Sabine Saïd : Children first

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme

Sabine Saïd loves children. Hers of course, but also yours, mine, all children. She is a teacher just as she could have been a paediatric nurse, dedicated to giving young ones the strength to grow, to gain enough self-confidence to open up to others and to the future.

In Sabine Saïd’s class, they learn mathematics, French, history or science, but most importantly they learn to understand the world in which we live, to fully find their place in it, to appreciate the differences that tell us apart from our neighbours, as well as the shared values that bring us together. There are some for whom this is easy and there are others, more fragile, already a little beaten by life, already resisting or even revolting against adults, society at large, and quite often even against themselves. These in particular are the ones that Sabine Saïd likes to take care of.

It is among them that she started working as a primary school teacher in a “priority education area” located near Lille, in a particularly run-down district. The kind of school where before even thinking about teaching anything at all, you have to fight indifference, mistrust and sometimes hostility from students and their parents towards the institution.

The secret to this is a mix of firmness and good will. On the one hand, firmness to set a frame, enforce the rules that of course bring constraints but also reassure, bearing in mind that learning inevitably requires work, regularity and perseverance. On the other hand, you have to be prepared to truly listen to whatever children have to say, because it wouldn’t make sense to request students’ attention without giving them your own, without giving any real importance to their ideas, even irrelevant ones, to their questions, even when they are ill-timed. That might mean not doing everything that the ministry of education had planned for you to have achieved by the end of the school year, but at least what will have been learned will have been learned well.

And then there is the tough question of secularism which, as seen from a primary school classroom, is as simple as that: it is impossible to ask a 3rd or 5th grade student to leave a part of their identity at the door – their beliefs, their values, the practices that they live with at home. Teachers have to deal with it, otherwise they cannot do much else than miss their target, which ultimately is to help all children become themselves.

Yesterday in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and for eight years now, in Senlis. What about the future? Tomorrow, when her own children have grown up and left home, Sabine Saïd would like to keep caring for others’ children, while broadening her horizons. Teaching children of another culture, in another country; discovering other ways of living, other ways of thinking, other traditions. See you in Tibet, Sabine?

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