I Teach For Lauren: Amanda Mitchell (Fellow ’11, Stanford University)
Lauren is a student in one of my fourth grade classes. Her father is the gate guard, and he and Lauren’s mother run a small snack and drink business inside their house. This means the family of eight (the One Child Policy is not enforced in this part of China) all live in one room, partitioned into a living room, bathroom, kids’ bedroom, and parents’/babies’ bedroom. Since her family lives a one-minute walk from my room, I am able to spend time talking with Lauren almost every evening.
When Lauren comes to my room, she often brings a few or all of her five younger sisters and brother, plus a few of her other classmates. They love to sit on my floor and color with the paper and pastels I bought at the local supermarket for them. She brings her textbook and we review. I’ve started to introduce new topics, and she can now conjugate verbs and explain the difference between verbs in the continuous present and simple present. When we are at her house, her parents supply me with endless tea, served in the traditional Kong Fu Tea style particular to this region. In fact, “drink tea” and “teacher” were the first two words I learned in the local language.
For a ten-year-old, Lauren has to assume a lot of responsibility for her siblings. While I was originally afraid her parents might require her to work to earn money for her younger siblings instead of going to high school, I’ve realized this is far from the truth. Although her parents only finished primary school, they appreciate the value of education and they deeply want Lauren to go on to high school and college. Her mom has an endless supply of praise for me, from the color of my hair (dark brown, almost Chinese!) to my progressing Chinese language skills, to the importance and devotion I attach to my job and students here.
I’ve encountered many obstacles here – difficult living conditions, poorly written tests, and naughty students – but I also have Lauren and many other wonderful children. I Teach For China because Lauren deserves to have the same opportunities as her counterparts in Beijing and Shanghai. While I am here for all of my students, and in some ways, especially for the ones who have been left behind, getting to share a love of language with an adorable ten-year-old is a bright spot during the most challenging days of this job. Though my school is far away from my life in the US and everything I once held as familiar, my relationship with Lauren’s family has given me a strong tie to this place. This connection is not something I could experience through any other job, and that is why I Teach For China.