For two days now, my students have kept me company, on my toes and busy. These children, who were once tiny bundles, have now become long legs and big smiles. They tell Brian and I stories, show us their pencil cases adorned with various cartoon characters and they show gratitude for the two Americans who have come to this faraway place to help them learn English. My students are still getting to know Brian and myself, giving us smiles that consume their entire faces. Of course, my students have risen to the occasion when learning English has been difficult, confusing and just plain tricky. Luckily, my students are full of wisdom, they show the humor at sadness and they encourage me to experience life as a lyric as opposed to a list.
As I get to know my students, I know that there are moments I would like to lift them out of the grief they have suffered in their short lives, carry them above any pain and to make a path for them through trouble. I remember the first time I felt that urge was the first day I met them last month; it was the moment our eyes met and I wished the world for them. I wouldn’t start teaching for just under a month after I met them. I tried to focus solely on their perfection during that time, but I was preoccupied by the desire to shove away hardships for their foreseeable future. Maybe that’s a universal teaching instinct.
The thing is, at the end of the day, my students have a foreseeable future. They have words to teach me, problems to navigate and books to read. As I continue to work with my students, I realize that part of being alive is feeling scared, upset, vulnerable and alone. Life unspools the way life does if you are fortunate enough to be living it. There are cycles of blessed, painful and painful again. I may have my ups and downs here, but I am glad to be figuring it all out with them.
When I catch my students struggling to read a word, I read them the word slowly, thus forcing me to remember how I was taught English at their age. When I see the random pictures that are used to explain pictures in their workbooks (“Encyclopedia” for the letter “E”—really?), I have to try and think of words, quickly, that I can use to explain the letter(s). When I can’t say a word in Hebrew, I rely on my students to help me. They are teachers, too.
Yesterday, as I was waiting for my teacher, Merav, to open the door to the English Room, the fifth graders screamed, “Hello, Taylor!” and proceeded to give me hugs and blow me kisses. It was a moment, you know? This was a moment that made me appreciate my students’ aliveness, their eagerness to begin our lessons, my inability to move them through it on any path but their own and reminded me of why I came to this country. One of those moments.
The amazing English Room!