Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a student who gives you a mug at the end of the school year. Sometimes, you even get a letter of thanks on a Teacher Appreciation Day. And then there are the times (maybe) that you get an idea of the influence that you had on someone. And then there is an email such as the one that I want to share with you today.
In 2001, I taught at a run-down, under funded version of an alternative school. Think of it like a continuation school for elementary kids. This was the place without textbooks, without counselors, without Special Ed classes, and without ELD classes. Yet here was where all these kids converged, in a huge building, half of which was police-taped off, with a staff of dedicated teachers just trying to keep the students safe for 10 months.
It was there that I met a student (we’ll call him James) who was put in my classroom three weeks after escaping a massacre in Nepal. He was a kid who lit up the room when he entered. I remembered that I sat him in one of the small, collaborative groups across from a 300+ pounds 5th grade girl (she was on steroids for her urban asthma and had an oxygen machine at home, as did 1/3 of my class.) She was the room bully. He sat down happily across from her, and she looked at him like she was going to eat him for a snack. She grunted at him in skeptical greeting and he smiled, stood up, and did a back flip. He said, “I’m Jackie Chan!” and sat down. It was just about the only English he knew at the time.
I just got an email from James of an essay he wrote for school. It still has the voice of an ELL, but it clearly also has the personality of the student I once knew. He is now a junior in high school. I believe the topic was based on the book, “The Things They Carried.” I did not know James’ entire story before today. I did not know of the influence I had on him. I only knew his heart. Here is an excerpt (used with permission) from his essay:
A hero is born in Kathmandu capital city of Nepal. He is small, humble, and his name is James. He is quite an artist, very energetic, and very generous. He was lives in the worse place you could imagine from the age 5 to 9 in boarding school, outside of his house. James was fearless, he was capable of beating anybody that turned him off, and had a generous heart. James was still searching for his power and what he was able to do and what he couldn’t do. While growing up James was naturally muscular and very handsome young boy with dark brown hair. James had harder time learning Nepalese then other kids in school and he couldn’t pronounce words correctly. He had trouble speaking the language.
As the story goes on he was living basically in the worse place and he missed his parents. James was the class clown in his school and always got whipped with a pipe about 3 ft long. He really never found joy in that place except performing at the school in graduation. James was also a bully a small bully but he did kick ass. James believes that he was macho and very strong. The reason he did all this was to get out of the school and go home and live there.
James was beaten by his teachers and the elderly a lot in school and he just sucked it up he always thought that it was like exercising when they beat him. But this one girl his best friend her name was Maya, she would always cry in front of the class when the teacher beat him and he always felt bad because of his behavior she was crying. And since we lived in coed dorms her bunk bed was right next to his. They talked all night about how bad they both wanted to escape out of the Hostel.
Now let’s fast forward this story to 2001. James comes to America [with his family] and this is where his journey begins.
5th grade was a memorable time of his life. But that fighting stopped because he just didn’t want to bring violence in his life anymore. His favorite teacher in the whole world name Ms.Wolpert who told him Martial Art is self defense you don’t go showing off your moves to other and beat people up. Soon he stopped. Ms.Wolpert thought since James was wild and had crazy imagination she took him and his friend to a museum in S.F along her boyfriend [husband]. James was excited to get on one of those bicycle which was a circuit to light up the bulb by pedaling. As his teacher described him in a recommendation she wrote “James pedal and pedal and pedal till he sweated and that darn light finally started to light up but I don’t think it was James pedaling that made the light go on but his bright smile”.
From that day he learned to be happy and never took anger at people and its funny how much he has changed. From a kid growing up without parents being around and getting beat everyday he found joy in what he was doing now and no one was about to stop him. It’s funny how this kid who hated God for long time comes back and defends his belief. I don’t think it was Ms. Wolpert that changed James’s way of thinking but it was God working thru her and revealing himself… And that’s the end.