Sitting in the front row of my classroom are three young men. In their row, the young man in the center is Latin American. He’s been in the country for less than six months and speaks little to no English. i keep on his desk an iPad so that he may be able to use translation apps. And because I speak little to no English, I find that communicating with him can be difficult and frustrating.
Flanking my Latin American student are two of his peers. Both male. Both American. And in the last eight weeks, they have chatted, mostly through translation apps, about life. The Latin youth teaches the Americans Spanish. They teach him English phrases. They swapped learning how to ask to go to the bathroom. They made up a special handshake.
Prior to being in my class, these three young men hadn’t talked. Didn’t know each other. Every now and then, they swap books that they’re reading. I don’t know that they really read the books they self-selected. But I find it lovely to see the American students reading a book written in Spanish with Spanish characters. The only problem was the fact that it was upside down.
Over the course of the day’s lessons, I notice how the two American students will bookend the Latin student, lean over and help him with answering questions. They guide him through pronunciation. Help him construct words. They put their work aside to ensure that he has the ability to learn, to succeed. Because they live the grace of kindness and compassion.
I’m watching the news or reading the New York Times constantly. My collaborative partner keeps her eye on headlines as well. We watch what is happening in Ukraine and Taiwan with unease. Wait to see what this will do to the world. How this will affect our students. Our families. Our communities. We remember the Cold War. 9/11. And feel paralyzed within the waiting.
But then I see my three students. Reaching out and across each other. Tapping hands and patting their chests (their handshake). Making sure the Latin student has lunch or the condiments he wants with his meal. They guide him through the lessons with gentleness and understanding. An empathy bred from an innate kindness? I’m not certain.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters is how they care. No one asked them to take on the role of helping another. They chose their seats arbitrarily. And then they shifted. Originally, the Latin student sat as a bookend on the row. And by the end of the first week, the two American students set him between them. So they could both help and guide.
We keep watching the world in its division. I circumscribe my teaching because so many lessons can be deemed divisive. Might make someone upset. Or uncomfortable. Or feel like they are being attacked. Good literature which has been part of the literary tradition or canon has been shelved or, pulled from shelves because someone somewhere found it objectionable.
But these students have come outside differences and political philosophies and language barriers. They forged their own ways to connect themselves to one another. And then, they just help. Each other. And me.
They give me hope.
And in that small fragment, I can still push forward and try my best to follow their example.