Sunday, September 22, 2013

Although I am a teacher,I am the one who is learning from my students

My class of college freshmen and sophomores are extremely diverse.  My students' ages range between 17 to mid 50's.  Some of them have only been in America for two years, others claim Cherokee and Taino  heritage.  A few can barely read English, but they know how to solve an algebraic equation with two unknown quantities. One young man, who was persecuted for his Ba Hai faith in Iran, told me of his harrowing escape through mountain passes during many dangerous nights, while another told me how she and her family were threatened by the Tonton Moucoutes in Haiti. Despite their disparate backgrounds and lack of the cultural and educational opportunities people who belong to the upper middle class take for granted, they have insights many of the privileged do not have.  One girl broke down in class when she analyzed the poem "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver because the poet compares the snake to "a beautiful dead brother" and her brother had just died.  Another boy analyzed "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen  because he had returned from Afghanistan and saw the horrors of war.  Now he will be redeployed to that forsaken land the day before his wife is due to give birth to his first child.

Despite their lack of knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary they have an immense hunger to learn.  They are amazed that "gh" in the word "enough" and "ph" in the word "physician" and "f" in the word "farm" all have the same sound.  Why does " a part of" mean "belong" when the words are written separately, but "apart" when written as one word means "separate?  The word  which completely confuses them is "sanction" since it has 2 completely opposite meanings.  If one plays in a sanctioned tournament, the match is approved by a  board, and one acquires a ranking.  If the United States applies sanctions to another country, we do not approve of that country's actions.

I was born in a very homogeneous town, went to colleges whose student bodies also were very homogeneous in the Northeast, and lived in a community where everyone was my race and religion. To read about other cultures or see them portrayed in movies or on television is not the same as interacting with people of different races in a very intimate setting..  Until I began to teach in Florida, I was not aware of the myriad linguistic, cultural, racial, and religious difficulties that our diverse populations confront every day. These problems are major obstacles to getting an education, a job, even an apartment. 

The most wonderful moment, however, happened this week.  I did not teach my class last Saturday because it was the holiest day in my religion, and a professor who is not Jewish covered for me.  On Tuesday, a concerned Haitian student inquired why I did not come to class.
"Were you sick?" she asked.
  I told her I did not come because it was the most sacred holiday in my religion. 
 "You're Jewish?" she exclaimed.. 
 I nodded, and she gave me a big hug and yelled out to the rest of the class, "Hey, everybody wish Professor Didner  La Shanah Tovah." 
"How did you know how to say "Happy New Year" in Hebrew?" I asked her in astonishment.
"I work for Jewish people" she  replied. "Boy, Jews have great food on their holidays."
I told her that my definition of a Jew is someone who feeds you before you sit down to eat, and the entire class roared with laughter.
"Is that why you always bring us Dunkin Donuts if we answer a hard question?" someone asked.  (I always ask a difficult question at least once a month and bring the donuts if someone finds the answer).
"No, I bring you donuts, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries because I want you  to know that learning is sweet," I smiled.
The class applauded in appreciation, and then we settled down to analyzing Langston Hughes poem "A Dream Deferred."  

I hope their dreams will not be deferred.

By the way, my book The Conspiracies of Dreams will be featured on the web site  It is available until December 31 at the discounted price of $2.99.  Also, look at the other books featured on this site.  They all are good reads.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Incredible Rescue

I had a near death experience last Sunday and a marvelous man helped my husband and me. As I was driving south from Pa to Florida in our Honda Civic, a deluge suddenly fogged up my windshield and totally blinded me. I could not see one inch in any direction. Before I could put on the defroster, my car hydroplaned and made a 180 degree turn. I knew my husband was following me in our Honda Odyssey and I was sure I would hit him in a head on collision and he and I and our 2 dogs would die.  
     Somehow, my car swerved and backed into the steel guard rail which separates the north and southbound lanes on I 95 and my husband drove safely by me. A few seconds later the rain stopped as quickly as it began, and I saw that he was able to drive to the shoulder on the right lane which fortunately was in front of an exit ramp. Although the rear fender and trunk of my car were badly damaged, to my surprise the engine and transmission worked perfectly. I was able to drive across the highway to join my husband, but both he and I could hear that my fender was scraping against the right rear tire and would quickly tear it to shreds.
      A man in a white pick up truck saw us looking at the wrecked car and he stopped on the side of the exit ramp and asked if he could help. My husband asked him if he knew where we could get a crowbar to lift the fender off the tire so I could drive another 200 miles. I had to be in college the next day, and all my insurance company would do is pick up the car with a tow truck and no mechanic would look at it on a Sunday. The man said he had a crowbar and would be back in 20 minutes. He did come back, but his crowbar was too small. He told us he would return with a larger one, and twenty minutes later  he brought a larger crowbar which enabled him, my husband, and 2 policemen to pry the fender away from the tire. I tried to give him money and thank him, but his attention was focused on a pamphlet which he could see through my rear window entitled "The Beauty of John Keats' Hyperion" by Sandy Didner.
"Who is Sandy Didner?" he asked.
"I am," I replied as I still tried to pay him for the tremendous favor he had done for us.
"I don't want any money," he said.
I could see that he appreciated the poetry of John Keats who is one of my favorite poets and wanted to read my article, but both rear cars were so badly damaged I could not open them.
  He then asked my husband, "What kind of accent do you have?
"Polish, Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Pennsylvanian," my husband replied. "If you won't take any money, will you take a copy of my wife's book which is about an Egyptian spy who fell in love with my sister in Israel during the 1956 Suez War?"
He assented, but I could not open the rear doors and give him one.
"Just tell me the name of your book, and I"ll buy a copy from Amazon," he offered.
I wrote down the name of my book, and then I apologized for taking up so much of his time.
"Where were you going when you stopped to help us?" I asked.
"To church," he replied.
"You don't need to go to church; you are an angel already," I replied.
He told us his name was Jason, but I don't remember his last name; all I recall is that it started with the letters "Ph."
The next day Goodreads notified me that someone had bought a copy of my book. I am sure Jason who lives near Exit 358B on I 95 in Florida bought it. What a wonderful person! My only regret is that I cannot give him the reward he truly desires. The media is always full of the evil that people do; I would love to publish the good that this stranger did for us. Not only did he help people he did not know, he appreciates John Keats, is tolerant of faiths different from his own, and instead of taking money from me, bought a copy of my book.
Oh brave new world, that has such people in it!