From the very first day of school, Fernanda was my favorite. An energetic and yet contemplative 7-year-old, she had stolen my heart as well as most of my pencils. She was a star student and a little bit of a diva; her English skills were rivaled only by her confidence. The yellow clips she wore in her long dark hair were fabulous, and she knew it.
When, in the first two minutes of class, Fernanda clasped her tiny hand around mine, smiled sweetly, and carefully said, “teacher”, I was filled with hope. I was ecstatic to teach such enthusiastic young children, and I, in my own sort of naïveté, did not predict that they would teach me anything in return.
However, my outlook on the classroom setting soon changed. I learned two minutes after meeting Fernanda that her excitement was not the norm for her grade; Kevin, Randy, and Esteban refused to communicate with me save for long sighs and the occasional scream, while Angie and Dayana did not attempt speech through anything other than eye contact. After three hours of screams, sighs, silent treatments, and sarcastic remarks from my second-grade students, I was exhausted. The classroom was a mess.
Still, if the second grade was a hurricane, Fernanda was the eye. No matter what her classmates did, she remained focused. At almost all times, she was engrossed in the English words written on the board asking questions and scrawling notes in her small princess-themed composition book. For her skills, her behavior, and yes, her adorable yellow hair clips, she was the teacher’s pet.
I felt a little guilty for displaying such obvious favoritism, but the chaos of teaching young, inattentive students a second language drowned out all my reservations. So I continued on through my second day of teaching, keeping my focus on Fernanda’s boundless vigor and holding to the idea that if I taught one child at least one thing, my purpose at the school would be fulfilled.
With this idea in mind, I walked into the classroom on my second day of teaching thinking I knew exactly what to expect: a rowdy Esteban, a silent Angie, a skeptical Dayana, a loud Kevin, a flighty Alvarito, a reserved Alicia, a distracted Aziel, a timid Randy, and a beautifully engrossed Fernanda.
The first lesson the children taught me was not to assume anything. I walked into a classroom full of surprises. The children who had been shy and uncooperative clung to my hands and begged me to play games. Previously silent children screamed my name. One by one, they disproved my judgments of them.
Aziel, who before had only used the words “no” and “I don’t want to”, spent the entire day telling me about his life and family. While he is not an excellent writer, he has a passion for dinosaurs.
Dayana, whose life seemed before to be composed of only disapproving glares, smiled for the entire class period. It can be difficult for her to find her voice, but once she does, she is unstoppable.
Randy, who hid his face behind his hands for the entire first day of classes, used the entire day of classes to show me his drawings. He tries his hardest to hide it, but he has a beautiful imagination.
And most surprising of all, on the second day of classes, Fernanda became impatient. Upon not being able to translate a sentence from Spanish to English, she instead translated her frustrations into a temper tantrum. Her intelligence will lead her to wonderful things, and yet she still has so much more to learn.
Their chances of graduating from high school are very small; according to Alvaro Molina, less than 1 out of 35 children from Ometepe obtain a high school certificate. Whatever the circumstances, one thing is clear. These children, these wonderful, clever, frustrating, beautiful, hyper, thoughtful, crazy, intelligent children deserve it all. My hope for them and children everywhere is that they will always have someone who is willing to know them and to support them for who they are: for strengths and for weaknesses, for successes and mistakes, for better or for worse.