When a student’s love of knowledge and learning blooms right before your eyes, you know you’ve made a real difference in a child’s future. Adhering to a curriculum is the standard expected of us all, but quality teaching goes beyond the simple transfer of knowledge and extends far into the realm of helping students become all they can be. I’m sure most teachers in international schools have had their own Outstanding Moments in International Teaching.
For me, a peak moment took place years ago while working in Eastern Europe. I had been teaching my middle school music classes Christmas and Chanukah songs in preparation for our winter musical. I noticed two 8th grade girls who always loved to sing were now sitting tight-lipped, refusing to sing the Chanukah songs. After class I motioned them to come see me and I quickly learned they would not sing Chanukah songs because they “hated Jews.” Why did they hate Jews? “Because our parents told us Jews are bad people.”
I had a good rapport with these girls and they were two of my favorite students. Hoping to show them the fallacy of their parent-influenced thinking I explained that I’m a Jew and asked, “Don’t we get along just fine?” They looked at each other, and then one turned to me and said,”Too bad. We used to like you!” Out the door they went. I was stunned. What sort of Pandora’s box had I opened?
At our next rehearsal they sat silently during the Chanukah songs while I respected their right to do so. At the close of class I again motioned for them to come see me. I asked what experience they had with Jews that led them to adopt their parents’ thinking? I learned neither had a Jewish friend and didn’t associate with the Israeli kids at school because they thought them to be ‘pushy’. I offered the idea that maybe it was just this particular group of kids that was pushy and not all Jews. Was I pushy, my wife or kids? I named some other Jewish students I knew to be on the shy side. I could see I had slipped a sliver of doubt into their strong convictions.
The next rehearsal they again sat silently during the Chanukah songs and once more I motioned them to my desk. With much trepidation I asked if they were simply ‘puppets’ that thought exactly as their parents told them to think. “Shouldn’t you be your own person and make up your mind for yourself?” I asked. “If your mother hates ice cream does this mean you do, too? Wouldn’t it be better to have your own experiences with people and things and then decide for yourself? Can you take the actions of a few and say everyone acts that way?” They looked shocked and walked off to lunch. I wondered if this would be my last day teaching at this school.
To my complete delight, both girls were enthusiastically singing the Chanukah songs at our next rehearsal. After class they came up to see me and said, “You’re right. We have no experience with Jews to make us hate them.” I used that opportunity to extend this idea to other issues in their young lives, and I could see the idea of tolerance and open-mindedness bloom right then and there in these two young girls.
I share this experience with ISR readers to open the topic of memorable moments in international teaching for your comment. What moments in the classroom or as a coach or as an administrator have reaffirmed your love of teaching? What lessons have brought a joy of learning and of life to the realization of your students? What have been your Outstanding Moments in International Teaching?