Stuffy nose! Sinus pain! Headaches! Unable to breathe at four a.m.! Since September, I’d been having nose trouble. Was it allergies? A sinus infection? If I went to an ENT doctor, would she tell me to get rid of my cat?
Finally, in December, I’d had enough so I went to a new ENT in Middletown. She peered into my facial orifices and pronounced there was no sinus infection. But I should, she said, see the allergist. I went the next day and met Dr. P., a young Korean doctor. While typing rapidly on the computer, he took down my medical history. I was impressed with his speedy keyboarding.
I mentioned that I’d been retired from teaching for eleven years.
“Oh, what did you teach?”
“Second grade for sixteen years, and then ENL—English as a New Language—for eight years,” I answered. “I loved it,” I added. “I loved working with those students and their families.”
Dr. P. stopped typing. “I was in ESL when my family came to the U.S.,” he said. “I still remember my teacher’s name and her face.”
He went on to tell me that he’d come from Korea to a high school in Baltimore in ninth grade. The teacher was so caring and helpful, he said, and she provided a comfortable space for him and her other students.
“She didn’t just teach English,” said the doctor. “She taught us about American culture and customs—stuff we needed to know.”
I nodded in agreement. “It’s a special person who chooses to teach ENL,” I said. “I ended up hearing things about my students that a regular classroom teacher with twenty-five or more in a class would never learn. ENL teachers become advocates for the kids and their families.”
In my mind, I saw my students: the kindergartener from China who only knew one word in English, toilet. The fifth-grade girl from Mexico who wanted to be a doctor. The first-grade girl who refused to speak for an entire year. So many that I loved and nurtured and watched adjust to the new language, new school, new everything.
Dr. P. was now putting on his blue non-latex gloves to examine my sinuses. “You ESL teachers do really important work,” he said. “I will never forget my teacher and her kindness.”
I sat in the exam chair feeling warmed, like a golden shower of light had just poured down on me. This was grace, a sudden rush of appreciation from someone I’d just met, for a job I did a decade ago. Dr. P. offered his gratitude to me and all those dedicated teachers who reach out to immigrant students. And on my part, I was filled with gratitude for the recognition.
The Karakesh Chronicles: fantasy adventure for middle grade readers.
Available on Amazon and from Handersen Publishing