Mrs. Cisneros’s second grade class planted the seed. It was 1988, George Bush (the first) was running against Michael Dukakis for a bedroom and office in the White House. We held an informal election in our small classroom after lunch at Margaret Duff elementary school and I eagerly raised my hand when Mrs. Cisneros called out Mr. Bush’s name, who won our class’s vote. Regardless of my party affiliation at age seven, I was emboldened with the magic of democracy- how 30-odd little hands could pick the next leader of the free world.
It made me believe.
Sounds like total hoo-ha, but it’s funny how unspoiled and so purely optimistic a kid can be. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would answer confidently, “The president.” As if there was any other choice. I wanted to be the first woman and/or Chinese-American chief executive. And it seemed possible.
Then I grew up.
I embodied all the synonyms for cynical (skeptical, disillusioned, jaded) and fit right in with other grown-up kids my age. We got drunk, recycled, ate fast food, gulped down fair trade coffee, drove around aimlessly, voted green, shouted curse words. But just below that hard shell laid that wide-eyed second grader.
Having the opportunity to live and travel abroad has given me a deep respect and appreciation for the red, white and blue. That palm-sized navy booklet is more than just pages filled with random stamps from developing nations- it’s my passport back to home and hope and all the imaginable achievements that I never thought I’d witness within my piddly lifetime. Just four years ago, the idea of people living on the moon within my lifetime seem more plausible than having a black American president- that’s how foreign the notion was to me.
And now I find myself, a first-generation American, having the honor of saying that another child of an immigrant, a person of color, is our country’s president. A man with a name of Barack Hussein Obama, no less.
And now the work begins and continues at the same time.
And now it seems possible all over again.
Some of our students, young women from conservative cultures, may be described as sheltered. Although the average age of our students is somewhere in between 18-21, many of them are generally ignorant about sex and sexually transmitted diseases due to a lack of health education . It was suggested that perhaps the teachers use their homeroom classes as a forum to discuss the birds and bees (and their arranged marriages), but I was wholly unprepared to do any such thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I, Amy Adoyzie, can talk about sex. But I am in no way equipped to educate about sex, especially to my own homeroom students- girls who I’ll have to look in the eyes for another fifteen and a half months. Just because I can thoroughly enjoy five-course dinner doesn’t mean I can cook it.
An hour after a meeting where we decided that it would be a better idea if a experienced sex educator came in to give the talk, I was with Ms Nicole at our Storytelling & Independent Publishing extra curricular activity where we are the advisers. Niki was presenting a story idea where the students were to write about something that is a treasure to them. We went around the room as the girls shared their treasures; a family portrait, a laughing Buddha statue, a t-shirt gift from grandpa. Typical fare.
“My treasure is something I really love,” Loda gushed and smiled. “It is my sticker collection.”
Loda is in both my literature and homeroom class, I know her as well as any teacher can. She’s an overachiever who wants to master English and be the best student possible. Loda is the one who scoffed at the idea that Muslim Bangladeshis would ever choose or desire to drink alcohol. “No, Ms Amy. They do not want to drink!” She might be my most naive and sheltered in the pack.
“Stickers express all of human emotions. Sometimes they are smiling. Sometimes they are crying. They can show the feelings of people.”
Her enthusiasm rushed out of her as she began to speak quickly.
“I just love my sticker collection. It is my treasure!”
Niki and I smiled at her, my 19-year-old student whose most prized possession are boxes of sticky faces and stuff. I’m a long ways away from the teenagers who I went to high school with, young mothers and thuggish gang-bangers who would eat Loda for breakfast with a side of toast.
I imagined how I could possibly relate sex–the trauma, the pleasure, the uncertainty, the love, the touches, the mechanics– to a girl who says she can’t live without stickers. I couldn’t. Not with a straight face, at least.
If it came down to the wire and I was forced to do Sex Ed. 101, I’d just sit my kids down and play them Salt N Pepa’s “Lets Talk About Sex.”
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex for now to the people at home or in the crowd
It keeps coming up anyhow
Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic
Cuz that ain’t gonna stop it
Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows
Many will know anything goes
Let’s tell it how it is, and how it could be
How it was, and of course, how it should be
Hot to trot, make any man’s eyes pop
She use what she got to get whatever she don’t got
Fellas drool like fools, but then again they’re only human
The chick was a hit because her body was boomin’
Gold, pearls, rubies, crazy diamonds
Nothin’ she ever wore was ever common
Her dates heads of state, men of taste
Lawyers, doctors, no one was too great for her to get with
Or even mess with, the Prez she says was next on her list
And believe me, you, it’s as good as true
There ain’t a man alive that she couldn’t get next to
She had it all in the bag so she should have been glad
But she was mad and sad and feelin’ bad
Thinkin’ about the things that she never had
No love, just sex, followed next with a check and a note
That last night was dope
Ladies, all the ladies, louder now, help me out
Come on, all the ladies – let’s talk about sex, all right
(Yo, Pep, I don’t think they’re gonna play this on the radio
And why not ? Everybody has sex
I mean, everybody should be makin’ love
Come on, how many guys you know make love ?)
Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex
Teaching is saving me.
Let’s be clear, I’ve made so secret of the how much I detest the researching, creating and planning of lessons. But the moment all my students are in their seats and class begins, I know that I belong there. That it is worth it and they’re the reason.
In high school, my English teachers had us keep reading journals whereby we were supposed to connect with the literature by asking questions or making connections directly with the text. I BS’d my way through most entries, skipping pages and skimming passages for something that I could remotely relate to or ask an inane question about. Just because it didn’t work so well for my over-stimulated, spoiled American butt doesn’t mean it won’t for students who have never been exposed to such a learning technique before.
Connecting and questioning literature? Their brows furrowed when I introduced the concept. You mean, you don’t want us to just read the stuff and then memorize it and spit it back out at you? You want me to, like, understand and comprehend the stuff I read? Really?
For the most part, it’s working. They’re asking insightful questions about character motives in novels, governmental policies from newspaper articles and American idioms like “drown my sorrows in …” They’re making connections to Diary of Anne Frank and a Reader’s Digest story by Gloria Estefan. For many of them, this is their first experience in engaging with literature. Like Singa, a boisterous young woman from Sri Lanka who has this amazing booming voice and is always asking great questions in class.
Some of her recent entries made so glad that I returned to teaching.
She’s reading something called “Home Town.”
Text: “But when he climbed into bed that night, all he could think about was home. This was the first time in his life, he’d gone to bed without saying goodnight to his mother.” (Page 9)
Singa’s connection response: This situation is sooooo…. close to my life. When I came to [Chittagong] first time, I didn’t sleep for days. This is the first time in my life, I leave my parents for such a long time. It is very hard to live without them. I’m so close to my family. Every night I’m crying I don’t want to show others my inner life, because if I cry in front of friends, they will think me as a weak person. It’s more hard to hide that feeling from others. I hear their smile, their conversations. I want to see their faces but I have to wait a long time. Every night I used to make a wish, “Time, please run fast.”
Miss Amy, thank you for your reading journel. You give me a best friend to share my sorrows and feelings.
Text: “‘Your youngest is gone.’ She didn’t take the bait. ‘Yes, yes,’ she said wearily.” (Page 9)
Singa’s connection response: I also phone my mother once a week. I know sometimes, my mother cries, but she doesn’t want to show me that. I’m the youngest of my family and after I came to this place, my mother and father are living alone, because my sister and brother married and they have their own families. I use to talk that I feel lonely without them, but my mother always tries to jump over from that because she doesn’t want to share her lonelyness. She thinks that if she shows it to me, I will be upset. But, mother, I’m your daughter. I know everything about you. You know everything about me. Our relationship is so deep.
From: Zakin (Whose grandmother gave her some ancient advice)
hello,mam.hope you are well.i am sorry because i told that you give so much homeworks.that day we had lots of homeworks in all the subjects.i was so tired and i said so without thinking.
the truth is i enjoy doing your reading journals and poems so much.i wait for your journal homeworks eagerly because you write gooood comments on my jornal and i love to read them.
please forgive me if i hurt you.
i love you and your interesting homeworks so much.bye,mam.
Prompt: Write about advice you have received before coming to the Access Academy.
When I was selected for the Access Academy, all my family members, all my relatives, became very happy. Many people gave various advices. My mother, my father, my brother, my aunts gave many precious advice.
Among the advices, the most precious advice that I received was given by my grandmother. Though she is an old lady with ancient thoughts, she said to me, “Everybody will tell you to get married. But never listen to them. First, you have to achieve your higher education. You have to be a successful woman first and then you can think about marriage. Don’t do the mistake which I did in my life by not receiving higher education. I want to see you highly educated.”
I will never forget this precious advice. I will follow the advice with all my efforts.
Filed under: Meet The Kids, Operation Engrish Prease, Vids | Tags: students
(There are still a couple more videos of my former students that I have yet to post. Keep your eyes peeled for them if you're a fan of these Chinese teenagers!)
QQ is China's most popular instant messaging program. On every occasion where I've met and spoken with Chinese students, they would inevitable ask me if I had QQ and then be completely disappointed when I confessed that Americans don't use it.
QQ is also the name of one of my most interesting students, Qu Qian. She was a student of #17, a science-track class with about fifteen girls in a class of seventy students. She was amazingly outgoing and gregarious, even when other students told her that she shouldn't behave that way because she was a girl. During my last week in Huarong, I took QQ out to lunch and I asked her all the questions that we were warned not to discuss with students. And she unabashedly answered them all. (Our talk will be another posting.)
This is the latest e-mail I've received from her:
How is your everything going? I am QQ,Yesterday is our National Day,we have 2 days off,today I will go to school to have evening classes,so I have a little to write to you.
I have called one of our new foreigh teachers.She is from Goyanna,which is a small country in the South America.I will try to spare my time to talk with her to practise my spoken english.It is 7 months before our college entrance examination,so I have to spare no efforts to study to achieve my goals.We have so many wor-k to do everyday.What are you engaged in now?If you ar-e busy now,you needn't write me back soon,because maybe I will not surf the Internet for a long time.Best wishes for you!
From the vault. Enjoy!
(My students tell me about how they're unique.
Why I'm Unique
Because i washed my parents' feet when I was 6 years old.
I like taking a bath.
I was attacked by a white cow.
I played with a stone so that one of my teeth broken by it when I was 8 years old.
I like playing computer games through my sight is very bad.
The biggest features of me are “Fat” and “Open-minded.”
I hate Chinese education! It only teach you to have exam.
One day I got, I found the door open, I realized that there was a thief in my home. I quickly ran away and called the police.
He Zhong Yu
I like cooking. So I often cook at home. Once, I regard sugar as salt, put in the hot food so that it have hot and sweet. Sometimes my parents often laugh at me.
I wear a glasses everytime, and I never take them off until I go to bed.
As I was born, I can play ping pong.
Peng Shuang Qing
I was knocked by a motorbike when I was 8 years old.
I like cartoon, novels about basketball, Internet, TV set and many other things. But I like friends best.
I lost myself when I was 5 years old and I was brought back by a stranger and my parents gave him a box of cigarette. I was lucky.
I made a grave for a dead duck.
I like the songs of F.S.R.
I cried for a spider.
An update from a former student, Fish:
Several days before, New Grade 1 and Grade 2's students were came to school for night study. Having seen them, I suddenly realized that I have stay here for 2 years, I'm old to them. How time flies! That makes a little sad.I think I am a adult now, in order to make my dream come true,many things I have to leave behind.
I can't imagine my futrue,because I am a dreamer, alway imagining a happiness, bright futrue.But life is cruel.The bigdifferenc
between them always makes me disappointed.
It only has 272 days before national examination.I know I have to study hard, but I still have no self-confidence.Now , I began to say to myself,”Try my best and just do it ” !
Today, we'll hold an English PETS exam.
Do you know that our country have classify the English into 8 grades.Today I will pass the grade 2.I'm so nervous, but I think I can do it !
Have a nice day!