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I am an ESOL teacher. I worked full-time for years, starting at Project SCALE in Somerville, then to Chamberlayne Junior College for ten years, then to Lowell High School for 18 years, then to CMCC (Community Minority Cultural Center) in Lynn for two years, and now at NECC (Northern Essex Community College, Lawrence extension). I've always loved teaching ESL, and the following poems will explain why:
6:30 p.m.-- they all have arrived
eagerly awaiting the evening teaching
signing in and out–they all have survived
working so hard, constantly reaching
for self-improvement; as models they stand
for the rest of us who look on in awe:
Life did not work out as they had planned
War, poverty, disease, forced to withdraw
From the familiar worlds they adored
Where love of family and place reigned high
The needs of their children could not be ignored;
With embraces and tears they said their goodbye
To parents, siblings, to all they held dear
Even the dwarf banana tree and the sausage bush
"Hasta luego," flying off to their new frontier-
Lawrence, Mass.-mix of historical and Spanish push.
Where to live? How to support a growing clan?
Opportunity to study family day-care
Studied the regulations, for children their plan
Passed the license, their homes to prepare.
Now, ten years later, continuing to mind
Six to ten children, five days a week
Six a.m. to six p.m., lives intertwined
Then rushing to school where not at all meek
To improve their English language skills
Learning to express themselves, to read and to write
To use the computer with its awesome frills
Examples for their children, a basic human right.
Here they are before me to learn the lesson of the day--
Practicing possessive adjectives and vocabulary galore
Encouraging each other, laughing in a heartfelt way
Buoyed by their efforts and strong esprit de corps.
Next time someone criticizes immigrants without thought
Think of my hopeful ladies, what courage they’ve brought!
Brenda B. Sloane
The Miracle of Lowell High School
It was happenstance.
I’d just been fired from a teaching job
At a junior college in Boston, now defunct.
I’d been the head of the faculty board
And protested when the owner-sons decided
To sell the property on Commonwealth Ave. and Newbury St.
Thereby letting the last coed junior college in Boston
Die a painful overnight death.
I objected to the Boston Globe—I was fired!
Wishing to teach in an inner-city school,
Wanting to make a difference in the lives of immigrant kids,
I applied to the city of Lynn,
But they did not want me; I was not a minority.
Then I applied to the city of Lowell, even crossed the picket line
Since the teachers were on strike.
My mother was upset at the thought
Of my working in Lowell.
“A dangerous place!” she warned.
So I brought her to the high school, showed her the buildings
And the canal, which divided the school.
It was calm—it was summer.
She didn’t see the gangs, the fights, or the one killing.
She felt more secure.
I got the job teaching and tutoring Cambodian junior highers.
They were adorable, full of energy, rice farmers’ kids.
But I needed more, an intellectual challenge, a place to share ideas.
The next year, an opening at the high school,
I applied and was accepted.
The miracle had begun!
At first they were Southeast Asians—Cambodians, Laotians, and Vietnamese, plus Puerto Ricans and a few Dominicans.
I had no room of my own.
Lived out of a school locker.
The teachers were mean to me, lacked respect.
Disrupted my class by dittoing in the same room.
Equated me with the “foreigners,”
Lots of hatred and disappointment.
The experts call it “ethnocentrism.”
Little by little, attitudes changed.
Indians from Gujarat, Brazilians, and West Africans,
Colombians, Chinese, and Russians
Added to the mix.
Here in America to improve their lives,
To escape tyranny, oppression, violence, and corruption,
To help their families,
To give hope to our world.
Teaching my students was like teaching my grandparents
Who had immigrated for the same reasons
But from a different place.
My grandparents had to drop out of school
To support their families,
But these kids could work and go to school.
I taught them the English language.
With its sixteen-verb system
Its clauses and phrases
Its subjects and predicates
Its nouns and its pronouns.
We formed sentences and paragraphs
Into essays and poetry.
We used similes and metaphors,
Alliteration and hyperbole.
We all taught each other, sharing our thoughts and our lives.
Some days were like miracles.
Discussing Catcher in the Rye,
Or reading “Casey at the Bat” and “Annabel Lee,”
Or learning how to do a Powerpoint mythology unit,
Or sharing the results of our research papers,
Or taking fieldtrips to bird sanctuaries to write Shakespearean sonnets,
Or following Holden Caulfield’s footsteps in New York City.
The students became my family, and I became theirs.
We laughed and cried together;
We told each other our secrets.
I listened when she told me about her father’s beatings;
I listened when she told me about all her mother’s boyfriends;
I listened when he told me about his parents’ refusal to accept his gayness.
I listened when they told me about how different they were from their parents, how they were from America and their parents were not.
And they listened when I lost my son;
In all their different religions, they told me he was in Heaven.
We discussed and wrote about literature and our feelings.
It became a sanctuary of closeness, safety, and peace.
And now the summer is coming to its end.
I look forward to returning
To the miracle of Lowell High School!
By Brenda B. Sloane