My Little Teachers

***Published in Asian Wisconzine, June 2006 Issue.
***A reflection on teaching preschool age Hmong refugee children who resettled in Madison, Wisconsin in 2005.

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Here comes Boon Mee, Palee and their father.

“Nyob zoo, nej tuaj los!” (Hello, you all have come!)

Boon Mee and Palee are sisters. Their mother just gave birth to a little baby boy. Soon, he will be coming with them to the toddler and infant class. Their father brings them to class then he goes downstairs to learn English. Palee is in the infant and toddler room. Boon Mee is in the preschool room. She loves to dance and sing. She knows her alphabets and loves to write them.

Oh look at little Wa aka Ab Wa (baby Wa) with his purple backpack.

“Nyob zoo Wa!” (Hello, Wa!)

He is the little boy who dresses up and plays house with the girls. His mother bought him the purple backpack after a loud cry at the store. He loves painting and the book, “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” He also likes to water the classroom’s plants. He knows that his name starts with a W.

And there’s Sati.

“Good morning! Sati, please walk. Walk, walk! You are always full of energy.”

Sati is one of a kind. He is the most energetic kid you’ll ever meet. The classroom would not be the same without him. He lights up the classroom. He loves the book, “The Gingerbread Man” and knows it by heart. By request, he will entertain you with the whole story. He also likes to count his numbers and recite his alphabets during circle time, out loud.

Boon Mee, Wa and Sati are between the ages of three and five. They are among a total of 21 preschool students in the Even Start Family Literacy Program on the north side of Madison, Wisconsin. Even Start is federally funded program that provides opportunities to improve academic skills, complete a high school education or learn English. It is also designed to break the pattern of intergenerational low-literacy among economically and educationally disadvantaged families. They are also among the Hmong families who recently resettled from Wat Tham Krobak, a refugee camp in Thailand. Two years ago, this was a place where Boon Mee wore her sandals instead of boots; a place where Sati would be making squirrel traps with his friends instead of making a snowman; a place where Wa would be running around in his shorts instead of his big jacket and winter hat.

It has been over a year now that I have been with these students, classmates and families. As their teacher, I am very amazed with their progress. I find myself looking at their writings after class and they are just phenomenal. Their stories and the energy that they bring to the classroom has been heart-warming. Their artworks are astounding; they show a variety of thoughts and imagination.

"They will carry their Hmong names. They will carry their memories of living in Thailand. They will go through life living in two worlds and trying to balance it. They will face identity issues."

Observing them, I think these students are very content with their new home here in the United States. They are very appreciative as well. For most of the students, it is like their dreamland coming to class. This dreamland consists of four corners with different areas to enhance their learning from art to problem solving. It also consists of caring teachers and teacher assistants to help guide them with their learning.

Switching my role from being a student to a teacher over a year ago, my teaching experiences has given me a different outlook on how students learn and absorb their learning environment at this stage and age. These perspectives and discoveries have altered my way of thinking on how one learns. As I finish my year as the teacher of these students, I will be looking forward to becoming a student again out in the East Coast. I will miss them very much.

They will never know about 35 mm cameras, whereas they love looking at themselves after I take their pictures on my digital camera. They will never know about typewriters, whereas computers will be an important part of their lives. However, they will carry their stories of their mothers and fathers impacted by political reasons. They will carry their Hmong names. They will carry their memories of living in Thailand. They will go through life living in two worlds and trying to balance it. They will face identity issues. As their teacher and their older Hmong sister who had lived all her life in the United States, my heart goes out to them. May they live their lives full of learning and riches and remember me as their preschool teacher.

Lastly, years from now, they will always be my students, my children, my babies, and most of all, MY LITTLE TEACHERS who have taught me the gift of knowledge and how powerful it is.

Thank you for reading! 

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Are you an educator too? What has your students taught you? Let me know your thoughts below.