In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Edmodo employees are sharing personal stories of teachers from their past—stories to show you that everything you do leaves a lasting impression years (sometimes decades) later.
I left my home country at the age of 15 to pursue better education opportunities in the U.S., and started my second year of high school in a small town in upstate New York, where my relatives lived. The school was massive compared to ones I attended in Iran, with over 2,000 students buzzing about on a huge campus made up of many buildings, a gym, a football field, and other amenities. I later came to understand this was an average school in terms of size and facilities, but to me, it felt like a castle. The experience was all the more overwhelming due to the language barrier I was now facing. Even though I studied English for a few months prior, my command of the language was very poor and I struggled to hold a conversation.
My guidance counselor suggested I enroll in ESL (English as a Second Language) courses and take lighter coursework so my English could improve. She, along with a handful of other teachers, were convinced that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of the standard academic curriculum without remedial work. What they weren’t seeing, however, was that enrolling in ESL was impacting my ability to integrate and immerse myself into a new culture. Back home, I enjoyed a great social life and a sense of belonging, both of which I lost after immigration. All my life, I loved being around people, curious and excited to learn about them; suddenly, I was facing a huge barrier to getting to know anyone or making new friends. The last thing I wanted was to become isolated in a special track and slow down the pace of integration.
As I searched for ways to stay in the “normal” track and rapidly improve my language skills, my English teacher, Mr. Sheber, pulled me aside after class and gave me the best offer I could hope for: “If you’re willing to work hard, I’m willing to help you learn fast and get fluent by the end of the semester. Think about it and if you want this, let’s come up with a plan.” I didn’t need to think about it; I was so grateful and excited. He didn’t have to do this for me. Like all great teachers, he had an exhausting schedule and an ever growing list of demands on his time. But he cared. He cared about helping me learn and grow, so I could become the best version of myself. Over the next few months, I studied hard, watched many hours of PBS, and wrote and rewrote essays—every step of the way, Mr. Sheber coached and encouraged me.
By winter, I was verbally fluent and my writing improved immensely. I was an avid reader in Farsi and I used to write poetry, a highly valued form of writing in my culture. Within a five months, I was reading heavy English literature and trying my hand at English poetry. My grades were also telling: I consistently scored 90+ on my exams. The best part of all? Making many awesome, new friends. I had done it and I did it my way, but could never have done it without Mr. Sheber. Sometimes all we need to succeed is someone to tell us we can and support us as we try.