The teacher becomes the student

A group of children playing in a schoolyard in Italy.
Recess is over! Blogger Hannah Grahek volunteers at an elementary school in Florence to teach English for elementary school students.

By Hannah Grahek*

When I first arrived in Florence, I knew that I wanted to be able to give back to the community in some way, I just wasn’t sure how. Lucky for me, my answer came quickly. My college informed us that they were offering the opportunity to volunteer at an Elementary school helping teach English.

I truly did not know what to expect that first day, but I knew I was excited. The school is one of the few located inside the walls of the city center. The beauty of the building blew me away. The tiled floors led me through the high ceiling corridors, where like many places in Florence, the walls were covered in paintings. It did not seem like a place where young kids would be learning, which is because it was not. I exited the first building, and could see across from the lush green courtyard there was an adjoining building where the classrooms were.

A boy practices reading in English
A boy practices reading in English.

Instantly, once I stepped inside, I could hear the ringing childhood laughter and voices coming from each room. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed being in the presence of children. In the city center, it’s rare to see families with children, just being how hectic it is. I forgot how historical kids could be. I love how they don’t have filters because they haven’t learned all of societal norms of what one should say or not. It leads to some pretty hilarious questions.

I volunteer in Christina’s 2nd grade classroom. A typical day begins with the kids getting into a circle, where they work on counting. Next, we read a story in English and then they discuss the main ideas of that story. After, we do an activity that works on spelling. Some days I help them write in their journals.

For only being in second grade, many of the student’s English is surprisingly good. They are able to communicate with simple dialogue. It’s funny because they are learning the same basic things as I am in my Italian class. They are actually helping me learn as well because often they say something in Italian and together we work to figure out the message they’re trying to communicate.

I love watching how they interact with each other as well. Some days I get there while the children are still at recess. I am always thrilled when this happens because I get to be included in on their playground games. The games they have taught me are all different variations of the ones played in the states. Girls usually play on one side of the playground, while boys are on the opposite side. A trend that we are also familiar with. In fact, not much us that different between Italian children and American children, besides the obvious language barrier. This goes to show how interconnected our cultures are, and that maybe we all are much more similar than we think.

One thing I did not expect is how different the teaching styles would be compared to the United States. This is also something that I have noticed in my classes as well. The teachers are much more harsh when needed and aren't afraid to yell. It could be that the Italian children have some sass to them and won't hesitate to wave a finger at you and tell you what they're thinking. Good thing kids are cute.

Children engage in a spelling competition
The spelling competition is heating up...

Overall, deciding to volunteer in the school has been one of the best decisions I've made while being here in Florence. It's allowed me to connect to the culture in a way I didn't expect to, through children. I have a better insight on what life's like for a child in Italy. While they thought I was teaching them, they were actually teaching me.

*Hannah Grahek is a communications studies major with a certificate in fundraising and philanthropy communication at the University of Iowa. The junior, originally from Oskaloosa, Iowa, will be spending her semester on the API program in Florence, Italy.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Keywords: 

Author: