and if you think it is a proper noun I want you to remain seated. The first noun: girl…”
Common or proper...I know! Common. I stand up. “Common! Very good. It names any person. Please be seated. Now, the next noun: Miss Minerva…”
Common or proper…this is my teacher’s name…like Rodayna! Proper. I stay seated. “Proper! Well done. It names a particular person: Miss Minerva….” We do a few more and I get most of them correct. I can see Miss Minerva disapprovingly looking at Tarek and Nada as they make funny noises and play instead of pay attention. Miss Minerva does a count down starting at 5. By the time she reaches 1 everybody is silent and sitting properly again. No body wants to write 20 lines during the 25 minute recess.
“Please bring out your notebooks. Write your name, subject, and the date. When you have finished I want you to put your pencils down and look at Miss Minerva so that I know you are finished and ready to do more common and proper nouns.” As I write, Miss Minerva writes Common and Proper Nouns in the center under the subject. Then she writes: Read each word. On the line write common if it is a common noun and proper if it is a proper noun. She numbers the board from “1” to “5”, and writes two words for each number with a line beside each word. By now I and most of the class are finished and trying to read the words by ourselves. “Put your pencils down please and look at the board. Here you have 5 questions….” She points to the directions and explains what we have to do. We all do number one together and then she says, “Now, when I say go, I want you to write them down in your notebooks and try to do them by yourself. You have 5 minutes.” She sets the time on her timer. “At the end of the 5 minutes I will call some of you to come up to the board and answer them. Any questions?” She looks around and I’m excited to begin and do them all correctly! “Go, you may begin.”
By the time the 5 minutes are up, I am still completing number 5. I keep working until I am finished. I can see Fadwa raising her hand and waiting quietly for Miss Minerva to call on her. Miss Minerva sees her hand and calls her up. Eight of us come up to the board, one at a time and write common or proper. Miss Minerva is impressed by our answers. When Haya goes up to the board, she answers wrong. “It’s okay to make mistakes in class” Miss Minerva says when some of us laugh at her, “we’re here to learn from them so that we do not make the same mistakes again.”
Miss Minerva tells us we have 15 minutes of English class left. We get excited as she reaches into her big black bag into the big green folder. We are about to get a worksheet! I love worksheets because they make me feel so smart. Again Miss Minerva makes a count down—starting from 10 this time. We calm down and become quiet again. “I want you to leave your notebooks open on the corner of your desk. Now you are going to do a worksheet. I want you to write your name, subject, and the date on it first and then you may begin. I want you to work by yourselves and show me how much you know about Common Nouns and Proper Nouns. You have 10 minutes. This is plenty of time. Remember to read carefully and take your time on each question. This is not a race. This is to show me what you have learned today.” She hands out the worksheet and we all begin to follow her directions. While we work Miss Minerva walks around checking our work in our notebooks.
The timer goes off and Miss Minerva comes to collect my worksheet. I want to hug her and tell her how easy it is and how I got everything correct. I stand up with the worksheet in my hand and as I give it to her I kiss her on her cheek. She smiles and says, “Thank you Rodayna”. I’m happy…but sad because this means English with Miss Minerva is almost over.
“Excellent Mariam! She’s sitting quietly and waiting for Miss Minerva to finish collecting the worksheets. She’s not talking and is following the classroom rules! Bravo Imad! Haya….” Immediately the class quiets down and I remember to do the same.
Miss Minerva puts the worksheets in her folder and stands in front of the class again. “You have done very well today in English, Grade 2. We learned about common and proper nouns…” Together we go over the meanings of each and the examples that are on the wall. “Also, you are ready to do your homework all by yourself when you go home. Who can raise their hand and tell me a common noun?” I raise mine and I tell her “dog”. My friends who raised their hands also say some common nouns “school”, “boy”, “chocolate”, “girl”… “And who can raise their hand and tell me a proper noun?” Again I raise my hand and want Miss Minerva to know that I know both common nouns and proper nouns. “Miss Minerva”, “Sasha”, “Tarboush”, “Bakhoun”….
The bell rings. “Well done. Put your books away and get ready for your next teacher. Bye Grade 2!” Miss Minerva picks up her big black bag and as she leaves smiling, the class and I respond, “Bye Miss Minerva!” We are all happy.
My back and leg no longer hurt, and as I turn to put my English notebook away, I remember why I chose this lovely pink Dora bag.