Thursday, August 20, 2015

When Reading Doesn't Work!

     On July 22nd I jetted off on a three week journey that has forever changed my life! Due to flight delays and flight changes my luggage was lost before I even left Trenton, New Jersey! Still I was on an adventure of a lifetime so quickly decided that I wasn't going to let exhaustion and lost luggage ruin my trip! I was on my way to Germany to meet my daughter's new family and to share in the joy of her marriage. I was on a Lufthansa flight with a cozy feather pillow and perfectly coiffed stewardesses. Though the flight to Munich was was aesthetically pleasing, it was very hot to the point that I was soaking wet! I was in the middle section between larger men on both sides, one with his elbow jabbed in my side throughout the flight. His English was about as good as my German so we really didn't communicate! I had to go to the bathroom for the longest time but since the men were sleeping, I was polite and kept my discomfort to myself! I found myself thinking about my students who have so much difficulty reading English. One student in particular who cannot read, write, or clearly communicate in English. Now I was in his shoes! I am unable to read, write, or speak well in German! So since I was going to be in foreign countries for the next three weeks I decided to consciously think about what it must be like on a daily basis for my students who have so much difficulty reading, writing and communicating in what to them is like a foreign language. This is my saga of when "reading doesn't work"! 
    From Munich I flew to Frankfurt where my daughter and son-in-law would clearly know how to find my luggage! The problem was that the Frankfurt Airport is HUGE so knowing where to find my daughter and son-in-law was an issue! So, I decided to be self-sufficient and go in search of my missing luggage. I found a "polizist" (policeman) who surely could point me in the right direction! He kindly stamped my passport but didn't see my dilemma as much of a priority! So, I used my visual skills to go toward the way he was pointing and found the baggage area! I searched the baggage area high and low keenly using my visual skills to find my luggage! I looked at every black suitcase I saw, none were mine! I did find my daughter and son-in-law though, a definite perk in my frazzled state!
     An hour later, my luggage was still missing! All three of us asked questions; they in German and me in English but in the end we were running in circles to all of the same places. I thought how exhausted my students must feel by the end of a day! Just when everyone was about to give up, I saw a woman who worked for my original airline, U. S. Airlines. We gave each other the universal symbol of kindness, a smile. In English I carefully showed her all of my documentation from the beginning of my trip until now. She made phone calls. She learned that the luggage was in the airport. She sent us to a place we had all ready been. It was now closed! We then saw an elderly man in work clothes with suitcases. We asked him if he knew where suitcases were kept that were unclaimed. He did! He had a key! He unlocked a door and there sat my suitcase! I hugged him! I don't think that my students would have been able to navigate this system. They would have given up in frustration and possibly cried. It was rough for me with two others helping me. Reading and communicating were key components of finding my luggage. 
   In the next few weeks with my daughter at my side, we traveled in Germany, Poland, and the Netherlands. Luckily, my daughter is fluent in German so I had assistance in most things that we did! My only real difficulty was in Berlin at a bathroom with no visual aides. There I had to decide between herren (men) and damen (women). Again, I relied on my visual senses and waited until a man came out of the door marked herren before entering the door marked damen!

   My conclusion in my personal "social experiment" on the importance of reading is this: Life is not impossible without being able to read or write but everything takes longer because it must be thoughtfully done. Also, one must be able to communicate even if in rudimentary ways. Smiles and hand gestures, and pictures go a long way when trying to communicate with someone with a different language than your own. The pierogi lady in Poland became so much kinder to us after our second visit when we all learned to communicate better through smiles and visuals! In the end it was hard to say zegnaj (goodbye) to her. So, as a special education teacher it is my duty to not only teach my students to read and write but how to communicate when they can't read and write. When reading doesn't work then tolerance in getting your point across to others is essential.