My first full time teaching job was fourth grade in a highly diverse school. Our students spoke many different languages. They had such a wide variety of life experiences, even by the time I knew them at the age of ten.
I had so much to teach them, at least according to my district and state standards, but they also had so much to teach me. I am convinced children teach adults as much as we teach them all the time, no matter who they are. However, my students had even more to teach me because of how different our backgrounds were. They were living in the U.S. now, experiencing many of the same things I was, speaking the same language, eating the same foods, watching the same movies. But they had so much more. Another language, foods I didn’t know at all, religious observations with which I had no experience, and often travel that I couldn’t imagine.
Those students my first year of teaching, and their families, taught me how much I didn’t know. They showed me how many things I assumed based on my own life experiences. It was as if I had been watching a play performed on stage and suddenly the curtain opened to reveal so much more of the set. I knew such a small portion before.
Every day I learn more about lives that are different from mine and it fascinates me. I learn from my students and from my daughters’ friends. I know that I am still only scratching the surface of this world in which I live. Next year I’ll be teaching on an army post, teaching all children in military families. I will again learn about a world I don’t really know. More curtains will open for me, revealing more of what is there. I can’t wait.
I am so grateful to my students and their families over the years who have shared their lives with me. Shared their food. Invited me to understand a religious holiday. Explained to me a cultural difference. I appreciate all they have taught me.
That first class got me as a very green, baby teacher. I made so many mistakes that year (and still do, but hopefully not quite like that) and those kiddos were still willing to invest in me. I will always love them for that.