Sunday, November 1, 2009

Learning from my students

Something I am enjoying very much about being an English teacher is the endless ability of my students to surprise me by saying things that have an immeasurable sense of sincerity, or wisdom, or poetry, rendering me speechless and awed by these shy moments of profundity. A few of these such instances stand out to me.

~ Upon asking about the incessant rain and cool weather we were having a few weeks ago, a young girl of only 14 solemnly told me that Indonesia was in mourning for the people that had died in the massive earthquake that hit Sumatra, and the weather was reflecting these feelings.

~ I was observing some of my young students at work on a textbook exercise, and looking down at the little girls, some wearing jilbabs to cover their heads as a measure of modesty, I spoke my thoughts aloud without realizing... "I wonder what your hair looks like under there?" A very bright and well spoken child, who I happened to be standing next to looked up at me and said in a voice older than her years that her hair is a secret between her and her family.

~ The culminating assignment of my conversation classes involves a presentation in front of the class on whatever topic you feel you can speak freely about. I have heard students talk about where they grew up, typing skills, the dangers of skin whitening creams, saxophones and self defense, just to name a few, but I was particularly touched by one student's topic. A quiet girl, always dressed conservatively and seemingly quite traditional shared with the class her views on why women can and should be more than a housewife. She told us passionately that a woman must use her education and find a way to assert independence even while looking after a family and a husband, so that she is self-sufficient. My independent feminist streak was doing a cheer-leading routine while she spoke, and it is refreshing that in culture steeped in rites and tradition, girls are finding a way to balance the expectations of society with their personal goals and dreams.

~ A young gentleman said to me one day that he is learning English because he wants to speak to the world. How lovely is that?

These moments, and there are certainly more, leave me feeling that as I am passing on bits of grammar and pronunciation and vocabulary to my students, they are leaving me with bits of wisdom that go far beyond language learning, always sneaking up on me out of the blue, to remind me of how much there is to learn in this world.

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