A Letter to My Little Brother

By Nhi

Hey Brother,

I just watched a fun Ted video called “3 rules to spark learning”. The speaker is Ramsey Musallam, a high school chemistry teacher who has been teaching for 13 years. He shared the personal story of how he had a large aneurysm at the base of his thoracic aorta when he was 35, and how, thanks to the words of wisdom from the surgeon who saved his life, he learned to think different and changed his lesson planning.

“It took a life-threatening situation to snap me out of 10 years of pseudo-teaching and help me realize that student questions are the seeds of real learning, not some scripted curriculum that gave them tidbits of random information,” he claimed.

He also wrote down three rules when it comes to teaching: “Curiosity comes first”, “Embrace the mess” and “Practice reflection.” I cannot agree more with these rules, because I was living my whole life in schools, wishing that a teacher would accept that I was a mess who wasn’t quite as bright as others and be willing to help me get better. I remember crying at two in the morning when math problems were somewhat death sentences, because if I were not able to solve these equations, the teacher and maybe some people in the class would label me “stupid”. I wasn’t only given formulas to do math; I was being given a formula of how to be thought of as a bright student. The formula was painfully simple: if I get high grades, I am smart. If I don’t, I had better think of another way to support myself in future (working at a restaurant, maybe). Thus, the idea of talking to teachers sounded so intimidating and scary that I didn’t know how anyone could satisfy his or her curiosity.

Do you know why I am addressing you in this letter, but starting out with a bunch of philosophies that you don’t care about? It is because you, my little brother who was going to start your first day of middle school next week, have taught me all the things shared in this Ted Talk a long time ago.

You are a curious kid who asks parents many questions that they cannot answer. You are a mess that makse so many people annoyed with your way of thinking and behaving. You live simple, but you reflect when no one sees you. You are honest with your feelings, won’t do things that you hate, and are not hesitated to say: “Let’s try it.” You embody so many traits that I don’t have and wish to have.

Neil Patrick Harris sent this message to gay youth; however, I think what he said can be applied to everyone: “When you are young, when you are in elementary school, or when you are in high school, it is important to try and fit in and be accepted and to be a part of the average. Everyone does it. That’s the way it goes.” Yet, you stand out to me because at such a young age, you are not afraid of what other people may think of you. You must have learned that there are people who won’t appreciate your curiosity and passion for things no one in the family cares about, but you are not scared to ask questions and do what you find interest in.

“People in my class don’t like me because I am annoying to them,” you told me when you were eight.

“Do you feel bad?” I asked you.

“Not really. I just live like how I want it to be,” you answered.

Truth be told, I hate that a heart-warming boy like you didn’t have as many as friends as you deserve. And I do agree that you act annoying sometimes. But I am more proud to see that you, naturally, insist on being yourself, instead of what others may think. I was never like you. I succumbed to others’ judgments. I defined myself as good if people said that I was good, and vice versa.

Now, coming back to the Ted Talk about education, I must say that all the people who told you that you are dumb should rethink. Discontent with how some adults would say that you are a lazy and stupid person, I try my best to tell you everyday that you are not. You are a bright and passionate kid. Yes, maybe you don’t like to glue your butt to a chair and do your homework. Maybe, you don’t score as high as others in school, but you have one thing others rarely have. At least, I don’t. You are not afraid to try everything and find out what you like to do. In fact, you have an idea of your dream job already.

“I am so easily bored with things. I am not patient. I always give up halfway,” you would tell me.

But, brother, I would like to think of it from a different perspective. I think that you are just finding things you like. And if you don’t like what you are doing, you give up. That is so ridiculously reasonable. Or maybe, it all comes back to the issue of education. You are not encouraged enough to do what you are doing, and thus, you think of yourself as a mess.

Last week, there was a person who told you that you should spend more time on reading to improve your knowledge. I agree with him. But then, at the same time, I feel like you already have knowledge people have to write books about. What you say to me is so thought provoking and honest. Because you are not afraid to be honest, you say what you think. And thus, you enlighten me everyday of my life.

I enjoy my talk with you before we go to bed. We would watch Ted together because you say that you are interested. You also ask me to tell you stories, and sometimes, you will say that I should stop talking so much so you have time to reflect on life.

Middle school is coming! Hey, be proud of who you are and never stop being yourself, okay?

2014-08-29 14.36.43

My brother is my most precious gift in life 



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