To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task. -Sophocles
It is hard to remember the first time one of my pupils told me that they loved me. To be honest, I get told that I am loved almost every hour of the school day – something that at times borders on creepy, but is mostly sweet. As the bell rings and the pupils run out of the class, they yell back to me their praises, “thank you, Shaina, I love you!” I walk down the halls and my arms are pulled in different directions as little boys and girls beg for me to join their class for English, the Arabic and English words blurring together as they pled their case. And during class, if I discipline a child or ask for quiet, they respond with “I’m sorry!!” and “I love you!!” (No doubt, the later is more of a plea rather than genuine in this case.) “I love you” is often one of the few English phrases that my students feel totally comfortable with, and they like to practice it often. My fellow teachers at the school quip often that the pupils really love me, to which I always respond, “Well, I love them more.”
I took a year off between my first and second degrees to attempt to figure out my life. What was the next step for me, research wise, and what was I truly interested in. When I first stepped foot in Rahat, Israel, the largest Beoduin town in the Negev, I was not really if I would be successful in my original endeavor. I couldn’t understand the pupils, and I could barely make myself understood to them. To each other, we were foreign. I do not know what, if anything, I taught them about English in those first few months. Try as I did, I do not think that they understood my strong American accent or the speed at which I talked (which, was slow, but not as slow as I learned they needed.)
Those first few months, I scoured Google for English-As-A-Foreign-Language resources, trying to find all the tips and tricks to really teach my pupils English. By the time I was done with them, I reckoned, they would all at least be able to have a simple English conversation. However, the more I tried, the more frustrated I became. I was not succeeding in my efforts. Sure, the pupils improved, but I could see that it was their other English teachers who could actually explain the grammar rules, not my efforts to explain complicated rules in a language they did not understand. I started to see my year in Rahat as a failure –if I could not teach them English, my volunteering there was a moot point.
But even as my efforts to teach them English rules failed, their love and faith in me grew. They began to beg to go with me for English, even harder as the year went on. They started to ask me to sit with them at their break, even if we just sat there, unable to communicate, eating ice cream (them) and oranges (me). They would share their chocolate and their stories, me only being able to understand the chocolate. And their “I love yous” became to become louder, and stronger.
I realized one day that my deed in that school is not to teach them the grammar rules. It is, rather, to show each of them unconditional love – something many of them lack at home. Their good deed was loving me even though we all knew being an English teacher is not my top God-given talent, and I learned that my good deed is showing them that they are also worthy of love. They have taught me that good deeds are not always quantifiable – you cannot always see concrete results on paper. Good deeds are not always building or painting anything. I cannot measure how my love towards the students has affected them, but I see their smiles. I cannot being to explain how their love has changed me. But I can tell you that sometimes, the best deed you can do is show another how much you love them—no matter if they understand the words. They always understand the love. Love is my glorious, amazing, task this year.
Everyday, but especially this Good Deeds Day, try to love.