I haven’t even been teaching a full year yet, and my students have shown me a world of amazing things. I don’t get to see the world from a child’s perspective like elementary school teachers. I don’t open young minds and help students learn what they’d like to do with their lives like middle and high school teachers. I don’t offer students the ability to learn in unique ways and communicate in different ways from regular people like special education teachers.
Most of the time, I do the learning.
Because I teach English as a Second Language, I spend a lot of my time learning. If I’m not studying up on my history, civics, and grammar in order to teach a new lesson, I’m learning about different countries and cultures straight from the students in my classes.
I know other teachers in different classroom settings learn, too. It wouldn’t be teaching if there wasn’t a certain level of continuing education that was required of educators. But sometimes I learn things from these adult students that I would love to share with even a fraction of the rest of the world.
If I could share it with even a small amount of my fellow Americans, I would consider that to be an honor.
Why? Because I’m teaching immigrant adults who have had some intense experiences upon coming to the United States of America, and they work every bit as hard–and sometimes harder–as American citizens to find a sense of belonging, a little bit of income, and a place to call home.
I won’t make the controversial statements I’d like to make in this post. I will share some of the lighthearted moments that I think are worth sharing.
Things My Students Have Shown Me:
- Hospitality isn’t just a Southern notion. In the US, we like to think that the Southern states have a corner on hospitality. We have that Southern hospitality down, right? Well, I have some students who could teach us a thing or two about hospitality. These students band together and offer gifts and food at the drop of a hat. They invite me to their homes and are warmer than some of my fellow Southerners have ever been.
- Giving the teacher an apple is old hat. We grew up with ideas about presenting teachers with apples. We have printable gifts featuring apples for our teachers. All the cards for teachers are apple-themed. My students? They give me everything but apples. How about chocolate-covered espresso beans from Trader Joe’s or bringing in homemade dolma (stuffed grape leaves)? I have one student who brings me Biscoff cookies regularly despite my telling her it’s not necessary. When I tried to explain this to her, she took it as an insult, and I stopped immediately.
- Charm can come in all races. This never ceases to amaze me. I don’t consider myself to be a person who’s easy to impress in the sense that I’m easily flattered. Unless you’re my husband, you aren’t going to simply flatter me and get your way. But when I started teaching, I was highly entertained by all the students suddenly trying to charm their way out of homework or doing writing exercises in my class. Most of these were the younger men, but they came in all shapes, sizes, and races. I had to laugh or else I’d be too mad to teach.
- A little change goes a long way. This may sound vague, and it is. However, the little change I’m referring to is in the way I wore my hair. Yep, that little. I’m typically a dry-and-straighten my hair kind of girl. I’ll wear my hair straight and down or pulled into a ponytail. The first time I changed this and scrunched it into a bit of curls, the reaction was instant. I had the attention of most of my (male) students and had other students doing double-takes and throwing me compliments in the hall. Ever since then, I get compliments every single time I wear my hair that way and told I should always wear it that way. I’m always surprised how quick they are to voice their thoughts about that.
- If you grew up as a US citizen, you should feel very, very blessed. It doesn’t matter what country they come from, almost every student I’ve met has told me they feel lucky to be here in the US. They’ve been here a short time or a long time, but they’re excited to have the opportunities available to them in this country, opportunities most of us know nothing about. They know all about these opportunities and are happy to remind me that most Americans take these opportunities for granted. When I hear that, I remind myself to be thankful again and again.
These are just a few of the things my students have shown me. I think it’s special to have the opportunity to see the world from their eyes. I’ve learned so many things just from listening to them talk about their lives.
If anyone reads this and wants to tell me that these students have no business being in the US, then I suppose part of me can understand the frustration. But I also know that I have students who survived the horrific torture of citizens in Cambodia, who escaped war-torn parts of Africa, who left parts of China for university scholar programs here, who moved from El Salvador with no hopes of visiting home until they can achieve citizenship, who moved here from Guatemala only to be stalked and almost killed by crazy ex-boyfriends, who came from Iraq and Saudi Arabia only to be cursed and flipped off and told they are terrorists.
It must be hard to live in a country where freedom of speech allows us such liberties.
These are the things my students have shown me.