If My Students Only Knew

If My Students Only Knew

What if you really knew your teacher?

For most of us who live in South Dakota, the month of August means two things - the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. This week marks the start of my fourth year of teaching. When I decided to become a teacher, I always envisioned myself in a larger school, mainly because I grew up in a larger town. I figured that I would be teaching Shakespeare and theater to students who were overly thrilled to be in my room every day.

But as the old saying goes: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." After countless interviews and many disappointing phone calls, I was offered a job at a smaller school district. Don't get me wrong, smaller school districts certainly have their benefits and I have truly enjoyed my time at the school. You get to know pretty much EVERYONE in the school. In my experience, I've formed a strong bond with some of my co-workers. It's nice to have smaller classes because you really have the opportunity to get to know your students.

But there's something that you don't really learn when you're studying education - and something that you forget from your own K-12 days - not every student is going to like your subject area. They just aren't. And as a teacher, it's your job to find a way to get those students hooked. I found myself thinking about this a lot in the past few weeks. How do I set myself up for a school year that will be excited and engaging for my students? What can I do to make them eager to enter my room this school year?

There are so many things that I wish my students knew about me. I think if they knew more about me, they might understand me more. Like most teachers, I spend the first day of school introducing myself and talking a little bit about my family. But there is so much more to me that I wish my students knew.

I wish my students knew that for the month of August, I have a hard time falling asleep at night. Is everything ready for them? Will they feel comfortable in my room? Will they feel safe? Will my room reflect not only my style and flair but also connect with them? There's nothing I want more than for my students to come into my room feeling like they are safe, able to talk to me about anything, acquire a desire to learn English, and have fun while they're with me for an hour.

I wish my students knew that sometimes I have to give up time with my family and friends in order to help them. Looking at the school schedule this year, I see that fall conferences happen to fall on my daughter's first birthday. Will my daughter likely remember that I had to stay at school until 8:30 on her first birthday, putting me home at 9 and probably not seeing her much before she goes to bed? No, she probably won't. But it's a milestone that I'll miss so that I can tell their parents how well they are doing in school and what can be improved. Some nights I have to lock myself away in my room to grade homework or papers, often taking away from my social life.

I wish my students knew that even when they frustrate me, I still care about them. Some students are on a mission to test our patience - and sometimes we let them get through when they shouldn't. As a fairly new teacher - and a person who doesn't always have the most patience - I am still learning how to thicken my skin and keep my mouth shut. But even when I might have to raise my voice or send a student to the office, I hope they know that I still want them to learn and thrive in my classroom. I want them to know that I often view them as my own kids. Their safety, their growth, I care about all of it.

I wish my students knew that the little notes they leave for me on my desk or on my whiteboard absolutely make my day. In my three years of teaching, I have kept every single note that my students have given to me. I've taken pictures of the notes on the whiteboard so that I can look back at them on days when things don't go the way I'd like.

I wish my students knew that I sometimes drive home headbanging to Tenacious D. I might be mild mannered in the classroom, but Mrs. Hon has a rock side that not even some of her closest friends have seen. I love letting loose - but I promise I drive safely.

I wish my students knew that even though swearing isn't allowed in my classroom, I understand the accidental slip. If some of my students could hear me speak at home, they would certainly question the no swearing rule. I've had to start a swear jar so that my daughter's first word isn't one that will make my mother wash my mouth out with soap - because I know I'd be the one paying for that mistake!

I wish my students knew that I sometimes stay up until the dead of the night in order to make sure my lesson is top notch. I try to find new and exciting ways to teach them English - a subject that not everyone loves. But I hope they know that I want them to enjoy learning - even if it's not their favorite subject. In fact, I wish my students knew that it's OK to hate my subject, as long as they try their hardest when they're in my room.

I wish my students knew how hilarious it is when I see them in public. Yes, teachers do go to the store. Occasionally we have the chance to go see a new movie. We do like to go to the fair when it comes to town - in fact, it's often one of the last activities out before school starts. But the look on students' faces when they don't want to see you? It's absolutely priceless. It's like they are a deer caught in headlights and they're never really sure where to turn.

But most of all, I wish my students knew that no matter what, I want them to succeed. If that means I have to stay late at school to have another rehearsal, if that means I have to come into school early to explain a concept that they didn't grasp, if that means that I have to give up a little time with my family to go see a basketball game, I'm in.

This year is going to the best year of teaching so far. I hope my students know that I expect them to work hard, have fun, and achieve their full potential.

Cover Image Credit: Wikipedia

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I Love Chinese Food! Really? (PART III)

Please don't pressure me to change if you say you welcome me.

Last week I discussed how immigrants are pressured to assimilate by public policies. Now let's look from a different aspect.

Unlike the systematic language policies, popular culture encourages assimilation in a less planned way. Yet, because popular culture is more embedded in people’s daily lives, it potentially influences more people on a daily basis than public policies. This arena not only lacks accurate and positive depictions of immigrants, but it has actually been promoting the dehumanization of immigrants.

Popular media either pokes fun at exaggerated racial stereotypes or only features highly Americanized immigrant characters. For instance, in the popular CBS show 2 Broke Girls, the only immigrant character, Han Lee is a Korean American. He has an exaggerated accent, limited knowledge of American culture, short stature, and a lack of masculinity. He is the constant target of ruthless jokes from major characters, like Max Black and Caroline Channing. In other words, the audience is supposed to look down upon this stereotypical poorly-assimilated immigrant.

On the other hand, the recent ABC show Fresh Off the Boat features, in a positive light, the struggles of a Chinese immigrant family, the Huangs, to embrace their “American dream” and assimilate into American society. Incidentally, all these “immigrants” speak perfect English. The Huangs, in fact, teach immigrant viewers the way towards success – assimilation. Popular culture’s representation of immigrants, like the ridiculous Han Lee and the “hard-working” Huangs, covertly privileges well-assimilated immigrants and dehumanizes immigrants in their original form.


When I was in high school preparing for American colleges, I had an American teacher. He was very well respected among us. The ones chosen to be in his class were seen as extraordinary and promising, while those not chosen strove to fit his standard so that he might set his eyes on us. And what was his standard? Excel in English literature and AP classes.

I remember when my AP grades improved so much that this teacher, for the first time, spoke to me and even invited me to join him and his chosen students for dinner. I was so thrilled as if I had just won a lottery. In our minds, he was the epitome of America – the country we were dreaming of. Being chosen by him assured us that we could realize our American dreams.

After all, this American saw the potential in us; this must have meant something, right? And one day, the teacher suddenly decided that everyone must only speak English at school. His chosen students were terrified because being caught speaking Chinese would mean never seeing an "A" in this teacher’s class again. While for the rest of us, we felt ashamed to ever speak Chinese in his presence again.

The immigrants in America are like me and my classmates in high school. Some of them are lucky enough to be the chosen ones. They can stay and maybe even thrive without too much trouble. Their American dreams are within reach.

Others are not so lucky.

They may just manage to survive and are struggling to be recognized. But, all immigrants are bided by American rules. They must work extra hard to be chosen. America is like that high school teacher. He promised us a beautiful future in America. He said he did everything so that we may thrive in the land of opportunities.

We believed and respected him.

But this teacher did not want the real us. He wanted to change us. Most Americans said they welcome immigrants, but immigrants are expected to change and cater to American taste.

They must leave behind their own cultures and languages.

They must fill their minds with American the spirit because otherwise the “teacher” will not even set eyes on them.

Their dream of becoming an “A” student – making a good fortune and be successful – depends on the “teacher’s” favor. The way to their American dreams is to assimilate.

However, even hard work does not guarantee an “American-dream-come-true future”. I tried. I significantly improved my grades. I could talk fluently in English. The teacher finally set eyes on me. He invited me to his chosen group dinner! But he never fulfilled his promise.

Many Americans, especially in today’s political atmosphere, loudly announce their acceptance and welcoming of immigrants. Among these are my American friends, who constantly confess their love of Chinese food. Their love for Chinese food, like some Americans’ encouragement of immigrants, only extends to the Americanized versions.

Behind the mask of a “heart-warming” smile towards immigrants, America actually privileges assimilation, through constructing a desirable “model immigrant” image, systematic language policies, and ludicrous popular culture representations.

Before they ever claim to whole-heartedly welcome immigrants again, Americans should probably consider: whether they genuinely think so, or are they simply paying a lip service and welcome only Americanized immigrants?

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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