Lessons from Brazil: Impressions

In a continuing attempt to capture the experiences and reflections from my recent trip to Brazil as part of a Global Fellowship program, here is my latest reflection. The idea embedded in this post was a lesson that I learned by pure accident and on the final day of my trip abroad.

On our final day in Brazil, a handful of the male teachers from the fellowship decided to go out for lunch before catching our bus back to the airport and flying home. After an entertaining walk and meeting some of the more colorful locals, we found a quaint little place to eat. As we took our seats we were all fumbling through trying to communicate with the waitress who did not speak English. We were your typical Americans laughing about the experience and not really having much success distinguishing to the waitress between a Coke and a Coke Zero. We were doing our best to use our hand gestures, pointing and one teacher even had an app to convert Portuguese words to English.

As this train wreck of an ordering process continued, one of the teachers made a remark that stuck with me. Several of the teachers at the table were commenting on how our waitress was doing a phenomenal job. She was incredibly patient with our demands in spite of our futile attempts to communicate using both verbal and nonverbal means. As we were reflecting on her patience and polite demeanor, one of the teachers made the comment that struck me. He said that she might be somebody's first and only impression of the country of Brazil. What he meant was too often one single person can create the impression for an entire group of people. If we were to base our entire experience on that one moment or in that one individual, what would that say about the people of Brazil. What assumptions or conclusions or beliefs would we have about the people because of one interaction with one person from Brazil?

Of course the natural next step to that conversation was maybe we, the gentleman that were sitting at that table, were the only impression this woman was ever going to have of Americans. With that in mind, were we doing our best job to leave a good impression of what it meant to be an American? Was she going to go home and say all Americans are like (fill in the blank) because of the experience she had with us at lunch. Did we leave a good impression? Did we leave a bad impression?

Weeks after that experience I started thinking more about the interactions I had as I was down there in Brazil and what impression I may have left on those people about what it meant to be an American or even an American teacher. Did I do what was necessary to communicate to them what I believe in and was that necessarily reflective of the entire teacher population of our country? That may seem pretty heavy and maybe a little over the top but it was something I definitely thought about.

Like most good ideas, I don't think this notion of impression making is a teacher thing but rather a human thing. What sort of impression do you leave with people that you meet one time? When you meet somebody at a conference or stand in front of a room of strangers, what impression do you leave? Are you representing your school or in my case your country in a positive manner? In thinking about this, I wonder about the upcoming fall school year that will be here before we know it. What impression do I want to leave with my students on the very first day that they will walk home and share with their family? What about the entire school year and how I may impact a child or a family's belief or feelings about schooling or education in our school or state? We have all seen it in our time as educators. A teacher has completely ruined a child educational career or a family's perspective about a school or a school district. It only takes one teacher to ruin that faith in school for a family or a student. However, just like it only takes one to ruin, it can also take one to instill confidence and spark a love for learning.

I think there's a lesson to take to heart here when looking forward to the new school year or current school year for some. What impressions are you going to leave on your students or even your colleagues? Even those of you that have been teaching for many years, there's always a time, a place and an opportunity to change that impression of who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in.

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