I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I lived one block from my elementary school, walked home for lunch everyday, and rode bikes on the street until the soft edge of twilight called me home.
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Butler, was an old fashioned lady. She believed in quality phonics instruction, sitting in rows, and spanking kids when they were naughty. I could already read and I was never naughty so second grade worked out pretty well for me. About the middle of the year I remember a new student coming to our class. She stood shyly at the front of the room and gave a tentative smile from under her dark and luxurious lashes. Her name was Masa and she didn’t speak a word of English. She was the only child that was even the faintest shade of brown and we all loved her immediately.
Back in those days we had long periods of recess and tag was a favorite past time. Masa took to tag right off the bat. Thinking back it may have been a familiar game to her, I’m pretty sure tag is a universal language among children that needs no translation. Every recess we would play and every recess Masa would ensure that she was “it.” The teachers chided us, saying that we were being mean making her “it” all the time. But I clearly remember her wanting to be “it.” She would chase and chase and laugh with glee as we ran around. She didn’t catch us, even though she could. (I may be many things but a fast runner isn’t one of them.) I think it must have been the one thing in her day that she could control.
As a teacher I can appreciate how overwhelming and confusing our little school must have seemed to her. Much of the content that we teach can seem downright foreign to kids, even if they do speak English. But as a non-English speaker it must have been frightening.
Masa didn’t even finish the year with us. I don’t remember the exact day that she left, only that she was there and then she wasn’t. I remember Masa.