Thank you, Ms. Lung
Born in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan, Jamil Jan Kochai started second grade in Sacramento speaking Pashto and Farsi, but very little English. His teacher, Susannah Lung, worked with him most days after school, teaching him to read and write in English. By third grade, he won a reading award.
Now the author of two books and several essays, Kochai met his old teacher again to say "thank you."
To promote his first novel — 99 Nights in Logar — Kochai wrote an article for a literary website in 2019 that credited his "generous teacher" for her help. "Ms. Lung (through months and months of after-school sessions) retaught me everything I was supposed to know about English, and by the end of the year, I had adopted the new language,” Kochai wrote. He'd tried to find the teacher, but he didn't know her last name.
Lung's doctor saw it and mentioned it to the now retired teacher. She talked to her former student on the phone, but the pandemic made it impossible to meet in person. Then Lung and her husband went to a reading for Kochai's new book, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak.
“It was very rewarding, because I only had him for one year and he was quick,” Lung told the Washington Post. “He got it, and I got to see it.”
“That’s just what teachers do,” said Lung, explaining that she offered extra help to numerous students over her 30-year teaching career. In Kochai’s case, though, “he tried really hard, and he wanted to learn the language. That makes it easy.”
. . . Plus, “he was showing an interest in things and asking questions. It wasn’t like pulling teeth to teach him,” Lung continued. “The joy that we get as teachers from seeing these little kids blossom is incredible.”
Kochai's Twitter thread about being able to thank his teacher has inspired similar stories about life-transforming teachers, writes Sydney Page in the Post.
“My father always used to say in Pashto that every child is a rocket filled with fuel and all they need is a single spark to light off into the sky,” Kochai wrote. “Ms. Lung, he said, was my spark.”