Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Students, My Heroes

Who are your heroes?  Are they movie stars, professional sports players, writers, presidents, someone you admire from afar?

Mine are closer to home.  My heroes are sitting in front of me every day in the classroom.  They are the 11, 12, 13, and 14 year old students who show up at school every day ready to learn and have a new life in America.  They are the middle school refugees and immigrants that I am lucky enough to teach every day.

Do you remember middle school?  Do you remember it as the best time in your life?  I doubt it.  I love teaching middle school- kids this age are full of energy and big ideas.  They're figuring out who they are and they're ridiculously funny.  But, they're also self-conscious, awkward, and their brains are still developing, so there's a lot they don't  have a handle on yet.

Now, imagine all of those things PLUS being new to a country and culture and language.  My students are not only navigating the difficulty and stress of adolescence but they are adjusting to a new way of doing things in almost every aspect of their lives. It's shocking and it's not easy. Sometimes new students in my class don't talk for a long time- it's normal.  Sometimes they cry, because what they are tyring to do here is so very hard.  Sometimes they're sad, because they miss their friends, the weather in their country, the food....and everything here seems so strange and empty.

And, their parents.  Heroes, too.  Many of them were professionals in their country- doctors, teachers, lawyers.  They come here and they have to start over.  Imagine being a doctor or a teacher in your country- respected in your field, a professional, and then you come here and you need to get a much different job because you don't know the language, you don't have the U.S. license in your field.  It's tough.  It's really tough.

Yet these people do it.  And, they are my heroes.  They flee wars, oppressive governments, genocide to come here and start over.  They finally get out of refugee camps and come.  They come because they can't make a living in their country and just like all of us, they want to provide for their children. They come because maybe they can save their sick child's life through medical care here that they can't get in their own country.   Yes, these are my heroes.

I have a reflection that Garrison Keillor wrote years ago about refugees and immigrants hanging by my desk at school.  He also regards these humans as heroes and his words are so beautiful, I want to share them here at the close of this post:

"Heroes, all of them- at least they're my heroes, especially the new immigrants, especially the refugees.  Everyone makes fun of New York cabdrivers who can't speak English; they're heroes.  To give up your country is the hardest thing a person can do: to leave the old familiar places and ship out over the edge of the world to America and learn everything over again, different that you learned as a child, learn the new language that you will never be so smart or so funny in as in your true language.  It takes years to feel semi-normal.  And yet people still come- from Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos, Ethiopia, Iran, Haiti, Korea, Cuba, Chile, and they come on behalf of their children, and they come for freedom.  They are heroes who make an adventure on our behalf, showing by their struggle how precious beyond words freedom is, and if we knew their stories, we could not keep back the tears."

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