During my last year of teaching 2nd grade (2011-12 school year), I got an email from the father of one of my students. (Commonly referred to as "one of my dads" but that can get tricky.) He shared with me that he knew of a local construction company that was interested in investing in the lives of their Spanish-speaking employees through an English course. I'm not sure if this dad had heard about my recent mission trip to Casa de la Esperanza Orphanage, if he knew that I minored in Spanish while at Cal Poly, or even worse, if he had spotted me devouring guac and chips at a nearby Mexican restaurant, but regardless of his intuition, I was hooked from the beginning. Before I knew it, I was sealing the deal at a mansion in Kentfield, sipping hot apple cider with two of my close teaching friends and meeting our future students.
After a business development and coaching meeting over lattes with the famous Randy Roberts, the three of us teachers emerged feeling empowered as the new small business owners of AJA: English Made Easy. We wrote a business plan, a proposal for the company (cringing at the amount of money we were charging, after all, we were JUST teachers!), and filled out numerous insurance and facility use forms. To our surprise and within just weeks, we were up and running! I don't think Jenny (@jennyderby), Amanda (@missamandagrey) or I knew just what we were getting into when we held our first class in Room 20 at Brookside Upper Elementary.
As all good teachers do, we spent the first few classes getting to know our students. We learned that many of them had been hired from the area in San Rafael known as the "canal." If you aren't familiar with San Rafael, the "canal" is an area where workers stand for hours on end hoping someone will drive by and hire them for a day job. We learned that most of our students were living here in the U.S. but their wives, children, and extended family members were living in other countries. We learned that several of our students never even completed 6th grade. With hopeful hearts and realistic expectations, we started our journey.
Two years later, we no longer teach in Room 20. We teach in a classroom near the "canal" that our students BUILT for us with love and care in the middle of their construction warehouse! We've had numerous 12-14 week intense rounds of ESL classes, and we've added a dynamic teacher, @cashleywilliams to the mix. We've laughed together, we've struggled together, and we've celebrated together.
Sharing the #eduwins that have occurred with our students over the past two years would be a heart warming and reflective walk down memory lane. However, tonight, I had the privilege of being a part of one huge #eduwin that summarized the last two years for me. Tonight, I watched a flourishing top-notch company invest in the lives of their employees. I watched ten business executives drink, eat, and be merry with men who stumble over their sentence structure, who are often covered in paint and dirt, and many of whom will spend this holiday missing their family members who live in Mexico or El Salvador. Tonight, I watched my three friends, who have busted their butts for the past three months to teach with enthusiasm, hold back the tears as we hugged our students goodbye for a few months. Tonight, I saw a room full of people who know what it means to Give. Risk. Learn.
This holiday season, I'm sure I will receive close to 100 Christmas cards but I already have my favorite card picked out. It's the card below. The card where these 16 men wrote personalized messages to each of us teachers. It's funny how the things that once bothered me have melted away over time. I used to hate it when my 2nd grade students called me "teacher." Spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and incorrect punctuation have also been known to drive me crazy on more than one occasion. This year however, my favorite Christmas card is the one full of mistakes. The one that says, "Thank you teacher. I love you."