I learn so much from my students. I teach ESOL — English for Speakers of Other Languages — and from my students I learn about the world. Although I’m teaching kids in public school right now, I previously taught adults. One of my most powerful learning experiences happened with my adult class at New Neighbors Education Center in Alexandria.

Over the months in this classroom, a community of trust grew. One student told how she had witnessed police in her country chopping the hand off a shoplifter. Another student explained how all families in her town had to pay local officials large bribes in order for their children to be able to attend school. They shared the hardships of coming here: tales of families split up, homesickness, and difficulties finding jobs and housing.

These were not beginners at English language learning, and I was able to use a lot of US history lessons to teach the language. We studied the American Revolution and the Civil War. The students worked hard to understand the Gettysburg Address, spending many days discussing the difficult vocabulary and the concepts.

Near the end of the year we took a field trip to DC, taking the Metro on a beautiful spring day. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial, which none of them had visited before. They knew all about Lincoln now, and were very excited. We walked up the steps, and the students were amazed to see there on the wall the very words that they had been reading for weeks. One student from Venezuela started reading the Gettsyburg Address aloud. A Vietnamese woman joined in, then an Ethiopian man, and soon the whole class was reciting together. Tourists stopped snapping photos and gathered around to listen. As the class said, in perfect unison, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” I was not the only one with tears streaming. As they said, “shall not perish from the earth,” I knew: they knew what these words mean.

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