I waited until December to teach my students about Thanksgiving. I was late, sure, but they hardly knew the difference. When one clever kid piped up about the incongruity – “But Sir Dustin, it’s December now” – I told him that Thanksgiving was last week and we were too busy covering important test material then.
I lied. Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. And what I had been teaching had nothing to do with any test.
But I wasn’t about to let calendar misgivings stop me. The lesson was simple, straightforward, and easy on the teacher. I’m exhausted and nearing the end of the semester, so I wanted to teach something requiring little planning or energy on my part. I took a by-the-numbers PowerPoint presentation (Turkey! Pilgrims! Every fourth Thursday of November!) a colleague created and ran through it, hitting the essentials: food, football, family.
I then drew the omnipresent hand turkey on the board and told the class we were all going to make our own Thanksgiving turkeys. I reviewed ways of expressing thanks and I told my students to write on each finger-feather something in their life they are grateful for. (Since my kids are wickedly smart, I made them categorize their thankfulness into people, possessions, resources and abstract ideas. One category on each finger.)
But I was growing restless with the activity by Wednesday. It was a particularly hot day and the class right before lunch was in a room with a broken projector cord, so I had to nix the PowerPoint. My kids were hungry and could probably sense my lack of enthusiasm. Still, I trudged on, and as they made their turkeys I noticed one student, Fajri, had gone to an open space on the floor in the back of the room and had been quietly focusing on his turkey. Fajri is a smart student with very conversational English skills, but he’s often not paying attention, instead focused on socializing with his classmates or checking his Twitter stream on his iPad.
Watching Fajri quietly working alone in the back of the room was a new sight, and I was a little suspicious. But as I walked by I could see he was diligently writing inside the turkey as instructed.
He was writing a lot.
A few minutes later, I asked if there was anyone who would like to volunteer to share first. Fajri jumped up from the back of the room and waved his hand in the air, but I had already selected another eager student who was closer to the front. I saw disappointment in Fajri’s face as she walked to the front, but I assured him he could go next.
After the first girl dazzled with an impressive showing, Fajri bounced up to the front like he had been blasted out of a cannon. I don’t know why, but he reminded me of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh in that moment.
Fajri greeted the class with the mandatory “Happy Thanksgiving” I had imposed and began sharing what he wrote on his feathers. This is what he read:
“I am thankful to my mom because without her, I’m not in this world. Mom coloring my day, I can’t see you cry or feel sad. I’ll always love you, no matter what happens to you now you’re in the hospital you got illness. I just wanna say I love you and get well really soon mom. I love you. I wanna hold your hand mom. I wanna hold yor hand.”
And with that, Fajri looked up from his paper, took a breath, and began to sing.
“I wanna hold your ha-an-aannd. I wanna hold your haaaannnndddd.”
I’m not musically inclined, but in to my ears, in that moment, Fajri’s rendition of the Beatles classic was pitch perfect. The class agreed, and immediately began clapping and hooping and hollering. Fajri let out a bashful smile and return to his seat, but not before I gave him a high five.
I wondered whether something like Fajri’s Glee moment ever would have happened at the high school I attended back home. Probably not. A sick mother would not have been a topic students would share so publicly, and most kids would be terrified at the prospect of breaking into song in front of their peers.
At the end of class, I told my students I was thankful for them, because they make me feel at home in Indonesia. On this particular day, I wasn’t fibbing.
About the author: Dustin Volz is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant based in Palembang, South Sumatra. He is editor in chief of Indonesiaful and a publisher of Downtown Devil, a hyper-local news publication covering the downtown Phoenix community. Volz graduated from Arizona State University in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and history and a master’s degree in mass communication. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.