I Teach Americans. So What?
Merri Ann Drake
While sitting at a scholarship pageant, I remember how an idyllic teenage girl explained that her dream was to become a teacher. I was a cynical teen in those days and so I rolled my eyes as her sweet, but very breathy voice tinkled the words, "I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way." I had to chew on the sides of my cheeks to keep from yelling out, “Is this the only thing teacher ever say—the children are our future?” I did not know then what I know now—“Spit into the Heavens; and it will land in your own face.”
Yes. I am a teacher now and have been teaching primarily immigrant, migrant, and Native-American teens for the past ten years because these are the kids my own children go to school with. They have done and will continue to exert their influence upon one another like a tug of war; lending or thrusting values and ideas on each other, and these are the kids that will grow into the adults we may work with someday. I also teach because I know that all the kids in my school and in my classroom are the future—collectively, they are America. Each one has the potential their parents dreamed of and together they are our nation’s only hope. Whether my students become society’s leaders or parasites depends on what they learn and do in school; more specifically, what they learn and do in my classroom will make them more or less American.
I could teach my students to sit passively in class, do their own work, and to speak only when spoken to as a dictator might, but I teach them that it is only when all voices are heard that we can say we have a true democracy. I provide meaningful inquiries for us to explore together as a group, books and articles to uncover a student’s own thinking and beliefs, and then ask them to argue, debate, or write what each one believes. I show them the power of writing and sending letters to policy makers and ask them to take a stand however they see fit.
You see, I don’t care about the grades my students earn so muchas I care that they finish what they start, and that they learn that their opportunities in life depend on their actions. I want them to learn and truly believe in their hearts that, “Su voz es su poder,” and that “Si, se puede.” I know that through my classroom lessons that these are the most important things I can teach them. Your voice is your power and yes, you can achieve.
Once they understand and act on their own beliefs, they will know that they can do anything. They will become the leaders of tomorrow. You see, these kids in my classes, they are our nation’s future, the fulfillment of their parents’ dreams, but most importantly, they are their own future. I teach Americans. So what? So . . . everything!
It's time for a new conversation about immigration in America, and it starts with us.