Language Learning: Dream Vs. Nightmare



My positive “dream” experience as a student occurred in the eighth grade. Ms. P is the reason I am a teacher today. In a formal classroom environment, she circulated the room daily to have informal conversations with each individual. She made jokes, constantly encouraged us, and delivered engaging creative lessons. As a child, I adored Stephen King books and although these novels were beyond Young Adult reads, she brought her personal books from home to lend me. We discussed literature and creative writing during recess because I volunteered to stay in and help her set up the classroom often. I was an introverted adolescent, but she focused on my interests to inspire me to be more confident. I even hand-wrote a 78-page story for a short story assignment because she motivated me and made me feel like I could accomplish anything. Furthermore, she bought me a book on how to get published and hand-wrote letters to thank me for my assistance during the year. She helped me learn curriculum content, but more importantly, I gained self-assurance in myself and in my passions. I learned that it is acceptable to enjoy reading (even if other children did not think it was “cool”) and to always be yourself. I am only one student that has been touched by her thoughtfulness and genuine love of teaching. Other peers in the class spoke highly of her and also described their own memories of great times with Ms. P. She sparked the desire in me to become a teacher. To develop meaningful relationships based on care and respect. To make a positive impact on another's day. I want to educate others and provide meaningful memories. We currently still email each other to keep updated about how we are doing in our lives.


My parents speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese, with a rudimentary understanding of English. They both immigrated from Vietnam and I was born in Canada. I am bilingual since they taught me Cantonese and English is my first language. They made many sacrifices to support me in my education and personal growth. But due to their lack of English proficiency, we encountered many hardships. It is difficult for me to reconcile that I could engage in graduate studies in English (with a teachable in English) with the notion that my parents cannot read or write English well. Their oral language is heavily accented and sometimes, they misinterpret what they hear. They can write few words and can read basic language. This lead to a “nightmare” experience in kindergarten or grade 1.

I was in between the ages of 5-7 and was still trying to grasp an understanding of both English and Cantonese. I do not remember the teacher’s name, but homework consisted of worksheets to be completed. Although the activities in class were probably hands-on, I had issues with deciphering the handout instructions at home. I asked my parents for help and my father would respond, “I don’t know. Write ‘I do not understand.’” My mother had less experience with English than he did, so I complied. Not understanding meant I couldn't complete it. I did this on multiple occasions before the teacher finally exclaimed in frustration, “You can’t just write you don’t understand! You have to do your homework!”

I felt hopeless to the point of tears. Telling me I had to “do” my homework meant that she thought I was lazy rather than unable. I didn't want to be considered as a “bad” child or an individual that refused to complete work. It was not an indication of my personality characteristics. Conversely, I lacked the tools to do the work. I told her I didn't know what the words on the sheet meant. She told me to ask my parents, and I said I did. She still seemed irritated, and I could feel the lack of empathy and care. My homework sheets were empty and this influenced her perception of me. It made me feel inadequate. My receptive language was developing rapidly, but reading independently at home without aid was challenging (and tiring). As a child, I could not communicate this. Comparing these two experiences, it is evident that students will remember how teachers made them feel more than knowledge of specific facts. It is important to consider the socio-cultural background of each learner and to nurture their interests. No student should feel ever left out, and each learner must be valued.