Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not bah-humbug

My ESL class had our last class of the semester last night and we had a little end of the semester party. I'm not sure why nobody but me is smiling in the photo - maybe a cultural thing? Despite their lack of smiles, EVERYBODY wanted a picture with the teacher - even people who didn't bring cameras and don't even know the person taking the picture.

One of the projects that I had them work on was to write their "life story." I've read (and noticed myself) that it's a powerful experience for people to tell "their story" however it is that they interpret it. As you may expect, I've read some really, really touching stories. But reading the one from my favorite student last night had me crying the ugly cry - not the cute pretty cry where you shed a tear- but where a couple sobs escaped my body and I had to fight to hold the rest in.

I think that my views on political issues and social norms/mores are complicated. I can sum it up best by saying that it's fine with me if gay people get married, I just don't think they should live together before they do so. So while I don't want to make a statement on immigration issues, I do have to say that my students are some of the hardest working people I've ever met. They don't speak the language, have left all that they know behind. Many of them are up at 4:30am to be at work by 6am. Working until 4 or 5pm for usually $12 per hour. No benefits, insurance, vacation days, NOTHING. Then, twice a week, they make it to English class by 6:30pm where I work them HARD until 9:30pm. I insist upon perfect pronounciation - and they say they like it like that. I think they are an asset to our country and I'm honored to have their acquaintance. But I also acknowledge that at some point our system(s) may not be able to handle the influx of people.

Most of the stories they wrote touch on their journey here - and while I'm not a professional, I would guess that there's some PTSD from what they have seen. But what got me was their goals - in 5 or 10 years they want to be speaking English, to be married, have a family and a house. They want to be good parents to their children. To learn English so they can help their children with their homework, or talk to their child's teacher.

After I read the last story, I looked up at my favorite student (he's about 6'3"). He is 19 and has a cousin here but that is all. He calls himself a mechanic, and works in an autobody shop. He's one of the few in our program who went to more than 8 years of school in his own country. He says that although he goes out to clubs sometimes, he doesn't drink much. He talks of wanting to find a girlfriend and get married and have many sons. I said, "Look at how much you've accomplished already. You had such a long journey, you are here, you have a good, good job and you are learning English so well."

He said, "Teacher, I have the American dream."


Laurie said...

They have a lot to be proud of. Congratulations on another great class.

vickie2005 said...

That made me tear up. I could be vulnerable because it's day 5 of on-my-own parenting and omg I am so tired but really, it's a great story. I hope your students always remember you as they make their lives the way they dream.

The Lowe said...

I miss teaching.

Mike said...

Hey Buddy, it's Mike A. What a great story! I'm so happy for you...but honestly, I'm tearing up with laughter at this picture...You and your big smile...and your students with their..."not so much-smile."

Whew, i'm weak with laughter...

definitely cultural...

Luchy said...

About the picture: I bet they were so tired, plus, they were expecting for somebody to say "Whisky" while somebody said "cheese" and they got lost in translation. Funny!
About how hard their lives are right now, they may have a "better life" now then what they could ever have gotten in their own country.
About immigraton don't get me started! We will have to sit down and have a long, long discussion about it.

Rachel et Natalie said...

yes it is true for Europeans too, we do not smile. Thank you dear American friends to show me how. It makes my day when a person smiles at me and I do hope it cheers somebody else when I smile too.
You are doing such a great job

Anonymous said...

What a great story! It was SO GREAT to see you today! I totally will write about it this weekend.

Great to meet you!

Blogging tips