Below the tip of a newly-sharpened pencil, courage longs to write new life stories. I am the fortunate teacher who witnesses magic in a classroom. I’m graced by the presence of teenagers who’ve survived Texas detention facilities and are composing new lives in Connecticut.
Come September, it doesn’t matter that they’re wearing the latest fashions or coolest sneakers, I can still pick up the subtle insecurities no amount of new clothing can hide.
My teenagers want to be understood and respected, but the fear of being ridiculed or labeled sits in the deep ravine of their hearts.
They arrive at my classroom with old memories and experiences, ones which color their individual identities and attitudes. I am charged with providing them hope.
Undocumented or not, what equalizes my students is the need to master the English language. I memorize names the first week of school. I write simple prompts on the board. I gather their papers before the bell rings and assess their writing ability.
It was Lucy, the popular character from the Chronicles of Narnia series who held on to Aslan’s words: “Courage, dear heart,” the lion whispered.
Courage reminds me of a similarly-spelled word: Coraje.
In Spanish, coraje means anger or frustration. Enough anger can propel the human heart to action, regardless of one’s circumstances. Inaction breaks the human spirit. I tell them to take risks in our classroom, and they do.
Coraje is the frustration my Chinese students conveys with his actions as he crumples up his notebook paper and aims for the garbage can. “It’s okay. Let’s try again,” I say.
Unbeknownst to them, as the weeks turn into months, coraje is forged within their own hearts. When they’ve bombed spelling tests. When they’ve struggled to comprehend, I tell them it’s okay to fail once in a while.
Coraje reminds my English language learners that they can conquer the intricacies and nuances of language. The combination of courage and righteous anger shapes their academic and emotional identities.
Un poquito de Coraje is necessary here in the United States I remind them. A little bit of courage can change their very lives.
These days, I’m learning a lot about self-restraint. I hold my ‘digital tongue’ and refuse to engage in the heated debates related to immigration when I feel coraje rising up within me.
I cannot control what happens in the White House, but I can control what occurs in my classroom.
As time passes, my students are ready to tackle the intricacies of literary analysis. Their frustration with metaphors and challenging vocabulary is palpable.
“Education is a fundamental right not afforded to everyone across the planet,” I admonish when they’re about to give up, like white flags of surrender.
No greater feeling exists when I realize my students can analyze a short story. They identify protagonists. They uncover the evil antagonist. I watch as they comb the text and figure out the turning point. More wonderful is when they make text-to-self connections.In my classroom, my students learn how stories resolve themselves. They discover gold within the pages of their textbooks. They learn that an education is the real bounty of life. Click To Tweet
The real miracle occurs when they realize they are the heroes of their own stories.
It was courage which led an unaccompanied minor from a native land filled with violence and chaos. Courage allowed my Honduran student to heal after a brutal rape caused an unexpected pregnancy. Courage meant she’d slowly fall in love with a child she didn’t expect.
Good Americans helped her navigate her new land and once she healed from her emotional trauma and settled in Connecticut, she ended up earning the highest grade point average in my class.
Courage and coraje help them regulate the feelings of anxiety which come from learning English and navigating a new life in America.
Even so, I must remember not all people welcome English language learners with arms wide open so it is my job to create a space which feels like a sanctuary, a place where resilience and strong measures of coraje are always found.