Friday, October 16, 2015

Year 6: Week 7 – My First Asian Teacher

I still remember when I realized that for the first time I was going to have an Asian-American teacher.

It was a week or two before the start of 7th grade (might have been 6th). I received my class scheduled in the mail. This little index card sized print out listed our classes, our locker number and combination and our teachers’ names. Next to the title “language arts” was the name “Naganawa.”

I was really surprised. I never had a teacher in all of my years in school up to that point that I identified as a racial minority. I asked my mom about this and she confirmed that I was going to have a teacher who was Asian-American and this realization changed my assumptions about life.

I grew up on Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle and there were always other students of color in my classroom, especially other Asian-American students. I was aware of this and I remember conversations from my elementary school years like “are you Chinese? I’m Japanese. Let’s play and be friends.”  My family was Taiwanese, there were other Asian families that we spent time with and my teachers at school appeared to be Caucasian. That was the way things were and I never imagined that anything would or could be different.

Walking into school that first day, I was nervous about many things but I was excited about meeting Mrs. Naganawa. On that first day, she took attendance verbally and went around the room saying everyone’s name and making eye contact. When she said my name and smiled at me, it didn’t feel like a stranger saying “hello” for the first time. Because we were both Asian, I immediately felt a connection. She understood what it was like to be Asian and in that way she understood what it was like to be me.

Over the year she made us write weekly “Reading Responses.” This was a two-page, typed reading journal. She wanted us to think about books that we were reading and reflect. They papers have to be book reports, and we could go on tangents if we wanted.

At first I wrote the way I was taught. I had topic sentences and supporting body sentences. I got good grades on these assignments and slowly I started writing in a freer journal style. To my surprise, Mrs. Naganawa was enthusiastic about this because she valued how I was more freely expressing my thoughts through writing. It was this support that over time made me in love with writing. And it is this love of writing that I’ve returned to through the years as one of the most important parts of my life.

Would I have learned to love writing the way I do if Mrs. Naganawa wasn’t an Asian-American. I’m not sure but I know that her race helped me feel more comfortable which led me me to take more chances with my writing.  More importantly having an Asian-American teacher broke me out of my world view and expand my idea of what I could accomplish as an Asian-American.

Thanks Mrs. Naganawa for showing me that an Asian-American could be a teacher and opening up a world of possibility that has led me follow in your footsteps.  What your example meant to me motivates me every day as a teacher.

No comments:

Post a Comment