National Blog Posting Month Day 22
This year my wife made a lateral career move and became a teacher in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. When she arrived in America in 1972 as a seven-year-old child with little English, the only system for immigrant children was the “throw them in the deep end” approach to English immersion. Since then, as a new flood of residents have joined our country, the system has learned how to streamline the assimilation of those not born here. This is her chance to make a difference to kids that are now in the position she was in so many years ago.
In today’s slightly xenophobic atmosphere, ESL (also called ESOL or ELL) is a much misunderstood approach. It is not bilingual education. It can’t be. Among the twenty-five students my wife works with, there are over a dozen nationalities and languages represented. The goal is to get children that don’t have English as their native tongue up to speed in the regular classroom as quickly as possible. Speaking a foreign language is neither mandatory nor necessary to be an ESL teacher, although my wife’s degree in French, her high school Spanish, and some leftover childhood Vietnamese help.
The other day one of her students, a little Vietnamese girl the same age my wife was when she came to the US, insisted on showing my wife her class assignment. The work involved putting different paper feathers on turkey cut outs. The girl had done the assignment fine, but didn’t know what a turkey was. My wife asked if she ever ate turkey at lunch. The girl had always eaten pizza, the universal food, because it was familiar and safe. They looked up “turkey” in a Vietnamese-English dictionary and the literal translation was “American chicken.”
My wife took the girl to the cafeteria where they were putting together a turkey lunch. The cafeteria lady took time to put together a little sampler platter with turkey and the fixings so the girl could try the meal. That day, my wife passed on a small sliver of our American culture to one of our newest members. It’s these small moments that despite the increasing hassle and frustration of being a teacher keeps teaching fresh and rewarding.
Our one true nation holiday celebrates sharing culture and welcoming new people. And it is about more than thanks, it’s also about giving.