There is a picture of me in a classroom, surrounded by bright and smiling children's faces. One boy has a plastic fireman's hat on and is clutching a stuffed lion. A girl with a ponytail and dark, straight bangs that fall in her eyes a bit sits beside him, smiling shyly. A small, mischevious boy named Arturo stils in my lap with a rather sarcastic smile, squeezing in next to a classmate who looks bemused and is clutching a bag to her chest. One boy stands behind where the jackets are hanging. He has a drawing of a dog displayed proudly in his mouth, but he is not misbehaving, only showing off his work to the camara. Emanuel sits at a bit of distance from the rest, but close enough to me that he is able to hold my hand. His expression is pensive; his glance displaying emotion that seems way beyond his years. He is four years old. His fingers are interlaced with mine, his teacher.
I taught them English that year, at least that was my job title. I was the English teacher of two groups of preschool children at an American school in Mexico. The only credentials that I brought with me were a bacherlor's degree in Psychology (and Spanish, not English; and especially not Pedagogy) and my native language. I spent weeks and weeks trying to stumble my way through lesson plans and classroom discipline, two areas I knew virtually nothing about, in a language that did not get my pupils' attention when I most needed it. I relied on my assistant, Sharon, to lay down the law and the routine of our shared classroom. If it had not been for Sharon, I would have packed my bags at the end of Week 1 and never turned back.
These were the privledged children of the community. There were sons and daughters of political figures and professional soccer players, and they were all entrusted to me for their early instruction and foundation in the English language. Now that I have a preschool-aged daughter myself, I marvel at the responsibility I had in my hands. If any of those parents had a clue of how unprepared and unschooled I was for the position, what would they have thought?
In pretty much all ways--except for speaking English with a perfect accent--I have always felt that I failed as a teacher that year. I met my future husband, who was a P.E. teacher at the same school that year and confessed as much to him that last week of school while filling out my student "evaluations".
Yet, as I look back at my 22-year old self, putting on a cheerful front for the camara in that picture, my heart aches.
For Emanuel. I remember his simple trust in me, his teacher; his overt signs of love and affection. He could have been reprimanded (for the upteenth time) for small acts of agression against a classmate, or for not listening, again, to instructions to get in line or sit down and work. In fact, he was one of my most undisciplined students. Yet, paradoxically I loved him the most. He could be unabashed in his antics, but he was also uninhibited in his love. Why did he choose me to love? Why not his Spanish teacher, who he spent the other half day with? Didn't he see how unfit I was to be his teacher?
It didn't matter to Emanuel. He loved me just the same, and I, unashamedly, favored him right back. Today Emanuel would be turning 15. Might he possibly remember his preschool English teacher?
I am still a teacher, and now also a parent. My Angelica loved her first teachers--Miss Natalie and Miss June very much this past school year. That love set her up for a trust in the institution, a love of school and of learning. If Emanuel felt that with me, then I am astonished.
Looking at that picture tonight, it occurs to me that perhaps I didn't fail that year after all.