Last week marked the end of my student teaching experience at Ridgetop Elementary School in Austin, TX. I was in an ESL classroom meant for students going into the 1st grade, with ages ranging from 4 to 7. Some students write (nearly) perfect sentences and speak English fluently — others have trouble counting past five, and can’t tell the difference between an S and a A. Every day for the past four weeks, I’ve gone into my lovely little classroom and seen their (mostly) happy faces. Even though there have been some battles — overly enthusiastic students who haven’t quite learned how to raise their hands, rocks being thrown on the playground, name-calling and tattle-tales — my overall experience has been positive. I have so many hilarious stories about the things they say and do (enough comedy to last me the next three years of my life!) and I’ve learned so much about what it means to be a good teacher. Today when I was leaving, one little boy from Ethiopia called to me and said: “Ms. Lane! Thanks for teaching us some stuff today!”
There is so much more I wish I could do for them.
I wish I could give them all my favorite books and help them learn to read. I wish I could make sure they all have a safe place to live, healthy food to eat, and plenty of outdoor green space to run around in. I wish I could follow them all the way through high school, motivating them to discover their passions and talents, helping them to set goals for themselves and choose a career path. I wish I could make it possible for all of them to have an opportunity to go to college — and that their education would be affordable and offered to them without attacks on their humanity, without ever hearing the word immigrant given a negative connotation and attached to the word “illegal.” Most of all, I wish I could tell them that the world is a beautiful place, that all people are kind and thoughtful and respectful and accepting, and that their country really cares about their success and happiness.
These are the students that so many state legislatures are terrified of. Is Georgia afraid of these kids coming to school in too-small pajamas and too-large shoes? Is Arizona afraid of children who are so diligently practicing their ABC’s and learning about their five senses? Is Alabama frightened of six-year-olds playing tag and swinging from the monkey bars? Is Texas really worried about little girls and boys who meticulously cut and paste red, white and blue to create their state flag?
It truly breaks my heart when I think of the world they are growing up in, a world that tells them they aren’t as valuable because of the color of their skin, their different-sounding last names, or their immigration status.
Today in class, we read Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, a children’s book written by Barack Obama. It’s a beautiful book, with illustrations of some of America’s most brilliant women and men as girls and boys — ranging from Sitting Bull to Cesar Chavez to Billie Holliday. The kids loved it — and I especially loved hearing what they had to say about Martin Luther King, Jr. “A long time ago, brown people and white people were separate, and signs said WHITE PEOPLE ONLY, but now we can all be friends.” “That’s right,” I said. “We can all be friends. We are all a family.”
That might not be true in our country or our state right now, but today in my classroom it was. And if I have anything to do it, by the time these kids are out on their own, the rest of the world will have caught up with us.