The life of a young African American student is reflected in Hughes’ writing. His poem represents a confusing scenario whereby as the only African American student in his class, he is confused about life, interacting with other students and even his teachers. Hughes cannot figure out whether he is supposed to be learning to something different from what is currently is or whether people should borrow a leaf from the kind of life he lives. He concludes by stating that he believes that everyone is learning from everyone including his teachers. I see this reflected in my life as a former student and as a teacher; the struggle to find a place in the word as a student and the desire to learn from students so as to help them find their rightful places in the society.
Life as a student as a teacher or a student in the United States of America guarantees that at one point in time one has to find self in a multicultural setting. This has been part of my life as I was in such a setting as a student and currently as a teacher. Hughes states that he was the only colored student in his class, “I am the only colored student in my class.” This shows us that Hughes found himself as a sole member of a minority race and culture in school situation and this can sometimes be hard for students as they may feel that they do not belong to such a school set up.
The situation was not different in my case as a student, the difference being that it was a composition of students from more than three cultures. The white Americans were the dominant population as regards to both students and teachers whereas the minority groups included the Latinos, African Americans and the Native Americans. Being students of the same age group and being classmates made it easier for students to interact and feel free with each other, with just a few cases of students who felt out of place and isolated themselves as they struggled to find a niche for themselves in the school life. This was probably facilitated by the lack of understanding of their cultures by other students, especially from the dominant white American group that culminated to them treating their colleagues in accordance to various stereotypical beliefs about certain cultures.
There were real problems however when it came to teacher-student interaction. Most of the teachers at my school were predominantly white. We had just a few who belonged to the minority ethnicities and cultures in America. This was a big challenge, just like Hughes had. Most of these teachers did not understand other cultures, or even give time to understand the other cultures. This left many minority students wondering whether they were the problem or the society just as Hughes implies in these lines:
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
To give a picture of the classroom in my days as a student; the Latinos in the class liked grouping together and doing a lot of things in a communion. They discussed problems and were more receptive to group tasks than individual tasks. The white students on the other hand liked to work individually and found it even hard to share text books with their fellow students, something that other found to be rude and discriminative. They also liked answering questions whenever they were shot up and this would be after seeking the teacher’s permission. The African Americans like their Latino counterparts liked working in groups. They also liked to express themselves in class openly and this could at times be without the teachers’ permission, which constantly led to punishment.
Witnessing these as a student makes me realize now every student deserves keen attention and understanding, both from fellow students and from teachers. They need to feel they belong to the same world and that they are in learning institutions as equals and for a purpose, to help each other attain a better future. Without this understanding then most students will not be able to fulfill their potential due to constantly feeling out of place and struggle to gain recognition.
As a teacher, life has taken me back to my days as a student, just that this time to a totally different position; a position in which I can understand better contemporary issue in the school life than never before. Just as the days back as a student, I teach in a school dominated by students from multicultural backgrounds and this background is represented in the school. Sadly, the teaching population is predominantly white.
I have learnt a lot from my students owing to the background I had as a student. To illustrate this, the communal nature of the Latinos and the African Americans in my class has aided me in commissioning of group study for my students and also instilling the virtue of appreciating one another and sharing not only in school work but in life. The nature of answering questions as portrayed differently by the white students and African America students has aided me as a teacher to understand and appreciate various backgrounds and to use the same to model students and myself to become better adults, who can serve the society better.
I thus do agree with Hughes assertion that everyone learns something from each other; teachers and students alike:
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
Hughes, Langston. The collected poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage, 1994.