But every now and then I have days that remind me why I love my job. Because I do love my job. One of the things I love about my work is hearing stories about how tutors relate to their students. They provide heartwarming witness to not only the work that we do to improve their language skills, but tutors pass on other lessons to me-- lessons of virtue.
At our annual volunteer appreciation breakfast I sat next to a woman who has been tutoring her student for over a year. He is from Yemen and was able to pass his citizenship test this year. I cannot tell you what elation this is; you really must experience it first hand by going to the ceremony to see our new citizens who have studied tirelessly, sacrificed so much to be there in that moment taking their oaths of allegiance. It is the sort of thing that will make you want to sing our national anthem (and learn the words to all of the verses). Your heart will swell with a sort of patriotism you didn't expect to be there.
I won't speak too much of the sacrifices of our students. Another tutor mentioned his student was a woman who had been an attorney in the Dominican Republic. She now works as a custodian as she learns English. I think it really speaks to what immense privilege we have in our country that we often do not recognize and value that adults are willing to give up comfortable careers and happy lives to move to the United States and become a taxi driver.
This tutor I sat next to mentioned her student had just received his US Passport and was working to bring his family over to the United States. The tutor had asked where they would live and without hesitation he had replied, "With me, of course." As much as I value my independence, I have to admire the virtue of familial closeness. It is a bond that I don't think any politician can aptly describe with the buzzphrase "family values." Family values sounds so pat and trite in comparison to the devotion and commitment that binds these families. I don't think I've made any secret of my endorsement for boomeranging in the right situation. But I don't think I've always considered it the "of course" answer. I don't think I've valued my family and desperately wanted to care for them in the same way some of our immigrant students do.
Our students work damn hard-- not just for themselves, but unselfishly for the pursuit of happiness for all of their families. I admire them. They do all of this work in the face of great obstacles, including blatant discrimination and often unfortunate poverty. And they show up week after week, devoted to learning. Because education is a way out. Because education is a portal to a better life experience. Because education is a gift that they will not squander or undervalue. Because education is a lifeline. Because it is necessary.
Our office is decorated currently with student work. The adults (ABE and ESL) finished the prompt, "Literacy matters to me because..." I was humbled by the responses. They were direct and meaningful. The students listed things such as wanting to learn more, get better jobs, help their children in school, write a birthday card, get a GED, etc. My favorite one reads:
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