As I made myself comfy on the bus on the way to work two weeks ago I got a worried email from my father, checking that I was alright. I looked around at my fellow commuters, who were reading the paper or twiddling on their phones without any sign of panic. There had been a shooting in my city and it had reached the news in Australia, but had somehow bypassed the front pages of the morning papers.
I happened to be teaching that morning, and brought up the subject with my students as they filed in.

‘We’re on the news in Australia? Really?’ Exclaimed someone in surprise.

‘Another shooting? I wonder why that one made the news.’ Commented another, blase.

‘It was gangs wasn’t it? I know someone who was shot. It’s all about drugs, you just have to know where to avoid.’ Someone else added confidently.

‘It only happens in those areas, we’re fine here.’ Concluded another of the students, as she sipped her coffee and gestured vaguely over the river.

Sleepy GBG in the morning

Sleepy GBG in the morning

Just another gang shooting, it seemed. The lid seemed mentally fixed on the topic, as if this neatly packaged the incident away. A look through reports of other incidents in the last few years revealed that the student’s comments were broadly true. Shootings were common and they did seem to happen repeatedly in the same areas. Areas removed from the centre of town by barriers of water, other suburbs and apparently of the mind. Not in my backyard.

I recalled a few weeks earlier hearing about a shooting outside a pizza shop in a suburb where I regularly drink. A local who is a friend seemed surprised that it happened in her local suburb, it being a nice neighbourhood and according to a documentary about Swedish accents, the ‘Montmartre of Gothenburg’. How could that happen here?

The week after the shooting I spoke to another of my students, and she also dismissed it as happening somewhere else. In a dissonant sort of way, the incident was both unimportant because it happened so often and because it happened outside the scope of her neighbourhood. The unspoken line was that it happened in low socio-economic suburbs, where there is usually lower education standards, higher unemployment and a greater percentage of people born in other countries. This mess of assumptions and indifference played alongside an incident just the previous day in which a man had shot his ex-partner. It had happened within 200 metres of my student’s school. This time there was no connection to gangs, rather a private disagreement. She shrugged when I asked if she was ok. Nothing to do with us.

As someone who is still an outsider in many ways, there are nuances that I miss and suppositions that I throw about the place. This I hope excuses me of offenses I may have cast in the faces of locals and aspersions I have thrown upon my adopted home. It seems to me though that you can’t find answers to questions if you don’t ask, or at least send questions into the ether.

Teaching and learning

As mentioned now and then, when not learning Swedish I have been teaching English since I moved to Sweden. It has mostly been relief teaching at adult schools, emergency or pre-planned lessons, with material I bring or part of a syllabus. It always varies, so I can never claim to be bored. Almost without fail my students, which is how I feel about them from the moment I enter the classroom, have been curious, focused and full of questions. The nightmare of bored teenagers and inertia hasn’t happened (I almost typed yet, but I don’t want to tempt fate).
You stay a step ahead, have a plan, prepare to drop the plan if needed, think about what they need, treat them as people and above all, listen.
There are few people in this world who won’t tell you want they want if you ask them sincerely.

It has been a process of learning for me as well, honing multitasking, patience and not being afraid of watching eyes. And throughout it all still being myself.

Recently I have been given, or rather loaned, my own class until the end of semester. Or as Swedes would say, until the start of semester. Yes, confusing, I know.
I reacted to the news with excitement and soon began to plan all of the cool things I could teach them about, all the stories and songs I could bring and share with them. Neil Gaiman, Suzanne Vega, Terry Pratchett, fairy tales, myths and legends, so many things! So many options! The real question should have been, of course, what do they need to learn and how can I help them to find it.

Writing exercise

Writing exercise

Discipline is required, especially when it comes to stories that you hold dear and would happily shove in the face of strangers on the street if you thought you could get away with it.
That said, I have included a few tasty morsels that I think the students will find interesting, and about which I can wax lyrical. The Queen and the Soldier has been done, with many insightful comments from the students, including aspects I’d never considered.
I’ve also found that learning another language has helped enormously in teaching my own, as I can see why people can make certain mistakes and for the first time get my head around the feeling of absorbing a language other than your own. It’s hard, and I am ever so glad that the two languages concerned have the same origin.



So how do you teach? My mother would say that you should facilitate learning, which brings to my mind images of people as conduits, funneling knowledge out of their chests into the minds of others, holding knowledge within their reach if students want to take it. Then there’s the old method from Dickensian dramas, the repetition of information, provided on blackboards for absorption or a background to whatever the student is thinking about.
There are many others, of course, as I have been finding my own way, a way that is being more settled as time goes on.

There will be another class this week, and such is the nature of the job that there may be more. I seem to have almost fallen into teaching, and I finally feel as though I’m managing to tread water and perhaps even swim.