This story comes to us from the TALMA program, an immersive summer-long teaching experience that brings talented educators to Israel to improve elementary school students' English language skills. TALMA is a joint program of Israel's Ministry of Education, the Steinhardt Family Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Below, TALMA teacher Rachel Morrison reflects on her experience as it comes to a close. This post first appeared on the TALMA blog.
Last Tuesday was one of those extremely challenging, limit stretching, raise your eyebrows, shake your head and look to the sky, multiple lessons learned types of days.
I’m not sure that the word “chaos” is powerful enough to capture just what went on inside our classroom. It felt as if a soundtrack was playing of constant yelling, fighting, crying, and arguing. Our fourth grade girls were not the sweetest to the third grade girls and everyone thought learning English was a choice; a choice that was all the way at the bottom of the list of things to do. My kind co-teacher and I tried our very hardest to speak love, solve all the problems, and get our girls to listen long enough to learn even just one new vocabulary word. Despite our valiant effort, we looked at each other with exhaustion, frustration, and defeat flickering across our faces as we dismissed them to recess.
As I was entering the fourth hour straight of a different language continuously being shouted loudly around me, I made a choice to shift my perspective. No longer was I going to focus on all that was less than perfect around me. I chose to shift my gaze to the focal point of all that has been breathtakingly life-changing. Instantly, a wave of calm happiness radiated throughout my body. I quickly found myself smiling, no longer overwhelmed by the days events.
In the midst of the continuous chaos, I saw the face of this sweet girl who wakes up an hour early, just to sit with me outside the school so I don’t have to wait alone. She watches out her window until the bus drops me off, sprints towards me with open arms, convinces me to do cartwheels in my skirt (I’ve perfected it–don’t worry!), practices her English, and patiently teaches me Hebrew.
I also saw the face of this girl who has refused to learn English since day one. I quickly remembered this beautiful moment we shared together as she excitedly asked me to practice Hebrew Sign Language with her after our Sign Language presentation. Although she wasn’t focused on the given English task that had been assigned, she was making an effort to connect and learn. The power of her excitement and laughter was enough to remind me of exactly why I’m here.
I felt the love, patience, and kindness shown by these two adorable girls who sit with me each day during recess. Despite our language barrier and different degrees of religiousness, they make sure I’m “sameach” (happy) and teach me hebrew words and games. They try so hard to speak English, triumph passing over their beautiful faces as they remember a new word or string a sentence together. Sometimes, we just sit outside in the sunlight, hand-in-hand, exchanging love through our smiles.
And then I remembered everything about the community I’ve been lucky enough to teach English in this summer. It’s rough, that’s for sure…but I say that with absolutely zero judgement. It genuinely feels like such an honor to be able to immerse myself in a culture so different than the one I come from back home. I’m learning more than I could have ever hoped to learn. What we are doing, teaching English and radiating love, is incredibly needed, but not just by these sweet girls. I truly feel as if I’m the lucky one, learning and growing each moment.
Perspective is a beautiful thing. While chaos may be going on around us, we just need to remember the little things, the small successes. It’s so easy and comfortable to stay miserable when things go wrong. It’s almost as if you start to believe that making a mental list of all that’s negative will help you to feel better. It feels uncomfortable and sometimes impossible to see the light through the darkness that may permeate our days. But it’s when we genuinely recognize and believe we hold the power to shift our focus, we are able to create our own experience.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.