Near the beginning of each semester, my students write 100 word memoirs (thanks, Kittle & Gallagher). These never fail to knock my socks off, and this year that’s even more true. At my new school, many students have clear memories of coming to Canada, and many of them are continuing to learn English. Combined these lead to some great moments. For example, below, Tung wrote about his first time in a Canadian high school. Pay particular attention to the word “lost” – we’ll come back to that.
Walking through Canadian high school for the first time was like walking, lost, in an old tunnel surrounded by unknown creatures. The low-ceilinged crowded hallway was an ant’s nest of students trying to sprint through the narrow corridor. The thick moss-green bulletproof door had only a small glass cut-out, covered with an English-only poster. This prevented my curious eyes from spying on the Canadian students in the classroom. Everything was beyond my imagination. Each step I took, one rhythm faster my heart beat. What was I getting myself into? Would there be a light at the end of this tunnel?Tung, Grade 12
He added pictures – including some pictures of his school at home. It’s much, much brighter and airier than our school and I can safely guess that it has never seen snow.
Watching Tung try to capture the feeling of that first day was fascinating. Some descriptions came easily – he knew he wanted a tunnel and he knew the door needed to be moss-green and bulletproof. Those things never wavered. Other things changed – coming in, getting cut out, changing form. To me, the most interesting thing of all was the word “lost”. He really wanted it to be “losting”.
We chatted in the back corner of the room – the place he’s chosen for now – about this word. Somehow lost just wasn’t quite what he was looking for. He had a sense that losting wasn’t a “real” word, but he wanted the word to be active. He wasn’t simply lost, he was wandering, loose, casting about, feeling the sense of not fitting in, not knowing if he belonged. He was losting.
I couldn’t help but think of my own child, then quite small, crying as his grandmother left after another wonderful visit. He threw himself into her arms and said, “It’s your fault, the goneness.” The goneness. Really, it’s the only word for the feeling.
I told Tung he could keep “losting” – that it made sense to me and described what he was feeling – but English isn’t thoroughly his yet; making mistakes and making new words are still too intertwined to tease one away from the other. Still, I expect that the word exists now. I suspect that someday, probably soon, I will see a student wandering in the hallway with a particular look in their eye, and I will know that they are losting. When I do, I’ll try to help – because the goneness can be overwhelming.