It’s quite a funny story, you know.
“She looks like Mrs. Chin!” I could hear whispers multiple times throughout the day. Perhaps to a young middle school student who has around 3 other Asian schoolmates total and one Korean American teacher, I looked like Mrs. Chin’s twin. But to any other Asian person, it was like saying I looked like Trini from the Power Rangers. In other words, I look nothing like her other than also having an Asian face. By no means was I offended, nor was I preparing a long, comprehensive sit-down lecture about the oppressive and racist implications behind these children’s statements. I knew it was going to happen, and I was ready to slowly make my way into their lives as Ms. Su, the student teacher. Not the Asian student teacher, but just the student teacher.
Today, the Chinese teacher didn’t show up to teach her very first Mandarin class. The principal, faculty, and staff all asked me, “Do you speak Chinese? Do you speak Chinese? Please go teach the Chinese class!” They didn’t even ask if I actually spoke Mandarin, just “Chinese.”
So, I taught my first official class, asked to do so literally 2 minutes after the starting bell rang. I can’t read or write characters, so I taught a classroom full of white, black, and Latino&Latina kids the four tones, and had them pronounce ni hao (ma), jai jien, xie xie, and laoshi. It was, by far, the most fun hour I could have imagined.
Afterward, every time I entered a classroom or walked down a hall, I would hear someone excitedly yell, “Ms. Su, ni hao!” and “Xie xie Laoshi!” and “Ni hao ma, Laoshi!” Out of context, you’d think this school was full of ignorant and racist children, and that I was the most passive and discriminated student teacher. It’s still so hilarious to me, the irony of how it all happened. I’m so excited to hear another atrociously pronounced, American accent-ridden “Ni hao!” tomorrow. Because of course, they had all forgotten the four tones the second they ran out of class.