Judging others will never give us the outcome we are seeking.
I am an ESL teacher in a public school. What that means is that I teach children (who are native speakers of other languages) how to achieve proficiency in the English language.
I do this while simultaneously encouraging them to continue to maintain proficiency in their native language. Yes, you read that correctly–I want my students to be bilingual. I understand and value the gifts of bilingualism and biculturalism. I do not ask my students to leave their cultures at home. I do not ask them to change who they are, because these children ARE GIFTS, I tell you–GIFTS to my school, my community, and our country. I only ask that they come to my classroom ready to learn each day and rise to the high expectations I have for them in their academic achievement.
I take this responsibility seriously, because shaping minds is serious business. I teach every child that walks into my school who qualifies for my program. I do my best to guide them on the path to proficiency in speaking, reading, listening, and writing in English, while providing them access to a rigorous curriculum and critical thinking skills. My program is not a remedial program; it is an acceleration program.
I love what I do and my students inspire me to be brave everyday, because they are some of the bravest people I know. They show up to school and do the next thing and speak truth, even if their voices shake or if they don’t yet fully know the language.
My students come from varying backgrounds, which I may explore in another blog post at some point…
But today, I want to talk to you about my students who are refugees, or whose parents are refugees. I have students and/or their parents who come from war torn countries. They have seen things that you and I cannot fathom.
Have you ever taken the time to hear a refugee’s story?
If not, you may want to consider googling, “experiences of refugees,” and see what comes up.
Because most of us have NO idea what a refugee has been through, unless we have taken the time to let our brains and our hearts explore that uncomfortable place.
This would mean exploring uncomfortable emotions, because there’s nothing comfortable about fleeing war. There’s nothing comfortable about uprooting your entire family because you are, quite simply, afraid for your life. There’s nothing comfortable about seeing and/or experiencing murder or rape, or to live in constant fear of what may happen.
Each of us have our own ideology about what is right or wrong. Each of us have values and needs that are important to us. I know it can be hard to see another’s point of view; but when I see judgment aimed towards people, simply because of their birthplace, or their country of origin, or religion, my heart aches.
Maybe that’s because I see children. I see children who have seen things or know about things that are absolutely FOREIGN to us, #nopunintended.
Today, a student from Nigeria handed me a book he had written last night. I told him I wanted to learn about Nigeria. He knows I like to write, and that I value writing. So he gave me a book which had several sentences and pictures he drew. Some of the sentences were illegible (we are working on this), so I asked him to read the book to me.
As he was reading a page, he paused.
“This page has a bad word,” he said. “I had to erase it.”
“A bad word?” I asked.
“Yes… It was the word… The word, kill,” he said, bowing his head.
He read the page to me. It said, “In Nigeria, some people don’t know who their families are. They come to you and then you are in the hospital.”
I wasn’t understanding, so I asked him to tell me more. He explained that there are people “who can’t find their families and don’t know who their families are… and they try to kill you. And you have to go to the hospital.”
I don’t know this particular student’s exact circumstances or those of his family. But what I do know, is that he has pieces of knowledge and knows things that you and I know nothing about. He knows about war and displacement first hand. He has a frame of reference and understanding of our world that is beyond our bubble that we live in.
We need to become informed. And that doesn’t happen through the media. It happens through books and research and hearing people’s stories first hand.
I had the gift of hearing this child’s story today. In fact, I have the gift of hearing all of my students stories EVERY day. I want to share that gift with you. That’s why my students and I are starting a blog. The first entry will be up this weekend. And it will be their writing. They are the future. They are writers. They have something to teach us.
And it’s hugely important.