A Shared Loss

Today I met with the parent of my troubled boy from China who has been giving the middle finger to students and in general not dealing well with some of his frustrations. The interpretation-over-the-phone that the DOE provides suffered from technical difficulties so I had to rely on two boys from a colleague’s class who speak English and Chinese. It was going ok and I could tell the boys were happy to help. Then, at one point, one of them whispered to the other, “I’m losing my language.”

First moment of heartbreak of the day. This is the difficulty of being an ESL teacher; you know your job is to give students the language tools they need to survive in their adopted city but it often means they lose their language.

Now for the second moment of heartbreak. As the rest of the class was working independently on ELA test prep materials (more on that later), I met with the troubled student. When students first come to me, their emotions are either quite powerful, overwhelming them in different ways throughout the day, or they are so numb they don’t know what they feel, even when prompted. This boy was once in the latter group and now his feet are passionately planted in the first. He is frustrated and angry and disappointed.

So, during what was supposed to be a running record, i decided to have a heart-to-heart, using the ever-mediocre Google Translate and the bits of English he has learned already.

I said, “So, you are angry?” He nodded his head.

“You miss China?”
Silent nod, again.

“Do you write letters to your friends?”
“No letters. Video talk. My friend and reading teacher. My brother.”

At this point we went in circles as I tried to find out why his brother was still in China while he and his sister are here, and he eventually explained, “He son of my aunt but we feeling of brother.”

These kids leave so much behind when they come here; family, friends, sometimes a school they loved. And eventually they also lose the one main tie they had to that whole sense of self they were just developing before they left: their language.


4 thoughts on “A Shared Loss

  1. Pingback: Remainders: UFT official pushes back against principals protest | GothamSchools

  2. I have similar experiences to these almost daily so your post really resonated. Sometimes I feel like I am on the verge of tears and sometimes I feel that my main job is to soothe and dry the children’s tears. Empathy. Thank you for sharing.

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