As one of the final assignments I gave to my elementary EFL class this session, I tasked my students with writing a poem in the form of a letter to one person who changed their life in some way. The only parameter to the assignment was that it outline the impact that this individual had made on their life trajectory— that is, that they clearly describe themselves both before and after the change had been made.
This session, I was blessed with a group of students that was imaginative, creative, and idealistic. Because of this, the assignment came easily to them; even in a second language, they produced poignant metaphors to describe these important figures in their lives. As for myself, I am not much of a poet. While I have developed a certain affinity for academic writing over the years, when it comes to personal and creative writing, my words escape me.
However, in reflecting on the three months I have spent in Palestine, I was impressed by the extent to which my students inspired growth in me as both a teacher and a person. The irony was not lost on me that it often felt as though I was learning as much from them as they were from me. Thus, I came to the conclusion that there was no more apt way to capture my sentiments towards my students and the impact they had on me than through the same assignment that I gave them in the final week of class.
And so, with apologies for my vastly underdeveloped creative writing skills, here is my poem:
Dear Amy’s Elementary PM Class,
For my whole life, I have known I wanted to be a teacher.
Sure, there where nights when images of myself as an adventurer or a princess crossed my mind,
(Hey, it never hurts to dream big, right?)
But, for as long as I can remember, I have relished the feeling of helping others.
To hold someone’s hand and lead them to a new understanding
There’s no feeling in the world that can compare.
My life has led me to the front of many classrooms.
And year after year I become more sure of my path.
I like to do this, I don’t like to do that.
I can work with these students, but not with those.
This is what works, and this is what doesn’t.
And then I met you.
Bursting with opinions and laughter and life,
You were older, louder, and brasher than any class I had seen.
It put me in a frightening yet exciting position:
I was at once inspired by your enthusiasm,
And daunted by your energy.
Little did I know that it was me who would learn the most from our time spent together.
You taught me many things.
You taught me that it’s OK not to write everything down on paper,
And to simply trust the ideas that come naturally.
You taught me to never stop using my imagination,
And that the simple phrase “Yes! And…” can lead to the most incredible stories.
You taught me to smile in the face of hard work, and to laugh at my own mistakes.
And more than that, I see things differently now.
A classroom is not just a place to study.
It is a place to laugh, to cry, and to forget the problems of daily life
It is a place to support others and to be supported.
It is a place to let go of fears and to try new things.
It is a place where lifelong friendships are formed and memories are made.
And above all else, I know now
That a class is not always just a class, a class can be a family.
Yes, sometimes your family drives you crazy
And you feel as though you will never see eye to eye.
But sometimes it is the people who you love the most
Who stir up in you a confusing storm of emotions.
Because beneath the nerves and the frustration,
You know that your family will always be there
No matter the obstacles that the road puts in front of you.
So thank you all for this new perspective
Thank you for allowing me to grow alongside you.
I will never forget my new family.
– Amy, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow
The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.