Learning the Lingo

10/13/2005 4:40:00 PM
Nahrin Mirzazadeh

Language barriers couldn't stop this teacher

TURLOCK — It's no wonder education, language and writing fascinate Nahrin Mirzazadeh.

Born in Iran, she grew up speaking Assyrian at home, Farsi in school and Turkish with her playmates.

When her family moved to Germany, she had to master that language. And when her family settled in Turlock 10 years ago, she didn't speak any English.

Now — without a trace of an accent from any of the places she has lived — she teaches English to fellow students at California State University, Stanislaus.

Mirzazadeh, 23, is in her last year of the master's degree program at Stanislaus State and wants to teach college. Her class, writers workshop, is a remedial course freshmen take to prepare for the English requirements ahead.

"From what I hear, for her first time, she's an exceptional teacher," said Peter DeCaro, a Stanislaus State communications studies assistant professor.

Mirzazadeh cites DeCaro as one of the reasons she chose teaching.

"No matter where she goes, she'll be in the top 1 percent," DeCaro said. "She can do anything she wants. She said she wanted to teach and help people."

Education might be in her blood. In Iran, her father was a well-known math teacher.

She has, however, found school wonderful and heartbreaking.

Her parents wanted to reunite with family members who had moved to the United States, and went to Germany as a transition. They left behind everything. Since the family moved, Mirzazadeh said, her father has taken whatever jobs he could find to support the family but is now out of work.

"My parents went through a lot," Mirzazadeh said. "They still haven't told me the whole story."

Practice and patience

In Iran, Mirzazadeh was in third grade; in Germany, she had to start over in first. She remembers what it was like to be the biggest, oldest first-grader, learning her German ABCs and numbers.

Within a year, though, with practice and patience "I was just like the rest of them," she said.

She skipped ahead until she was with her age group again.

At 13, her family moved to Turlock to be with her grandmother. All she knew about the United States was what she had seen on German television.

The first time Mirzazadeh saw New York, "I thought my life had ended. Where were the palm trees and the beaches? It was all a lie."

She knew just a few words of English and was placed in an English-as-a-second-language class at Turlock Junior High. Her fellow students were mostly Latino. When she was told to read, she read in German.

By listening to others, watching TV and reading, Mirzazadeh said, she learned English, and by eighth grade was in a language arts class.

"She's one of those people who conquers adversity," DeCaro said. "She makes strength out of weakness."

After graduating from Turlock High in 2002, she studied psychology at Merced College, then transferred to Stanislaus State with thoughts of being a journalist.

"But then I found out it wasn't about expressing my own opinions," Mirzazadeh said.

What she really loves is writing.

"I'm a big fan of getting people to think about the meaning and purpose of life," Mirzazadeh said.

DeCaro said he has the distinction of being the first person to give Mirzazadeh an F on one of her papers in his persuasive messages class.

"She said 'Thank you,'" DeCaro said. "It woke her up. Everything after that was an A."

Mirzazadeh calls some of her instructors inspirational, and they seem to feel the same about her.

"I get the feeling this work is really important to her in a way that's larger than just getting the degree," said assistant English Professor Stephanie Paterson.

Job earns college credit

At Paterson's urging, Mirzazadeh applied for the teaching job, a paid position that also earns her some college credit. Paterson now is Mirzazadeh's mentor.

"She's a wonderful student," Paterson said. "She gives a lot of herself. She makes herself vulnerable, which is something not a lot of people are willing to do."

Pennie Rorex hired Mirzazadeh as an intern at her Turlock business, PR Consulting, last spring, and said they since have become friends.

"I feel honored to be able to work alongside her," Rorex said. "Her values and ethics make her a role model for her students and for those of us as adults who get to work with her."

When she's not teaching or taking classes, Mirzazadeh likes making jewelry, photography and "spending time with God."

"It's a big part of who I am," she said.

She also works part time in the Stanislaus State communications office, attends a Baptist church in Livermore on Sundays and is helping her best friend plan a wedding.

With such a busy life, Mirzazadeh said she knows where her strength comes from.

"There have been so many things I couldn't have seen myself doing, but God pushes me," Mirzazadeh said. "You don't know what you're capable of until you do it."

She said she thanks her parents for bringing her here.

"It breaks my heart because I see what they have given up for us," she said. "They did it so we would have opportunities — that's what it all comes down to. And there's a lot to be grateful for."

But if DeCaro's right, Mirzazadeh will make her parents' sacrifices worth it.

"She's one of those stars you just want to see glow forever," he said.

Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 578-2366 or landerson@modbee.com.