Saturday, May 19, 2018

Essay Contest


Another crappy week and Donald Trump is still president.  I accept that there will be no TV news on Saturday.  I only care about things Trumpian.  After learning that Meghan Markle is way too old to have attended Immaculate Heart with any of my kids’ friends, I have no interest in the Royal Wedding.  Friday is usually a good day for Trump news but today there’s another school shooting, so I am off CNN yet another day and I will inevitably march again for their lives. Every news week feels like a month.  I augment CNN with Pod Save America, the excellent Showtime series “The Circus,” and Samantha Bee.  On my nightstand is a collection of stories by Mavis Gallant which I know are exquisite.  Himself has it out on three-month educator library loan.  It is due back on Monday.  I’ve read the introduction and half of the first story.  It cannot be renewed.  I end the week feeling unrenewable myself.

There are 11 nights of teaching until summer break.  This will free my evenings up for CNN, edibles and the couch.  Yet I tick off the remaining classes again and again.  Furthermore, I realize, when the bell rings at 8:45, that this is the only three hours of the day when I am free of the weight of what often feel like unconquerable problems.  And it is three hours, four times a week when I am purely happy.  But I can’t wait not to do it.  The satisfaction of the experience is tempered by the hours spent in preparation, my dingy cramped classroom with the glaring fluorescents and the staggering amount of the bullshit endemic in gigantic public entities. 

Until the last week of school we will be mostly testing.  I’ve worked on refining and modernizing some of the testing components and substitute my own projects for the traditional speaking test.  There is one mandatory progress test for all ESL students that is administered to each new student and then for every student at the end of a trimester.  Much of the funding is dependent on this but with students’ staggered schedules it is a bitch to get everyone tested.  The bubble-in answer form requires a lot of information designed to determine if the tax payers are getting their money’s worth in educating all of these immigrants.  The students don’t understand questions about whether they’re acquiring workforce labor skills, so I end up bubbling most of their forms for them.   I have a file of test booklets, to be kept locked at all times.  The level of difficulty increases based on students previous scores.  Most of my students are assigned very low-level text booklets and many of them complete the test in five minutes are less.

This trimester a couple of my students are assigned a higher-level booklet that I’ve never used before.  While all of my students are technically 1B, when students first arrive and are placed in ESL classes, the assessment is so brief that there is a wild disparity of ability in my own class.  The other variant is that some of the students have only attended a few years of primary school and others are university educated.   Another teacher tells me that we can reassign tests ourselves so when I see the handful of students assigned to the more advanced green test booklet, I take the liberty of changing the test for another a couple other high performing students. 

I don’t realize, until I glance at it over a student’s shoulder, that the green book is really hard and requires a lot of critical thinking and data analysis.  While usually, most students finish the test in well less than half an hour, the folks with the green books need about ninety minutes.  I worry that I may have sabotaged the students that I bumped up.  I notice, Glenda is rubbing her eyes and struggling with her green booklet.  I let her wear my bifocals and stumble around the room until she finishes her test.

One of the questions pertains to work.  Are you working?  Have your wages increased?  Have you gotten a better job?  I have them hand me their tests and pose these questions as delicately and discreetly as possible.  Most are working.  Most haven’t been promoted or realized an increase in salary. I don’t know the legal status of most of my students, but I assume that while most would love to follow their ESL studies to avail themselves of one of the many vocational tracks our school offers, their legal status would prevent them from gaining employment in any of the fields.

After watching a horrific expose about the current situation in Venezuela on Last Week Tonight, I talk a bit with Freddy about his homeland.  He is grateful that all of his family members have relocated but despairs the wrecked state of his homeland, whose population is being literally starved to death.  While the situation in Venezuela is particularly dire it is clear that the hard lives my students live, exacerbated now by flourishing xenophobia, most of them have accepted that there is no chance to live a secure and satisfying life in their own homeland.

There is an essay contest which for my Level One students consists of writing five sentences on the topic of “Why I Study English.” The students reasons don’t surprise me.  “I want to help my children with their homework.”  “English will help me advance at work.” “I’d like to make American friends.”  What I don’t expect is, despite the barrage of hateful verbiage about immigrants, is the expression of patriotism and optimism.  “America is full of opportunity.”  “My children will go to college and have better lives.”  “Anything is possible for me. “ “America is the greatest county in the world.”

Still, I am tired and looking forward to my two-month vacation.  Problems of finance and property that I’d expected to have been resolved by now only grow more complicated and it is difficult to keep in perspective that these are very low on the hierarchy of human suffering. The school has a limited summer school program with no evening courses. I will keep adding assignments for my classroom application, so the students can keep practicing on their phones over the summer.  I will likely be fretting and vegetating, but I will make a conscious effort to remember how much harder the lives of my students have and how fortunate they feel to live them.

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