Thanksgiving, the time of year we give thanks for all things big and small that contribute to a happy, healthy life… and the time where you stuff your face!!! Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite holiday! There is nothing better to me than a holiday where you cook together as a family and then eat together, not that this was rare in my family because it wasn’t, but Thanksgiving was always just so special… maybe it’s the turkey, I do looooove turkey!!
But I have to admit yesterday while trying to think of Thanksgiving lesson plans to share with my class, I wasn’t so enthusiastic… I basically did everything but make my lesson plan, including making a huge, larger than life Candy Land style game board for my third graders (more on this later)… But finally I found a good short reading for my students to do about the history and traditions of Thanksgiving, vocabulary words about Thanksgiving (can you say feast?!?! Great vocab word), and an activity where they themselves would list the things they are grateful for this year. Usually with any activity I try to make an example for my students, but as I said, my heart just wasn’t in it for some reason…
So today in class I introduced the lesson by telling the students that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and telling them why I love it so much. We then did our reading, but mostly the kids tuned it out, even my good students… I really couldn’t understand it. I tried to ask engaging questions, and comprehension check questions, but really they wanted nothing to do with it… So I went right ahead to the activity, even though it was a writing activity, it was only making a list, I thought it would be easy for my students. I mean I am talking about my 11th and 9th grade classes, making lists should be no problem. After walking around the classroom in frustration I listened to the complaints of the students and was shocked at what I heard.
“We have nothing to be thankful for”… What?!?!? I couldn’t believe it. I looked at my students and asked them, how is possible that you have nothing to be thankful for… Some rolled their eyes and shut me out, some made comments like I am an American so I don’t understand, but a few students dared to tell me their thoughts. They told me that they have nothing in this country, every day is the same, they are poor and life is very hard with no hopes of getting easier so they feel that they have nothing to be thankful for….
I thought about it for a minute and then tried to explain to them that thanksgiving isn’t about being rich or being thankful because life is easy, the pilgrims in fact were thankful for merely surviving the winter (something I now can relate to). I looked at one of my students who was wearing a new jacket. I asked him who bought the jacket for him, and he replied his mother did. I then told him, well if you have no money but your mother thanks what little money she has to buy a jacket for you, aren’t you thankful for having a good mother?? I saw a bit of light go off in his head, well yes of course he tells me. Well, see you have something to be thankful for then… So he returned that with a question to me: what are you thankful for Miss Alyssa…. The one answer that came to my head at the moment was that I was thankful for growing up with parents who always made sacrifices to keep me fed and clothed and going to dances and playing volleyball. I explained that I too grew up very poor and my father didn’t always know where he was going to get money to feed us with. I don’t think many of the students believed me though; to them it seems impossible that an American could grow up poor. But I guess that gives me another reason to be thankful that I am here in Armenia, there are many misconceptions about Americans in the world, that we are all rich and selfish, and every day I live my life trying to show Armenians that there are all kinds of Americans, and I for one happen to have lived a very different life from the one that they stero-type. Sometimes I get very caught up in my job to teach my students English, that I don’t take the time to share my culture with them and today I realized that it is my job to do both, to teach English but also to teach them who Americans are, even if it means I need to take some classroom time to do it.
So today I am thankful that my students woke me up out of my discontented content and made me realize that I have much to be thankful for and a lot to do before I leave… I will say that one girl did stand up and say that she was thankful for her teacher Miss Alyssa who gave her opportunities that she never had before and because of me she was able to attend GLOW Camp, a camp that teaches young women about women’s issues but that is also a lot of fun too. This warmed my cold little heart right up and gave me another reason to be thankful… I am doing a job a love and teaching some of the best students I could ever imagine… I am so thankful to be in Armenia, in Spitak, serving as a representative of my country… I only hope that my work here will be useful and remembered for a long time after I have left!!!
I have many many many more reasons to be thankful, though life has come with many difficulties I have learned to see the good and gained strength in learning to overcome those difficulties. Once again to my American friends, be thankful that you were born American, in a country where we are given great opportunities and freedoms. I know that life looks tough now, but we still all have so much to be grateful for. Happy Thanksgiving!!