A Long Island teacher inspires confidence and political dreams in children of immigrants.
Being a teacher is an act of goodness each and every day, but Thomas Whaley is an example of teachers who raise that level of greatness even higher.
“I would talk with people on the train at 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the way home,” he told NPR. “They were people who had a complete disconnect from the young people of the world. They were all so focused on adults and the rat race. And I realized that this was not for me.”
But he does far more than teach the usual school subjects. Whaley inspires greatness — political greatness — in his students. Especially ESL students, young people who are learning the usual school subjects while also learning English as a second language.
Those students — many of whom are children of immigrants — sparked an idea in Whaley one day when he asked his class who thought they could — or couldn’t — be president someday. “Almost every single child who is an English-language learner believed that they couldn’t be,” Whaley said. “They’d say things like, ‘I can’t run for president because my parents are from a different country.’ That was a biggie. ‘Because I’m poor, and you need a lot of money to be the president.’ ‘Because I don’t like to read, or I can’t read.’ ”
So Whaley set up a classroom project for students to learn about elections, political office, and something unexpected — pride. Each student learns about his or her best qualities and how to talk about them in front of their peers. The challenge of public speaking is something most of us can relate to. But when you’re speaking in front of people in a new language that you’re trying to learn, the challenge seems daunting — impossible, even.
Whaley recognized the extra challenge facing his ESL students, but wanted them to have pride in themselves. “Bragging about yourself and your best qualities,” Whaley said, “is very difficult for a child who came into the classroom not feeling any confidence whatsoever to read 3 or 4 words.” Whaley can appreciate where his students are coming from. He is the grandson of an Italian immigrant, but grew up speaking English.
Do you have an Act of Male Goodness to share? Or know someone who should be profiled in this series? Email Kristi Dale ([email protected]) with ‘100 Acts of Male Goodness’ in the subject line.