Monday, February 16, 2015

I love teaching. I love being there to witness the moment the dots connect and a person arrives at the Aha! moment of reading their first word.

My four-year-old read his first early reader book this weekend and it was all I could do to keep from jumping out of my skin. I don't think I was this excited when he took his first steps. OK, I was. He walked down the hallways saying "go, go, go!"

When I worked in residential treatment, I worked with two boys who did not know how to read a single word. Both were well beyond the ages when such things are learned. One boy had had his head fractured as an infant and the other was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I loved these boys whole-heartedly. I worked with them daily on memorizing the sounds, developing ways to parse sounds by karate chopping words into syllables, and enjoying the sound of being read to. They were, after all, still little boys. After months of working together, I am proud of the progress they made in being able to decode (word-call,) simple words. It was a milestone for them when they first read words and I feel like it's one of the great experiences of my life that I got to be involved in it.

In particular, they learned to read "bad." Because these kids had such a massive history of abuse and neglect, the first time they decoded this word, I internally panicked. What came out of my mouth was "BAD KITTY" and a dramatically waving finger. We screamed "bad kitty," a lot that spring.

But, teaching adults is a wildly different world. I don't have to worry so much about offending, although I'm still extremely careful with feelings. Learning is a vulnerable process and care should be taken with other people's souls.

Last week, I was teaching ESL and one of the mommies quietly asked, whispered really, what the difference was between "bush" and the bad word.

After a moment of confusion, I wrote "bush" and "bullshit" on a small dry erase board and showed them to she and the other women in class that afternoon. They got their cell phones out and showed me translations that didn't really make sense and we laughed wildly while discussing when it was appropriate to use each and pronouncing each word carefully so that the mommies would be able to tell when their children were swearing in order to properly reprimand.

These moments are fun and meaningful and exciting and useful. Teaching is like that.

One of my first contacts with an ESL student involved a young man telling me that he had lived in a storage facility without a roof in Arizona for years as an adolescent. He was hiding from the authorities and so lived there because no one was likely to find him there. He described loving the stars.