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The Student Has Become the Teacher

April 30, 2019

The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.

The Student Has Become the Teacher

Isabelle Case '19 is a math and secondary education double major from Marion, IL. In this MyWheaton blog post, Isabelle shares a story of hope and encouragement from her time spent international student teaching in Australia.

On Fridays, the highlight of my school day always came around 3:00 in the afternoon and today is no different. Here I am, back again in the large, industrial common room of the Kilmore Primary School, surrounded by a group of energetic, enthusiastic, excited 6th grade—I mean, year 6—girls. We’re preparing for the event of the year: the year 6 graduation, when students celebrate the move from primary to secondary school. Most of them have known each other since they were in year 3, and the camaraderie forged in those 3 ½ years is evident between the spunky students in front of me now. I think about my own rapidly approaching graduation date and wonder if I’ll be anywhere near as ready for a brand new stage of life as they are.

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Today’s agenda for their Independent Project—IP, as the cool kids say—is finishing the choreography for the big musical dance number, one element of many on the docket for the ceremony. I had mentioned offhand to the head of the primary school that I had experience choreographing for my high school show choir, and somehow that granted me the responsibilities of judging the house music competition and helping the 6s craft their own dance moves for graduation.

They had chosen “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack as their big swan song to the school they’d come to love: an ode to the unique qualities that made them each such wonderful individuals and together an amazing class. I’ll admit it, out of the 4 classes with whom I was able to work, there was a special place in my heart for these kids, and I think the song perfectly represents the squad they are.

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We’re at a break in rehearsal. Anna, the brains of the whole operation, pauses the music video to think about what should come next in the dance steps. Mada, the leading lady, is taking a break. The rest of the girls are waiting for instructions either from me or from Anna. I’m off to the side on one of the couches absentmindedly singing to myself. As I sing, I realize I’m getting close to belting and drawing attention to myself. I know I can hit the notes if I try, but I stop myself short. I make eye contact with Mada and get the rest of the chorus out in a nasally, exaggerated, comical tone.

Mada looks at me for a second pensively before she says, “Miss Case, I know why you do that.”

I’m a bit taken aback by her intensity. “Do what?” I ask.

“I know why you sing badly on purpose like that,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Oh yeah? Why is that?”

“It’s because you don’t want anyone to know you actually have a nice voice. You have a nice voice. Don’t be afraid to show it off. Never make yourself smaller to make other people comfortable,” and with that, she goes back to tying her shoes.

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I’m shaken by what she says. Mada, this 12-year-old girl who I’d known for less than a month, saw through one of my biggest insecurities and called it on the carpet. As she gets up to run the song again, I see her own the whole room with the knowledge that she deserves to be the center of attention. She truly exemplifies the song lyrics: she’s not scared to be seen, and she definitely makes no apologies for being who she is. I think about all the instances even in the time I’ve been with her that I’ve made myself smaller or lesser, how much my actions contrast with her unchecked self-love and assurance.

And so the student has become the teacher, I think, smiling to myself, I guess all clichés come from somewhere.

Fast forward: 3 months later. I’m trying to capture my own personal philosophy of education in a word or phrase. I think back to that time I got schooled by a student half my age, half my size, and triple my confidence level. I remember hearing someone quote that our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but actually that we are powerful beyond all measure (“Our Deepest Fear,” Marianne Williamson). Mada had liberated herself, and me by extension, from that fear. I hold it as my duty to do the same. I type “empowerment” in the space reserved for my word or phrase and start working.