As I stepped into the school building well-dressed and with a baseball cap on my head, I thought about how my appearance conflicted with my inner sentiments. Loud music accompanied my arrival into the classroom; it was unexpected, intriguing, and perhaps even obnoxious. A bombastic entrance like that communicates an aura of confidence and pride, but that was the opposite of what I was feeling. My hands were shaking slightly from nervousness because I was worried about whether I could communicate ideas effectively. This is because in place of pride was a burning desire to teach.
I am not sure why I felt this way. These were eighth-grade students who I had never met before, but I felt overwhelmingly grateful that they were there. I told myself that I wanted to do everything I could to help these students improve their English, and I was pleasantly surprised when a few students completely surpassed my expectations. Jack, Dũng, and I wanted to get to know the students better by asking them for their interests. We gave them a survey to record these interests and asked if anyone would like to share their interests aloud to everyone in the class. One girl said that she valued living a “zero-waste lifestyle,” inquired Jack for his own lifestyle, and even had the wit to ask him if he knew what a zero-waste lifestyle meant. We were floored. Obviously, some of these students had great proficiency in English and had the confidence to question us in the language. However, I also saw that for every student that had exceptional English, there were four other students who had minimal exposure to the language. Some students wouldn’t even look at me when I asked them a question one-on-one.
After recognizing the discrepancy in English proficiency, I realized the difficulty of the task ahead of me. How was I supposed to provide a lesson enriching for all the students before me? How would I keep them engaged? How could I reach those who felt uncomfortable interacting with me? These are the questions I ask myself even as I enter my fourth week as a teacher. However, if there is anything I have learned from my time with these students, it is that they are willing to help me find what’s best for them. They will tell me whether they think a subject is boring, whether a specific topic is too difficult, and whether the structure of the class is working for them. Even though Jack, Dũng, and I have the final say of what happens in class, I am grateful for these students for their investment in the class as well as for their openness to allow me to meet them where they are at. I don’t think my longing to give them my best has wavered as the weeks have passed. If anything, being in the classroom with these students has made my resolve to journey with them even stronger. They are truly amazing!