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Another Something Different

January 6, 2012

Dear Reader,

Here’s why I do what I do.  Here’s why I love teaching beyond all other potentially-more-rewarding professions.

A bit of background, first.  This student is Belarusian and came to America in fifth grade.  She didn’t speak any English then, but thanks to our (excellent) ESL teachers, she learned quickly.  She is extremely intelligent, but had been put with the “lowest” tracked class due to her limited English proficiency.

I taught her in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  I don’t give myself all the credit for her meteoric rise, but I do give myself a hefty portion, because her science teacher and I fought the administration to get her moved into the “regular” class in 7th grade, even though it screwed up her ESL schedule, and then into the “honors” class in the 8th grade, which had never been done before.  Students could not move into the honors class between 7th and 8th grades because of the year they’d “miss” of 8th grade instruction, which was what the state test measured.

Also, she was reluctant to take on the harder material, which is very common in intelligent people with normal or low self-esteem; challenges mean potential failure, and failure means (to them) they’re not smart.  Working with this student to overcome her anxiety, I was finally able to convince her to move into the honors class, which she dominated since many of the kids who’d been honors for years were self-absorbed, overconfident, and complacent.

We kept in touch in years afterwards, and I helped her through some of her tougher academic moments (I’m very careful not to engage in personal talk with my kids; I don’t know if she’s ever even had a boyfriend – though I’m sure she has – because that kind of thing is simply not within my sphere of influence or interest).  Now, she’s going on a full scholarship to Hunter University, and has gone from being an extremely shy, anxious ESL student to this:

Happy New Year, (Stubborn)!
I wish you and your wife health, happiness, and to always find a reason for a smile.
I’m not sure if you know, but I have decided to stay free… at least free of debt (for now). Unfortunately, I’m still living at home but not giving up hope of getting a room in the dorms (one of 623 rooms available). Almost everyday, I think of what my life would have been like if I went to Boston University. Then I catch myself and try to consider everything good that happened because I stayed. Speaking sarcastically, my immune system is much better now since I’m spending more than three hours on the buses and trains every day.
In the fall, I took chemistry, which I did the worst in even though the professor was amazing. Then there was also biology, which took place in a lecture hall with more than 500 students. My biology lab instructor is a grad student working on her PhD. I started talking to her one day about her work, which seemed very interesting, and then she said, “I actually need an assistant.” I had to speak with the professor in charge of her research, with whom it was pretty hard to get in touch with, but after a few emails and me waiting for an hour in from of his office, I got into the lab!
Now she has been training me on how to split cells, make and run gels. Her main experiment focuses on telomerase in cancer cells, which has a job of repairing the ends of DNA, so it doesn’t get shorter and shorter as it happens in humans because even though we have telomeres, telomerase is inactive in regular human cells. This is thought to be one of the reasons for aging, and it would be great if we found a way to stop telomerase from making necessary repairs in cancer cells.
I also took political science, which I surprisingly liked. We discussed a lot of historic papers and articles written by political scientists. One of my favorites was a short film of what it took to get the health care bill passed.
Finally, I decided to take Italian mostly due to my trip there last year. I’m going to Italy again. The teacher from Midwood emailed everyone about their next exchange trip, which is to Naples, Italy. I was so upset in the beginning that I couldn’t go, but then they had a few seats available and I decided to practice my Italian and go. I spoke with my biology professor about missing classes and he said, “If I had an opportunity like that I would go too.” I will be going this February. Now I’m waiting to find out who is the person I’ll be staying with.
Currently, I’m taking a winter semester class, Intro to Film. I love it! We watched Run Lola Run, Chungking Express, and Birds so far. The first one was my favorite. The professor also suggested that we should watch The Princess and the Warrior with the same actress as in Run Lola Run – it was amazing, a little weird, but I loved the final scene, where a metaphor for leaving your past behind is shown literally. If you haven’t watched it, you should. We are learning about different shots, sound, exposure. I’m a bit scared of the final 3 to 5 page paper comparing two films we watched, but that is not due for another two weeks.
I recently read Middlesex, Black Flies, and now I’m reading Cloning of Joanna May. Middlesex is the kind of story that pulled me into the plot. The first-person narrative and constant going back and forth between past and present made me feel as though Cal was sitting right next to me and telling the story. Black Flies is a very short book about an emergency medical response guy working in Harlem. He describes everything he sees, which paints a pretty vivid picture. I thought the book was a great “how not to lose yourself” story.
I’m still volunteering in the hospital with the newborns. A couple of weeks ago, I actually got to feed a premature baby! In the beginning, the baby didn’t want to eat, but after almost half an hour, he finished his few ounces. It’s funny when doctors mistake me for a mother sitting with her baby! I’m trying to become an instructor in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where I would create lesson plans around planting and cooking with my own group of kids.
How are you? Where are you working now and do you like it?
Thank you,
(Student)
I get very mixed feelings from emails like these; on one hand, it fills me with meaning and warmth, but on the other, I feel very sad I’m not doing this any more, and not by my own choice.  Melancholy, I suppose, is the best word for it.  I was speaking to one of my old NY teaching buddies and he told me that another student from this same class (though we didn’t move her to honors, only up to regular) had come by and asked for a picture of me; I’m notoriously bad at taking pictures; I hate seeing myself on film so I avoid it at all costs.  Typically my yearbook pictures would be something like Mario, a mummy, a baby in a weird costume, or myself with a book in front of my face).  She’d apparently wanted to paint a portrait of me.  She’d gone from a fearful Chinese girl who’d one day accidentally hit me in the back with a handball to a confident artist accepted into a special art program at a prestigious NY high school simply do to my constantly teasing her into responding and standing up for herself (not meanly, but playfully).
I’ve got a lot of stories like those, but I won’t bore you with any more today.  Enjoy your weekend.
Sincerely,
Stubborn (and nostalgic)
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2012 5:22 pm

    You, sir, are a teacher worth having.

  2. kaleedity permalink*
    January 11, 2012 11:28 am

    Man, that post makes me feel nostalgic. Maybe it’s all the coincidences.

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