Chronicles of Reach for The Stars

Part 1: School, Hate It or Love It

Born in California and raised in Hickory, North Carolina there have always been two worlds that I know of. One, being raised as a Hmong daughter inside my house and two, being taught and adapting into the American culture at school. My world is always a collision of two cultures. It’s like war all the time. I go home teach my parents or at least try to teach them what I learned in class, and it’s hilarious. Because there are some Hmong vocabularies that I don’t know and I’m trying to describe a certain English word to my parents in Hmong. While at school I’m faced with bombarding questions about my culture from peers. And I remember one of my friends asking me “Do you like school?” and another peer asking “Is that why you guys (Hmong students) are always so quiet?”

I hated school and have always hated school. The only good part about school is friends. I didn’t have tons and tons of friends, but a good amount of friends to be with. I hate school not because of the teachers. In fact I have always somehow ended up with excellent teachers. Allow me  to explain to you the difference between good and excellent teachers.

  • Good teachers can teach you the subject and will always somehow end up asking if you actually learned something. Sometimes they teach too much, I mean what’s the point of teaching a whole textbook when you got too rush because of the snow days or hurricanes. They have standards for you such as getting good grades making sure you past their class. Because that’s what matter to them, half the class needs to pass so they can teach next school year. And so as long as a few students comes out with passing grades, the rest is up to you whether you want to pass or not. Or should I say, rather you’re genius or a crying fool.  A good teacher will always tell you “Good Job” or “Great” if you passed a test. And good teachers just ignore bright students. Isn’t that embarrassing when your students are smarter than you and they’re teaching you? Well yeah, but everyone’s got to learn something and we can never stop learning.
  • Excellent teachers or great teachers decide what not to teach and only gives you the most important information. Sometimes the information they give are not from the textbook the class have, but from other textbooks they kept from college. This isn’t because they’re lazy but want to ensure lasting emphases and memories. They tell you “Hang in there” or “You can do it” whether you past or failed because they know you studied hard and that not everyone is intellectually talented in the same field. Excellent teachers always sneak in those application questions during test or lecture, this just give me assurance that the students will and can succeed in the future. On a side note, application questions are probably my favorite test questions because there is really no 100% right or 100% wrong answers. And they always try to mess around with the grade book to increase the students’ grade. I had one teacher who made the Homework percentage to 50% of the grade and Test to 20% because the tests were not looking good for most students. Last but not least they’re always willingly to learn from their students. Whether it’s a new language, something from another class, or how to use savvy phone.

So, I had excellent teachers who were able to tell me that “Hey Mai, we need to work on your grammar because it sucks but your arguments and content were strongly delivered and well written.” Well, they didn’t tell me my grammar suck they just say “poor grammar” but according to me my grammar suck. And yet why do I hate school?

Some students, even when I have never done anything wrong, just give me these nasty looks due to my hair and skin color. Telling me to go back to where I came from. Technically that’s impossible to do because I was created from a sperm and an egg, I was an embryo. And so were you. So unless someone can build a machine that transform a person back into an embryo, guess I’m not going anywhere soon. I used to answer a lot of questions, shared my ideas, asked questions, participate in group discussions, and love group work. Then somehow I hate group discussions and group work. The only time I enjoyed group work was when we got to choose our own members, other than that I was just there.

It all started in second grade every time I asked a question or answer a question this one boy, I’ll just called him Scraper, would always snickered at my Hmong accent and make fun of me. Of course the teacher would always call out on him for being disrespectful, but that didn’t stop him. He even got wrote up a gazillion times but that still didn’t stopped him.  Thankfully he left the school in the middle of the semester.

Another accident in second grade was when we were grading our spelling tests and switch papers to the person beside of us. I switched with, Piper, the boy I was sitting beside of.  He missed all of his so I had to mark everything wrong; I looked over and saw that he changed my answers. So when I got it back, I changed it back. He had to raise his hand and say out loud to the whole class “She’s changing her answers.” I started to cry because I felt it was unjust and I was the only Hmong kid, the only minority student in the whole classroom. My teacher looked over at me and I blurted out “he changed my answer this isn’t my handwriting.” She then took my paper and looked at it. I can’t remember what happened after that, all I remember was that during lunch he was trying to tell me “Kou you really did get those wrongs,” but my friends told me to ignore him. After that incident, every time my teacher rearranged the seats I was always seated with a close friend.

There are times when I think back to that incident and asked myself “what happened if I were to raised my hand when I saw him erasing my paper?” or “Told the teacher what happened.” After all, my second grade teacher was a great teacher and she knew that I always do my best.  And I always end up asking “Why were you afraid of telling?” I don’t know, maybe because I feel inferior due to my physical appearance.

One afternoon after I returned from ESL pullout, my second grade teacher told me to pair up with someone for partner reading and assignment. I even heard her say there will have to be a group of three. My friends were still in their pullout session for students that need extra help with reading to reach the EOG reading scores. So I look around the room and saw two students left, a boy I’ll named Thumper and a girl I’ll named Puffer. Thumper told me “Go be partners with Puffer because I don’t like you,” so I was like okay and went to Puffer but she told me “I want to be by myself go work with Thumper.”

We all ended up working alone until my friends came back and they became my partners. You’re probably thinking did the teacher not notice, well not exactly because the three of us were sitting not so close but not so far off and from faraway you would think we’re a group.  Eventually the she did noticed later on and made Thumper and Puffer partners.  After we turned in the assignments Puffer tried to console me “Kou the only reason I didn’t want to work with you was that I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to understand the subject.” Well thanks for telling me that I’m stupid and you’re smart. Eventually, I ended up meeting Thumper and Puffer again in high school.

Thumper was friend with a friend, called him Lightening, of mine in high school but Thumper didn’t recognize me. I was with Lightening as he was helping me with our English homework and he yelled “Hey Thumper” I recognized the name and looked up to see him. I was just like “You again” and went back to minding my own business. Lightening even introduced us to each other and that’s when I noticed Thumper doesn’t recognize me. Later that day during lunch when Thumper sat with us my friend, I’ll called her Zinc, urged me to ask him while everyone was still in lunch line. I did and his response “Which elementary school did you go too?” I just smile and said “you don’t need to know.”

The fact is that Thumper only stay one year at my elementary school, Ray Childers Elementary, so we never saw him again after second grade. Did I want him to remember me? Well, we were never close so I didn’t care. And we never became friends in high school either. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing him after my freshmen year.

As for Puffer, I totally forgot about her existence, until my sophomore year in Spanish class. I saw her face and was like “Is the lord trying to play around with me?” We never talked to each other in Spanish class and were only partner once in class. Even then since we were both quiet mice we barely talk like the rest of the class. However, a classmate notice, and I’ll called him Gorge (his Spanish name) because after Spanish class when he dropped his girlfriend off to Civics and Economics (the same class as me) he walked over and asked me “Esperanza (my Spanish name) were you okay today in Spanish class?” Told him that everything was fine and I was just sleepy. The next day I asked Puffer if she remembered me she said no and asked if we went to the same school. I replied “Yeah, but it isn’t important.”

Honestly, ever since second grade I wanted to be friends with Puffer because she was like always alone with no friends and when my parents came to visit my classroom to bring an Authentic dish for everyone to try she was actually the only one that ate the dish or try the dish beside my teacher. I tried to be friendly and nice and she wasn’t that bad of a person. Even after she made up that horrible excuse of me not understanding the subject, when she could have told me “I don’t want to be partners with you” I was just like “Okay.”

Even in Spanish class when the teacher goes “Now get with a partner and practice/do your homework” she never had a partner and always had to go joined another group. Actually, she does have a specific someone she always works with but when that person doesn’t show up Puffer is alone. And that person barely shows up. While everyone else just gather with their neighbors to be partners and work away. After, sophomore year when the school split up (because our high school was too full) I never saw her again. I know for a fact that she didn’t go to the new high school because we both came from the same middle school, and along the way something happened because I entered middle school before she did. So when I was a sophomore in high school, she was freshman. And honestly, when I saw that she was a freshman the first thing that came to my mind was “Ha, you deserve that for calling me stupid years ago,” but I never told her that and just tossed away that mean thought.

During junior year in high school when we had to do a voice recording presentation after reading “Of Mice and Men” this one guy, he’s not particularly a friend or an acquaintance, asked me “Did you do the voice recording?” I told him that my partner Ashley did it, and he sigh in relief saying “Okay thank goodness.” I gave him the stare and told him “I know have an accent, but it isn’t as horrible as your fake British accent. And I know I have a horrible voice over, but do you know that I also dislike your mosquito sounding voice?” That was when I totally got enough of every one’s crap. However, like I say before to remind everyone the guy and I both were on a mutual relationship. We didn’t mistreat one another and we were in lots of academic classes together so we got along well.

It’s safe to say that in my junior year I started to be more aggressive and outspoken. Students in my classes (only those that I were never closed too) were finally starting to see my true colors. I can speak out loud, I have a loud voice, I may not be as smart as you but I’m not stupid either. And yes I can draw not because I’m Asian but because drawing was always a way to express myself when I was little from all the discrimination and teasing I got. And yes I have a loud voice because I have friends that are now also facing the same things I did.

School was a nightmare for me even though I enjoyed seeing my friends and copying their homework some of the time, I never knew when someone was going to tease me or badmouth me. I can never sense those short comings. However, by going to school and meeting great friends who always have your side and stand up for you was a blessing. Having great teachers who appreciate your hard work, help guide you along the way, and giving those endless cheering was a heavenly gift. At least it shows that someone does care and like you for who you are.

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