Three religions and five cultures converge in my class

How am I supposed to manage that?

When I open the class book and check attendance by reading the names, Tamer, Büşra, Raed, Piotr, Ömer, Tarek, Berrin, you will immediately notice one thing: that I have no students in my class without migration background. But what you can’t tell is that it makes teaching impossible. What you don’t hear is that I am lucky if someone doesn’t run out during class because he doesn’t want to listen to a woman speak, of because he doesn’t want to hear what a Christian has to say, or because he has to pray, or because he can’t be in the same room with a Jew. Did you know that “Jew” is the most common swear word in Berlin schools?

Jugendliche mit und ohne Kopftuch sitzen in Stuhlkreis
© Violence Prevention Network/Yasemin Özdemir

In my 10 c class in Wedding (Berlin), half of the students have Arabic roots, the other half is Turkish, but it doesn’t stop there. Each group is even further subdivided: six of them are Palestinians, three are Kurds, some are Muslims, a few girls wear headscarves, some belong to a persecuted minority in their homeland, and then we have a token Catholic with Polish parents.

I’m completely overwhelmed in that regard. I’m a German and English teacher, not a social worker.

I have no problem with Islam in itself. Of course, sometimes it irritates me to see when girls start to wear a headscarf from one day to the next. And of course it irritates me to see how they are insulted and marginalised by non-Muslim classmates. But I also have extreme difficulties with disrespect. Do you know what it feels like when fifteen- or sixteen-year-old boys look at you with obvious disapproval and you catch yourself in front of the closet in the morning wondering if you should wear a knee-length skirt or not? From a certain age, you can literally see how an extreme commitment to Islam leads to the complete loss of my authority. “As an infidel, you still don’t have to be afraid. But in an Islamic state, that would be different.” Hearing things like that is part of my everyday life. I’m completely overwhelmed in that regard. I’m a German and English teacher, not a social worker.

Can you tell me how I’m supposed to teach when a group of five boys marches out of the room in the middle of class because they supposedly have to pray? I can’t just let that go, otherwise what’s next? That’s where I lose the respect of everyone else, and that’s not the only issue. As a teacher, I’m basically sitting on a powder keg with such a class composition and it’s only a matter of time before it explodes.

Where insecure young people build their self-esteem by devaluing others, where superficial knowledge, religious illiteracy, insinuations and stereotypes dominate German schools and where the idea of a proverbial powder keg can become a self-fulfilling prophecy at any time, a change of perspective is desperately necessary.