Why I Became A Teacher…

We had an essay contest at school for educators to submit their writing piece and I hope this inspires or encourages someone who is considering education. It’s such a fulfilling calling and I’m honored to work with incredible teachers!

A Dutch Heritage

I am dearly fond of my grandparents, Nico and Diny, who in Dutch are known as Opa and Oma. They were as most pictures reflect -– joyful, loving, and hopeful. My Oma was born in July 1921, in Batavia (now Jakarta), while my Opa was born in Amsterdam in January 1917. They met on the eve of World War II and survived the war years in the Netherlands.

I’m an immigrant’s daughter and have always grafted my mom’s experiences into a form of my identity. Now that I’m older, that identity is a shadow of my real self, but it formed me to view the world as an outsider and urged me to listen closely to the lessons therein. Knowing the struggles my grandparents and mother faced and learning their immigration story motivated me to become a teacher.

My Dutch mother and her family were part of the 1957 exodus of Indonesia in its early years of existence, just twelve years after the official end of Dutch East Indies (and end of WWII), when all white people were expelled from living there. In a very swift and violent sequence of events, their dreams of permanently contributing to society were no longer possible, and they quickly departed.

So off the Dutch went, to the Netherlands, where many had never lived, or even visited! To move from the balmy, rainy tropics to an oceanic, windy northern climate was a challenge. The country was crowded and opportunities few, with housing and integration problems. Europe was still recovering after the war, and the Netherlands experienced a catastrophic, deadly flood in 1953.

Moreover, even Indo-Dutch (any Asian-European mix) were expelled from Indonesia, but not really welcomed in the Netherlands. It’s heartbreaking to consider my grandparents’ friends were again rejected by both countries they thought would be their “home”. But opportunity arose in the United States, and my Opa and Oma decided to take a risk to start anew, on their third continent together, with their four young children. Their Indo-Dutch friends were welcomed to the US as well!

They came to America through the Pastore-Walter Act (1958-1962), which resettled thousands of refugee families sponsored by recent immigrants; in turn, they in turn sponsored 3-5 other newly-arriving families and later went through citizenship classes and became US Citizens.

How many of us have that faith, grit, strength, and resolve to move to a second – or in my grandparents’ case, a third – continent – and start afresh? It’s beyond my imagination, and I am incredibly grateful for their many sacrifices.

However, when my mother arrived in America, she spoke no English.

Can you imagine being ten years old, a fifth grader without English speaking or reading skills? She could say, “I don’t understand you.” And merciful classmates helped her learn English… Chair. Book. Pencil. Friend. Words which held meaning. Eventually she was fluent. But English was her fourth or fifth language, after Dutch, Indonesian, various Malay dialects, French, and some German… then English… I recognize the value of education, and through these family stories, I fell in love with teaching and with the idea of helping young minds find a place in the world.

I think about my dear grandparents, who gave up the Known, to embrace the Unknown. The opportunities that America held always outshined all they forfeited. They surveyed their situation and the future that forthcoming generations would encounter and decided to take a risk on America. This same devotion and dedication inspired me to become a teacher, to embrace the challenges of teaching and to remain persistent and persevere, even during difficult days. My grandparents found community with fellow sojourners who took the trek with them. Likewise, many of my close friends are educators and I’m consistently heartened to stay the course and live my best life because of their care. My life has more depth, laughter, grace, meaning, and kindness because of my fellow teachers.

I am passionate about education because I know first-hand the way it completely alters one’s future and forthcoming generations. I live with gratitude for this, of growing up fluent in English and well-educated. I was raised in the Los Angeles area, urged to think critically, and live globally. Traveling to different parts of our marvelous world has helped me discover kindness and friendship in every place.

My personal life has been changed by my grandparents and their gracious acts of sacrifice, and in turn, by seeing how my own mother’s life improved upon arrival in America, largely due in part to the local public school. The least I can do is to use any gifts and talents I have toward teaching the next generation, toward gathering those who do not feel as though they fit in the world, but helping them find a way and a place. In reading quality literature, students can find their own voices and hear stories similar to their own.

My students motivate me to remain creative and forward thinking in my pedagogy. Perhaps some students feel like they are looking for inspiration and meaning in life, and are rudderless to discover motivation or hope. In my classroom, I believe they read stories which inspire them to remain brave, find purpose, and live with gratitude. These are reasons for us to return to teach each day, eager for the day ahead and for all it will entail.

This is one reason I teach!