The High School of Arts & Technology
Martin Luther King Jr Campus, Lincoln Center, NYC
Friday, November 4, 2011
Over the week, I entertain a couple of rowdy boys who are totally unimpressed by my hip hop classroom management skills. I have to have a dean remove one of them. I also sub in a class with some lovely English Language Learners (ELLs), always my favs. There is a beautiful girl from Ghana, who introduces me to some of her friends. In the back, five boys are gathered together. They are all from Yemen. I salaam alechim them and they warm right up to me. Together, we read through a hastily slapped-together lesson plan.
“Miz! You read it out loud to us, please?” I stop after each paragraph to ask them what they understand. I go over difficult passages and write words on the board. Together, we plow through the whole lesson and, with the time left, I ask the whole class for their personal memories about coming to the US.
I go back to the five Arabic-speaking boys. A handsome, thin boy is smiling up at me.
“So…can you tell me your first impression of the United States?” He shrugs his shoulders. “You came to JFK? Is that the way you came into the country?” He kind of nods so I go on. “So… it must have been amazing after living in the desert. Can you remember any one thing about it?” He just shrugs. His friends are laughing.
“Guys!” I say, smiling. “Give him a chance!”
“Miz!!” One of his pals speaks up. “He don’t understand nothin’ you say to him.”
“Come on, give him a chance,” I say, still smiling. “Be nice.”
“I am, Miz. But he don’t speak no English. He just came here two weeks ago.”
“Really?” I look at the boy. “You’ve only been in the country for two weeks?” The boy shrugs. I can see he doesn’t understand me. His pal punches him in the arm and says something to him in Arabic.
“No punching!” I say.
“Sorry, Miz. It not bad. He my friend. It OK.”
“Well, please tell him I’m honored to meet him. You understand? You’re the first teenagers I’ve met from Yemen. I’d like to hear more about your country.”
I leave them and go back to the front of the class.
“I’m very honored to meet you guys. You are the new Americans. Welcome. We need you in our country. Almost everyone here before you has a family member who was an immigrant like you. I want you to try to remember what it’s like for you here right now. Your first impressions of coming to the United States are very important. Please keep a journal. Someday, when you are very successful, you will go back and write your stories. You’ll remember the details because they are in your journal. And your stories will inspire others who came from your countries. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes, Miz. I wish you were our teacher.”
“I’m sure you have a great teacher. I’m just happy to have met you today.”