We continue our series of stories from teachers who spent their summer using their Atlanta Fund for Teachers grant. Next up: Angela Nelson, an ESOL teacher at Garden Hills Elementary. Ms. Nelson traveled to Egypt and Jordan. Her goal, as she told the AJC‘s Gracie Bonds Staples: “I hope to bring back and share my impressions of Islam and the Muslim people, providing insight for my school community into a region and people that I suspect [are] grossly misunderstood by many in our community.”
What she came back with, as you’ll see from her story, is a whole wealth of empathy. Read it after the jump.
“Wow! What a summer! I hoped this journey would help me better understand the experiences of my English-language learners, and embody the International Baccalaureate learner profile to which my school aspires.
“My students at Garden Hills Elementary enter our school from many cultures and walks of life. They are not only learning a new language but acclimating to a new culture and new customs. Often times, even the letters and sounds of English are exotic to them. When a child from a country like China or Bangladesh begins school in an English environment, our letter characters and language sounds are not even similar to those of their home languages.
“In Jordan and Egypt, the characters they use are foreign to an English speaker. I could not begin to decipher the curly letters that they use or make out the meanings of the words. I could not even reproduce some of the sounds needed in their language. I was truly able to experience that vulnerable feeling that our students must feel when they begin school in the United States. I was able to walk in the shoes of my ESOL families this summer thanks to this wonderful opportunity.
“With this $5,000 fellowship, I traveled to Egypt and Jordan for three weeks to immerse myself in their culture. Not only was my trip an awakening to the senses but it challenged me mentally as well as emotionally. Never are we the same after a visit with those of another background.
“While on this adventure, I was able to share meals or hot tea and bread with families in their homes, sail the Nile on feluccas that have been sources of transportation for thousands of years, and touch stone carvings that have stood the test of time for centuries. I met with Bedouins in the desert and Nubians in small villages. I was able to see first-hand the spice markets, the Great Pyramids, and the enormous rock walls and caves of Petra. I walked in the ruins of the Roman city of Jerash, and gazed at the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, where Moses died. I floated in the Dead Sea and saw her leathery scrolls up close. I heard the call to prayer at marked intervals throughout the day, the greetings from merchants as they peddled their wares, and a language that was so alien to any I had ever heard. I visited schools, places of worship, shops, restaurants, food markets and small villages. I spent three nights on a boat on the Nile and rode camels in the desert to visit a monastery that was built in the sixth century. I sampled new foods and learned about clothing, customs, and ways of life that are vastly different from my own. Every day, I thought my head would explode from trying to contain everything the guide explained to us about the temples, artifacts and monuments of this amazing and beautiful area of the world.
“There were times on the trip that I felt as though I had traveled through time to a century from long ago. The sights exceeded my highest expectations but what impressed me most was, in this time of worldly unrest, how Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions were so interwoven and respected. I learned that all three religions are taught and studied in school and I visited schools where Christians and Muslims learned and played together.
“Mark Twain once said, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.’ I thought of this quote often as this trip reinforced my beliefs that people are the same all over the world. They want a better life and education for their children. They want to protect and provide for their families. They rejoice during good times and cry when their families are hurting. They want clean water, good food, a home and to enjoy life. They want to be valued and appreciated and loved.
“I returned from my travels with lots of books and information and artifacts to share with my students and colleagues, but more importantly to me I returned with an expanded outlook on life and a deeper appreciation and better understanding of my English-language learners and their families.
“Fund for Teachers and Atlanta Education Fund provide an unparalleled opportunity for teachers to rekindle a passion and enthusiasm for teaching and learning. There is no equal to the education that travel provides.”