Significant Other


Espaillat, Rhina




Poet Rhina Espaillat was born in the Dominican Republic, but came to the United States in 1939 after her family was forced into exile for opposing the Dominican government. For many years, she taught in the New York City public schools. She writes in both English and Spanish and has won many awards for her poetry, including a T.S. Eliot Prize for her 1998 collection, Where Horizons Go.

“Significant Other” explores feelings of exclusion, otherness, and ultimately triumph for a small group of children. In the poem, a teacher refuses to pronounce the names of the students correctly until they stand up for themselves in the classroom and in front of the principal. What makes us feel excluded? How are feelings of marginalization created and magnified? What causes divisions among groups and how can those divisions be reconciled?

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Agua de dos Ríos (2006)


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipDiversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingRace, Ethnicity and CultureTeaching and Learning

Big Questions

What causes division between people and groups?What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?Is diversity important? Why?What assumptions do we make about others?Why is difference sometimes threatening?Who gets left out and why?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?How does race affect our relations to others?What assumptions do we make about people from different races, ethnicities and cultures?What are the greatest obstacles to teaching and learning?Who or what makes learning possible?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why won’t Miss Ridley pronounce the names of her students as they wish?
  2. What would it mean for the students to become “like obscure books translated”?
  3. The speaker says to Miss Ridley, “Too late, I give you this.” What does she give Ms. Ridley? Why is it too late?
  4. Are the students right in their refusal to answer Miss Ridley? Why or why not?
  5. The speaker says she has learned to define good in broader terms. What does it mean to define “good” in such terms? How do you define what is good in your work?
  6. Could the conflict of this poem been avoided? What could have happened to prevent an open confrontation in the classroom?
  7. In your work, how do you approach differences in language and culture?
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