My Life Untranslated

The Secret Adventures of an ESL Teacher in NYC

Archive for the category “new immigrants”

Protected: A Constant Barrage of Injustices

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why i could not write about test prep for my ELLs

he crept through borderlands, twists and turns of thickets and
dust where
mothers and fathers
crossed before
had crossed before
sleeping with sinking sideways glances
in shadows his life
this cautious yet treacherous
desperate yet hopeful
journey that spans 3 countries
on foot for days
through rivers
this journey; illegal
All ready but
for what—
hiking for days
to find his parents
already and
for what
With belly hungry,
mind full of
8-year-old determination and
thorns of uncertainty scrape at his
and now this new tongue, new name
so strange in his mouth
down his throat
where errrres used to rumble
now tongue brushes between teeth
pushing air thhhhrough in unfamiliar ways
but excited for it
fighting for it
making it his own
feeling thrown
ing through changing—or is it shanging?
sounds, new
upon old
making the familiar so strange
barely 2 years after he’s made it here
survived that walk trek impossible journey that has
thousands and still returns
en pesadillas
nightmares, a flimsy unknown word that means nothing to him—
hang heavy, never leaving. not only coming at night.
After all this,
you want me to tell him his life
whole measure of it
of his work
his now 10-year worth and future
will be
scrutinized and
and then determined
who will never
grasp sus
esperanzas ni

translating his feelings and hopes
(so that one day he can go to college
and be told he can’t get a job because he doesn’t have those
ever more
All he’ll ever be
—to you—
which is why you lose
more than you’ll ever be able to

Where Are Student Needs In These National Standards?

In Response to the New York Times’ Article, “Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools”, many great letters to the Editor have been submitted. Here is a quote from one:

“While it’s true that eight of the 10 top-scoring countries have centralized education standards, so do nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.”

-excerpt from letter by Alfie Kohn. Read the rest here.

Well said, Mr. Kohn.

I have written a bit now about how I feel standardized tests are a disservice to immigrant students and, well, sadly, the same can be said of standards that ignore their needs as well. Many people may think uniform national standards are a great, sensible thing. But show me two states that are identical in their student population, please.

Here is one comment in the article:

Another improvement over current state benchmarks, people involved in the initiative said, is that the proposed standards are what educators call vertically aligned, meaning that material students are to learn in early years builds a foundation for what is to come in the next grade.

This is an improvement for who? When teachers are given students who come from other countries with not only vastly different standards from ours, but also students who did not go to school regularly (if at all, thanks to such things as war and extreme poverty), what are those teachers expected to do? I’ll tell you: teach the grade standards and somehow find the ways and means to fill those giant gaps through “small groups”. It’s unfair to the students and teachers.

These standards, written without input from teachers like me, are an example of idealism at its worst.

Even standards that have been written by New York State, and likely most other states, that were written specifically for ELLs do not address the well-known research about their needs and the timeline they face in their development in a second language. Standards that don’t even address this research are meaningless, at best.

Safe haven? Not stress-free…

I got this card from a colleague today because another newcomer was added to my class, bringing my total to 30. I don’t really see myself as a saint; I don’t feel I have a choice but to welcome all students given to me. I’m not sure it’d benefit anyone to have these students placed in general ed classes; I am glad we have a self-contained classroom to offer them, but… Well, what bothers me more than getting a new kid is that now we need to remove 3 advanced (according to the LAB-R) kids from my class since they could handle a gen ed class. It is best for them, especially as I gain more newcomers.

I love being the first teacher kids will have in America and I know the class would be better for the beginners if I could cater everything more directly to them. But I also don’t want to have to say goodbye to three students who have been in my class since Sept. (There will actually be 4 leaving but one I don’t count because he tested proficient and only arrived in Dec.) I have worked really hard to not only build a community here but to create a web of students who have different classmates they can rely on.

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