On the table sat a bowl of washed grapes, untouched, and two unopened water bottles were stationed at the bowl’s right and left flanks. A notebook and pen tied with a ribbon sat in my homeroom teacher’s bag, and my former student volunteer, who was helping to translate, sat nearby.
We were on a home visit. Home visits are when homeroom teachers, who follow one class through all three years of middle school, visit their students’ homes to provide an opportunity for both the teacher and the parents to check in.
Our student stayed on campus, since the school day was still in session, while our homeroom teacher, my volunteer, and I walked on over to our student’s home. “It’s very close,” our homeroom teacher had said. On our way there, we walked by a park and got a bit lost. Our teacher called our student’s mother and, with her help (and the help of the brightly-painted wall of a preschool next to the student’s home), we found her apartment.
She welcomed us in, apologized for the mess (as most hosts and hostesses do, even if there’s hardly any mess at all), and invited us to sit on their beds as we spoke. I watched our teacher carefully, trying not to do anything that might come across as rude or inconsiderate. She sat down on the bed, and I followed. The student volunteer sat on a chair. She offered us food and ice cold water, but we all politely declined, motioning towards our partially-full water bottles and explaining that we had already eaten breakfast that morning.
At one point, a medium-sized black and white dog with big, folded ears appeared and looked at us strangers with a smile and bright eyes. A few minutes later, she went back into a corner and chewed on a plastic water bottle.
Then, the chatting began. Our teacher talked about our student’s academic progress (she was doing fairly well, as far as I could understand), her social health (she was full of energy and had lots of friends; that, I could understand), and other issues that her mother had been concerned about.
Then, it was our turn to ask her questions. I asked what she did for a living, where our student’s father was, and what he was doing there. I asked whether or not our student had any siblings, and what our student liked to do at home, and what was her favorite thing to do in her free time? I listened carefully and attentively for her answers, but I could only catch bits and pieces of them. They were never really translated in a way I understood, either, and I was a little too embarrassed to ask for our hostess or volunteer to repeat.
Our hostess asked me some questions, too, like where I was from, and why I didn’t speak fluent Chinese (but she thought my English was fantastic!), and what I thought of her daughter.
I told her honestly that her daughter was a wonderful person and was one of the top ten English students in the class. She seemed delighted to hear this, and she asked me if I spoke to her daughter in English. I laughed and said that I can’t speak Chinese very well, so I spoke to her daughter in English most of the time out of necessity.
She asked the student volunteer some questions, too, like how he was able to speak and understand English so well, how old he was, where he studying now, etc.
Soon, we said our good-byes and thank-yous, and we gave our lovely hostess a school-sanctioned gift, which was a notebook and pen.
As our teacher would explain to me later, this mother was the parent who, of all the parents she had met, cared the most about her child’s education. She had not met many parents, she explained, who put education as a top priority; perhaps because these parents, themselves, were not able to see the substantial benefits of a good education.
This thought weighed in my head for a while. I thought back to my time as a seventh grader. I was relatively unmotivated in school (seventh grade was a stressful, distracting, confusing, puberty-filled time), and I hardly put as much time and energy into working and studying as my students did. And yet, I always had the pushing force of my parents behind me, my parents who cared about my education and wanted to see me do well in school and go on to a good college.
So, what was driving my students to go to class every day?
My students have the motivation to go through hours upon hours of classes every day, even if sometimes, it may seem like they’re the only ones who care. I have seen students across all classes who have stayed up long after mandatory study ended at 9:00 PM, either inside or outside the classrooms, working on the homework that they couldn’t finish in that small after-school 3.5-hour self-study time.
Perhaps it is the power of will. Perhaps it is the power of determination.
Whatever it is, seeing my students every day inspired me more than anything has before. They have become one of the biggest reasons why I want to become a better person, one that can stand and walk on my own, be a better role model, and, maybe someday, do them proud.
*Note: This blog post was written several months ago, but I am only posting it now because it was lost in the abyss of my computer.