For a day, these students taught me

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When I walked into Jackie Ritchie’s Learning English And Parenting Skills classroom behind Meadow View Elementary, about 20 pairs of eyes swung up to meet mine. I was immediately nervous.

Aside from Ritchie’s, mine was the only Caucasian face in the room — all the other people there were Latino, originally from Mexico or Guatemala. They were all mothers of children in the Shelby County school system, and they were all working hard to better themselves so they, in turn, could better their children’s lives.

I wasn’t sure if they’d trust me enough to be honest with me while I was talking with them. After all, I planned to take their words and publish them for all to see — it was possible they might not want that.

I was pleasantly mistaken, however.

They were happy to talk, happy to answer questions, share their goals and speak their minds.

They spoke about how they want to be proficient enough in English to be able to help their children with homework and how they want to make sure their kids have the opportunity to go to college and get good jobs.

They told us about how when they go to the hospital or the emergency room, sometimes doctors and nurses won’t attempt to communicate with them unless there is an interpreter there.

They also told us about how they don’t want an interpreter everywhere they go —they genuinely want to learn English, not have it spoon-fed to them.

Not long after I entered the room, two local nursing students also came in.

The LEAPS class often hosts college students who are there to observe for their courses.

Several times during the course of the discussion, I looked over to see the nursing students’ mouths open in astonishment as they listened.

I found small details I shared with these parents. I learned about how the ‘th’ sound, so important in English, is sometimes hard for Spanish-speakers to form because it doesn’t exist in Spanish.

I can understand that. As a child, I had to go to speech therapy. The ‘s’ sound, especially at the beginning of words such as ‘six,’ still bedevils me.

It was just another in a line of learning experiences I’ve had in my journalism career.

I’m sure those nursing students learned something that day. I certainly did.

Amy Jones is the associate editor for the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 30 or by e-mail at