Like most teachers, I look forward to the new year. But I sometimes dread looking into the eyes of the new faces in my inner city classroom. I dread it because I can see the stories of years of trepidations written across their entire countenance like a byline in an outdated magazine. Then I anxiously anticipate many other things.
Like, do they have any computer applications background? Are they victims of the Digital Divide that plagues so many of the urban schools? Do they speak English? But more importantly, how will I gain the trust of so many students from backgrounds so different than my own?
My new assignment will be in a school that is seventy percent Yemeni, fifteen percent Bangladesh, and fifteen percent African American. This new population shares very little in common with the students I taught in Denver who were primarily Hispanic, and where Spanish was the first language spoken for forty percent of them.
In fact, many of my students in Denver were not allowed to speak English at home. And I can understand why. How would you know if your own children weren’t plotting something behind your back if they’re speaking a language you can’t understand? And, that’s what kids do. No matter where they come from.
I know enough about Yemen to know that it’s a country that has been under civil, social, and political strife since the late 1990’s. Once a united Yemen split between it’s respective factions, the country became fertile territory for Al Qaeda infiltration. The struggle between the various factions has forced many out of their homes, and some of those very children will be sitting in my inner city classroom. Once victims of conflict, they are now victims of circumstances beyond their control because they are faced with as much uncertainty here in America as they faced back home.
Unfortunately, the timeline for Bangladesh is wrought with conflict as well. From the time they were liberated from British rule, to the time they fought to be free from Pakistan. Since then, they have been under parliamentary rule. That has lasted over twenty years, along with it’s high rate of poverty. On the other hand, the land is lush with vegetation and the scenery is magnificent.
I was fortunate to be able to teach summer school to a class of Yemeni students, so I promised myself that I would start the year off with blank stickies in strategic places in the classroom, like my computer, so I can learn Arabic from the kids. And, fortunately, the Bangladesh students were raised speaking both their native language and English. So, some of them speak better English than some of the African American students do. Thank God the students in Detroit have English Language Acquisition as part of their required curriculum for all grade levels.
But one good thing about being a Computer Applications teacher, or “specials” teacher, computers have a universal language of their own. And no matter the language and cultural barriers that exist between my students, computers and technology are something they all share common experiences around. And I’m excited to take on the challenge of bringing these children, from kindergarten through eighth grade, together. By offering them the opportunity to learn to communicate effectively and to share their varied experiences through the use of technology.