One Must Always Be Learning

One must always be learning. Even if you’re one of the learning ones and you’re an educator, who’s supposed teach. Because even teachers have to keep learning. Did they not tell you that in Teacher School?

Ric Murray wrote a piece about a profound moment he had: learning something completely unexpected from a student. He’s a seasoned teacher, is incredibly involved with his school and with his teaching and coaching work. He’s not effing around when it comes to going above and beyond the call of duty, and so was caught totally off guard when he realized he had missed something that was so significant his students.

Mr. Murray is a seventh grade Social Studies teacher and some of his students, being new to the U.S., are English Language Learners (ELLs). A former student, Rocio, was a newly minted high school graduate and a Gates Millennial Scholarship recipient when she showed up to say goodbye to her old school before heading off to college.

Mr. Murray asked her to say a few words to his new class about her experiences as an ELL student and what it’s possible to achieve after coming to the States knowing how to say only “Hi” and “Yes” in English.

She began to speak, explaining her path and how she’d gotten to this moment—heading off to college. Most of the students gave a disrespectful look and turned away. To which she responded with two items:

First she said, “I know why you are looking away. You think this can’t happen for you. You think you’re not smart enough. You think you’re not meant to go to college. You think it would be disrespectful to your parents; who did not even go to high school. I know that’s what you are thinking, because I sat in your chair just a few years ago, thinking the very same thing when teachers talked about students going to college.

But let me tell you something, Your parents would not have left their families, struggled with their children to travel here, and now work 16-18 hours everyday if they didn’t want you to get your education. So make them proud. That’s why they came here. Not for them, but for you.”

Second she said, “I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying it will be worth it. What we know that your teachers don’t know is that we can’t even be ourselves or show our real personality to them, or our classmates, because we don’t have a personality until we own the language the people around us use to communicate. We know that you can’t be who you really are in someone else’s language. But when you do learn the language, and you will, you will be able to reveal the real you to them.”

Realizing the absolute truth of that statement, You can’t be who you really are in someone else’s language, Mr. Murray now asks his ELL students to tell him about something they’ve done recently, something fun. First he asks them to tell him in English. Then in their own language. The information is given and received satisfactorily in English. But in the second telling, when the students tell ostensibly the same story but in their native tongue, they laugh, their eyes light up, more of them comes through.

Ric Murray usually posts here, but the excerpts above are from his piece, I Only Thought I knew My Students, which can be found at Teaching Village.

Posted by Alexa Harrington

(image source)

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  • Comments (1)
    • Kelly Betts
    • May 31st, 2010

    Wow, I found this story to be incredible and something that we as teachers take for granted with ELL students. But it makes so much sense and gives me something very interesting to ponder on. Thank you for sharing…..

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