Friday, August 12, 2011

First They Killed My Father

On Thursday, I sat in an impromptu English department meeting where the teachers got together and worked out their schedule for the year. This is important because the school only owns so many copies of, say, The Odyssey or Romeo and Juliet. So the teachers basically call dibs and figure out how to make sure all the students get time with the books.

The department head, Bill, said, "So who's gonna read First They Killed My Father?"

My ears perked up. "Huh? You teach that book?"

"Yeah, the freshman read it every year," he said.

"Oh wow. I read that when I was in Cambodia."

Fifteen heads turned in my direction.

See, First They Killed My Father is the story of a Cambodian girl who lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 70s. The story was intriguing and painful to read, and all the more so because I walked through the killing fields where so many were slaughtered. I lived in slowly-rebuilding Phnom Penh where Pol Pot started forcing people out and murdering those who got in his way. I resided among the mansions that still housed Khmer Rouge officers who had either not been discovered or escaped trial by way of bribes. That story will forever haunt me. As it should.

"You lived in Cambodia?" a teacher named, Sally, asked.

"Uh, yeah. I lived there for a year and taught English."

"Wow. Will you come talk to my class?" asked another teacher.

I've spent most of this week amazed at these "veteran" teachers. These adults who seem to have everything figured out. They are all intellectual and well-read and at-ease with handling students and managing the load of a teacher. These are super-humans, as far as I'm concerned.

Yet, on Thursday. I had something to say. It wasn't much. I just told them I read a particular book when I was an English teacher in Cambodia. But this seemed to intrigue them. It piqued their interest in a way that, four years ago, that young girl in Cambodia never could've imagined.

See, back then she didn't feel like a "real" teacher.
She didn't feel exotic.
She didn't feel credible.
She didn't feel rare.
She didn't feel important.

But four years later--after changing my degree to education, completing my studies, and now entering student teaching--for the first time, I felt a little bit of all of those things for about 2 seconds as those 15 teachers looked at me and seemed...interested.

It was surreal to be sitting in a high school classroom talking about my time in Cambodia where I first encountered teaching. And now here I am. Doing what I said I'd never do.