How Not to Shape Tomorrow’s Leaders by J. Levowitz


This past week has been one of my busiest in a while. Hours spent on creating lesson plans. Daily workshops on managing the classroom.  Hundreds of new names to remember before school starts.  On top of this all, I was asked to design the welcoming board outside my second grade classroom.  Never working well under pressure, I made a grave mistake among the confusion.

We all can remember the welcoming board from our formative school years.  Ms. Willis, my 4th grade teacher, had a diorama of dinosaurs to greet me as  I marched up the hallway.  This animation inspired me, made me hungry for the knowledge she was prepared to impart to me each day .

The board stood there. Staring at me. This arduous TASK impeding me from the other hundred things I needed to get done.  I decided to be bold, take big strides, and trust my intuition.  Upon a quick glance at the art supplies in the corner, I picked up the first ream of paper.  Unrolling it, the paper had red bricks printed upon it.  I went to work, cutting and stapling, until the facade of a brick wall came into being.

It is important to quickly note the layout of the school. There are two buildings: the main one and the smaller classrooms in the back for the younger children. Upon entering the second grade, the students were promoted to learn in the primary building.

The students to occupy my classroom would be entering for the first time.  They were actually made this same promise the year before, but due to poor performance on annual exams, they were held back for another year in the cramped hallways that they had been walking through since kindergarten.  They were reminded of this each day when most of their peers left them in the courtyard to enter in with the older kids.

This wall needed to be a symbol that addressed these fragile minds. I wanted something to empower them, make them march up the hall like I did in elementary school, with true grit between their baby teeth.  They would be entering these halls as students for the first time and the message needed to embolden them to beat their chests and let the school know that this year would be different; in this year, they would demand their education instead of passively sitting in the back for years.  No longer would they be left behind. No more would they hear, “Your older brother was such a bright and good boy. Why did you not turn out like him.”

I saw that my obstacle was their obstacle.  I cut out a big star-like figure and pasted it over the center of the faux brick wall.  Before I could curb my passion, animated bombs were omnipresent on the display.  I entitled it: “BREAKING INTO 2A.” They would break into the new building with an unchecked zeal. Staring at the finished piece, I started to breath again.

The Arabic teacher turned the corner and shrieked, “What is this?!”

I calmly explained to her the concept of seizing the day.

“You cannot promote bombs in our school. For too long, us Iraqis have feared them and now you will teach the children that they are okay.”

“Well then. I guess I did not really think of it like that.”

My mind started to race.  I wanted to inspire these children and I became too wrapped up in this idealism that I forgot the practical message I would be sending to the Iraqi leaders of tomorrow.

I do usually pride myself as someone culturally sensitive.  Never before have I fallen into such a self-made pitfall.  This wall once again stared, but now it became a blunder, grinning back at me.

Throughout the day other teachers chimed in.  “I like your bombs,” one Lebanese woman with a Russian accent sneered.

I traveled several thousand miles to be a teacher, and I would be fired before the first day? What would the parents think? What would the administration think? And most importantly, what would the students think?

I quietly left after work, with my spirit broken.  I hope I can find a way to remedy the situation before I lose the respect of my children.  I hope things only get easier from here, but in such a dynamic environment, if I continue to exude such daftness I did, then this year will only be uphill.

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