Sharing the Human Experience

By Emil Cicogna, MS
Faculty, College of Education  

Posted on November 30, 2015  in  [ Teaching & School Administration ]

For me, unity and diversity came to light one semester when I worked at Barry Goldwater High School in the Deer Valley Unified School District in Arizona.

About a month into the fall semester, I received a message that a new student was being transferred into my 10th grade language arts class. He was being removed from the other sophomore language arts class because he was failing the class and had problems with the other students. The teacher was not able to connect with him.

It turned out that he was from Jordan and had been here about three years. He was a member of the Islam religion. He felt that the students and the teachers disliked him because of his background. His name was Ali.

When he walked in that afternoon and handed me his program to sign, he barely looked at me. I signed the program, but instead of handing it back to him, I put out my hand. He looked at me for a second, and I said, “Welcome to class.”

It was obvious that he was shocked by this gesture, but he shook my hand and I gave him back his program. He asked if he could sit in the back, but I directed him to sit in the middle of the room, which he did.

After establishing our classroom routines, one day, we were discussing a short story about living through war. He raised his hand and told me, “I lived through a war.” I asked him what happened, and he told the class that when he was living in Jordan, his town was bombed by combat jets and many homes were destroyed and people died. His father decided to get them out of there, and they walked for several days with what little they could carry. They managed to reach and successfully cross the border.

Eventually, over a series of weeks, they were able to immigrate to the U.S. and they were united with relatives. The irony in this story is there was another young man in the room whose family had fled from Bosnia under similar circumstances. We spent the rest of that hour listening to them tell us about their experiences.

We had a great deal of good discussions about how our experiences unify us as humans that semester. I’m happy to report that Ali did the work and passed the class with an “A.”

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More About the Author:

Emil Cicogna’s career in education began in 1987 as a substitute junior high teacher in the Bronx; it was not the easiest assignment, but he became a classroom teacher the following year and so his journey as an educator began. Emil’s background as a college instructor started in New York at Mercy College in the School of Education. He began teaching there in 1994 after receiving his master’s degree in education and reading from Western Connecticut State University. He was a high school English and language arts teacher in the New York City public schools for 14 years. Most recently, Emil worked in Arizona at Barry Goldwater High School in the Deer Valley Unified School District for 11 years. He spent four years after school working at Deer Valley Charter School, and he has been teaching online education courses at Grand Canyon University since 2012; it is the “new frontier” in education.

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