This weekend, I lingered over a story by Tara Bahrampour in Sunday’s Washington Post about the relationship between Ameer Abdalameer, an English-language learner from Iraq, and his English-as-a-second-language teacher, Felix Herrera, at Wakefield High School in Arlington County, Va., schools. “Lessons in Shared Scars of War” tells how 14-year-old Ameer left his home in Iraq because of war and how Mr. Herrera served in the Iraq war as an Army reservist.
The nuances in the story--how Ameer makes verbal jabs in Mr. Herrera’s presence that show the pain the boy has experienced in the war, and Mr. Herrera’s reassurances that he has his students’ interests at heart and that, no, he didn’t kill any Iraqis--reflect the fact that the reporter spent several months observing Mr. Herrera’s classes. She portrays a complex relationship between a teacher and student who are making the effort to reach out to each other and learn from each other. It’s not easy because of the differences in their perspectives and cultures.
I’ve gathered from observing dozens of ESL and bilingual classes across the country that the emotional support that teachers provide to newcomers to U.S. schools is every bit as important as the educational content delivered to them. And it seems many teachers get into this field because of the potential to learn so much about the world through their students.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.