Pipe Dream: What made you want to go into the field of education, specifically, what made you want to teach ESL to young children around the world?
Lissarette Nisnevich: Education fell into my lap. I believe in destiny, callings and things that you attract with your energy. In the same school where I was learning English, having bilingual education, one of my teachers became my supervisor and he offered me a job when I was 15. He told me that he loved my personality, that my English was great and that he would love to have me on the team. I took it because it was a great opportunity to go into college with some extra money. I didn’t see it as something permanent. Then, I realized that I really loved it and that I was really good at it. That’s when it all started.
PD: What was it like to open a daycare center and preschool of your own after teaching students around the world?
LN: The marvelous thing about meeting students around the world is not only broadening my horizons and growing personally, but learning that most parents want the same things for their children no matter where they are. Everyone wants the best for their kids. Once I became pregnant and I started feeling those feelings, it was a no-brainer. I was working at a place where they didn’t want the best for my child or myself. So, I decided that I needed to create that place and open the doors for as many children as possible.
PD: What is one moment you had with a student that made you feel like you were making a difference in their life?
LN: One that comes to mind is when I was working with young children when I was 15. I got letters from them when they were entering high school thanking me for everything that I had done for them and being that safe place where they could learn and be themselves. But I think one of the greatest moments I had was when I first started working with children with special needs. I was put into a mixed classroom and I started noticing that those kids were being put on the side. It was supposed to be this blended learning experience, and it wasn’t. I fell in love with this one nonverbal little guy, and he was so smart, but he just didn’t want to participate and the teacher had just given up. So, I started working on strategies to help him. Then one day out of nowhere he came up to me and started talking to me. It was this amazing moment, one of the greatest in my life. He felt supported and accepted, he had this new desire to get ahead. It was beyond satisfying. It wasn’t about my salary, just about having a connection with a human being.
PD: The theme for this year’s TEDxBinghamtonUniversity Talk is “UNEARTHED.” How does that relate to your talk and your experiences?
LN: Initially, I wanted to talk about how I’ve found it hard to just be myself. At first, I wanted to talk about those challenges and tell people that you need to overcome and be yourself. You need to let the world know who you are. But then, because of the current state of events and my current research, I started talking about cultural trauma and my experiences growing up. When I was growing up, there was a lot of talk about things about me that needed to change. There was never encouragement, just, “All of this is bad, but specifically your hair,” and it’s still something today. I wanted to focus on that because it paints a bigger picture. It’s not just about hair and telling children that parts of themselves are bad, but about what you carry with yourself until adulthood. So my talk is a topic that, culturally, a lot of people don’t want to talk about. Some people will say that I’m being sensitive. But when it comes to children, these are conversations that we need to have. We need to stop telling children that parts of themselves are bad. We need to stop telling them that they need to change their features or how they look so they can be accepted. They already are. It’s our job to support them through that.
PD: What is something that you hope students at Binghamton University will learn from your talk and your experiences?
LN: The same thing that I hope anyone I get to talk to learns. The first is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. The second is to be yourself, the world loves originals. The third is that it doesn’t matter what happened when you were a child, it doesn’t matter what happened before. You have control now. You can build a wonderful and amazing future, it’s up to you!