For the past six weeks, I’ve been volunteer teaching at an English center. I had way too much fun. I doubt they will ever read this (but not because their English skills are lacking!), a letter to all my students – past and future – who’ve learned and are continuing to learn English.
You’re sitting, taking your final exam. In the antsy way you tap your foot, I can see you’re excited that when it’s finished, you can leave. Probably early.
I was a student once and so I remember the sweet, sweet relief of handing in that final exam and fleeing the classroom on wings of completion. This relationship had an agreed upon ending and you’ve stuck it out to the end. Well done.
We had other agreements in the class too. Perhaps it is because you fulfilled them so well that I find it hard to allow you this last one.
We agreed to speak up, to be brave enough to make 1000 English mistakes and to keep trying.
You fulfilled that agreement more than I hoped.
You ignored your stutter and pressed in to difficult English consonants.
You overlooked the fact that you had an American teacher and bravely trusted us with your story about the day your city, your home was bombed by American planes. I’m glad your mother made it out safely. I’m sorry for the terror you’ve experienced. I wonder if it keeps you up at night. I wish it kept me up more often.
You taught me a few Persian and Korean words, which I have since forgotten. You’re much better students than I.
We agreed to show up each week, do the work, and try to understand this crazy language known as English. You tried not to roll your eyes every time I began an explanation with, “Well, there are some exceptions to that rule…”
You learned how to cheat during some of our class games and the right posture to communicate to me it was a good night to let you leave early.
I hope you’re proud of the accomplishments you made. I hope for you everything you hope for from your English – a better job, a chance to emigrate elsewhere, further education.
From me, you learned to understand English in an East Coast American accent, but your classmates taught you English with Korean, Iranian, Afghani, Portuguese, and Spanish accents.
From one another we learned culture and personality and preferences.
The first day of class, you were all faces and names I couldn’t hope to pronounce let alone remember.
But now when I plan a lesson, I know exactly which part you’re going to think is boring and in which place you’ll ask a lot of questions.
You, my dear class, have become people to me.
You make me laugh.
You make me worried when you leave class not feeling well and then don’t come for the next week.
You make me insecure; I toss & turn at night when we failed at understanding.
When you have caused me such worry, why am I so sorry to see you go?
I’ve been saying a lot of goodbyes lately, but this is different. We agreed on this one. And the best thing about school is that just a little while after goodbyes, there are new hellos. New faces. New names which I will also mangle. New teachers and their style of giving tests and quizzes, asking questions, and letting you talk.
I hope all your future teachers are kind.
But more than that, I hope you meet kind English speakers out there in the real world. People who will be patient as you fumble English vowels or use a British English word with someone only familiar with American English. I hope they look past the uncertain noise you pause with every two words (collecting your thoughts in this foreign language) and the way you lower your head into your chest when you cannot remember that one word. I hope they wait long enough to hear you tell a joke or share your sorrows.
I hope they lean in and listen to meet the lovely person behind the accent.
I apologize for the ones who won’t. Who’ll rush you, who’ll get frustrated by the extra ten seconds it takes to hear you out, who will be suspicious of you simply because of your nationality, betrayed by your English. But really, I know, it’s their loss.
You are worth being heard. So keep studying (everything your heart desires, not just English!), keep being brave enough to make mistakes, and let the world hear your voice.
Much love & best wishes,