The hardest time in my life was when I first started Pre School. I did not know how to speak English very well. I understood the language when spoken to me, but my communications skills needed some improvement. At first, my not speaking the language had not been much of a problem, keeping in mind, that I first attended a Greek speaking Pre School for half a term. The issue of me learning English had never been brought to my parent’s attention until I had been put in another Pre School.
It all began during my second half of Pre School my parents moved into a home in Skokie. Then, all of a sudden, I had to start speaking English and I was unwilling to do so. I was in ESL classes most of the time, which stands for English as a Second Language, and I understood everything that I had to do, but the teachers could not have begun to understand where I was coming from. I remember one instance in particular; it was on a Monday and that meant that it was time to work on my speech. My teacher would show me flash cards. There were four cards and each of them had a different picture on them. One of the cards had a man on it, a glove was on the next, a hand and lawn mower on the others. I knew that the glove went on the hand, but I pointed to the glove and put it with the lawn mower. Then the teacher got angry with me and told me that I was wrong again, which really was nothing new because she was always angry when she had to spend time with me. She told me that it was common sense that the glove would go on the hand. Then she mumbled to herself for a couple of minutes. After the lesson was over she told me that it was time to have a talk with my mother about my English because she could not handle teaching me at the level I was. And then for the first time, I opened my mouth and said something to her. I told her, with a very stern tone, that I knew what a glove was, were it went, and how to use it. Then I pointed to my hand. However, the point I was trying to make was that if the man was going to use the lawn mower, he should wear gloves to make sure that he did not hurt his hands. However, she never understood where I was coming from and made me feel like I was just another ignorant child that she had to deal with.
After this episode in school, that teacher did really call my mom and told her that she was to only speak to me in English. Needless to say, I was not going to speak in English with my family. I would not let go of who I was and relinquish everything that I had been taught according to the Greek traditions and culture. My father came to this country when he was seven and always spoke his native tongue with his family at home and it was the same for me. It had been the same until my teacher had talked to my mother. Then my mother and father talked it over and started speaking to me in English and no matter the circumstance I always answered in Greek. I just tried harder to learn the differences between American traditions verses those of my own culture. After a week I started to do better, but I did not answer very much in English unless I needed to go to the bathroom. Then one afternoon that same teacher asked me how my English was going at home. I looked at her and I told her to mind her own business. For the first time she did not have anything to say to me, which was a relief to me, but I felt bad after because she seemed genuinely hurt. I did apologize and she was happy with that, but any questions she asked about my home life after that instance were followed by a blank stare with no response. She knew that I understood her, but that I was not going to open up to her because she had made me feel so inferior to her.
Now that I am older and after looking back at this experience, I realize that I really do despise that teacher. She always had a way of making me feel like my existence was completely irrelevant and dismissed me because I would not change who I was to make her happy. I realize now more than anything else it shaped my personality to what it is today. Now I can talk to everybody, even when I make a mistake with the words or the order of my wording. I stop for a second, translated it to English, and continue with what I was saying.
The only aspect of being young that was really hard was the fact that my entire family spoke Greek. I did not want to change or assimilate to the American culture even more because I was afraid that I would forget my Greek and not be able to speak with the people in my family. Even worse other Greek people would consider me white wash and treat me like I had forgotten where my father came from and what kind of man he was. So it was very hard for me to learn English, but actually speaking it was the worse. Not only did I have to worry about if I was using the correct verbs, but I was very worried about how I spoke because I had a Greek accent. At first people noticed it and I was made fun of, but after a while they just let it go because I would not let it get to me. Now I love speaking and I actually want to be a lawyer and put my speaking skills to a good cause. Even though I know I still have some things I have to work on, but I can not wait to get my life on the road so that I can prove that I was not just some ignorant, stupid and slow child.
All my life I have had to deal with the fact that I am an American Greek girl with a father who is a Greek American man. Knowing that I will have a lot to live up to, no matter what I do I know I will make my father proud, but this is about who I am. I have to deal with the fact that other Greek people will view me as an American. Not that there is anything wrong with being an American, but it’s the fact that I really have no identification with the Greek population. I could not have just given up my culture without a fight, when I was younger.
Even now, I wish that I could go back and talk to that teacher and tell her how bad of a teacher she was; but if she had not shown me this negative influence, I would never have been who I am today. With her telling me that I would not make it and basically calling me stupid, I never would have had the courage to change. I do not think that I would be as brave and adaptive to change. No matter what comes my way now, I think of it as just a challenge. And I thank here for that.