Today, I was surprised by a former student of mine, who is now in middle school. He came to the US from Haiti in November of 2009, and when he came, he didn’t speak a word of English. I was the only person he could communicate with at school, so he and I formed a strong bond very quickly. Though he spent 7 1/2 hours each day in classrooms, listening to thousands of words that he didn’t understand, he was still so motivated to work with me every day after school to learn English. This kind of drive is not often seen in adults, so to see it in an 11 year-old boy was quite remarkable. He was so excited to come to my room each day to practice basic English phrases, ask me what a “new” word meant, or finally have a chance to talk to someone who understood what he was saying. There were very few times when I ever saw him discouraged or frustrated; rather, he focused his energy on trying to learn as much as he could each day.
He made phenomenal progress in learning English right from the start. Whenever he encountered a word or phrase he liked the sound of, he would repeat it for days. One of his favorites was, “I am sick!,” and I think I heard him say this phrase about 200 times during the first week that he learned it. Slowly, but surely, we moved from conversing in French to using more and more English. Each day, I was so impressed with what I saw and heard, and I think he was really surprising himself as well. As soon as he learned to express himself in his new language, his personality really came out. I had known it was there all the while, since he could communicate with me, but his teachers and peers took him for a shy, quiet boy because he did not yet feel comfortable enough to speak to them in English. By the end of the school year, he had learned so much that his self-confidence really started to come out: he was seen by everyone as a funny, smart and likable boy. Everyone that he came into contact with absolutely loved the time they spent with him because he was such a great kid.
Seeing him today was such a wonderful moment for me. He was such an inspiration to me from the very first day I started working with him. He still has that same drive and motivation, and now an even bigger personality. He is excelling in every area of his life, and I couldn’t be prouder of him. The way he has taken on obstacles and challenges is something to be admired, because I don’t know many adults that could do it with such humor and grace. I really can’t wait to see what he does with his life, because whatever it is, it will be great.