When Lotus Hoey started teaching English as a second language a few years ago, she felt right at home. Her own parents immigrated from China, so she had to learn English at school, too.
“Initially, when I first started school, I did not speak any English at all. I only spoke Cantonese Chinese and as I was growing up, it was difficult for me to continually translate for my parents who spoke no English,” Hoey says.
When her students come to Pershing Middle School from places like Central America, the Philippines and Sudan, Hoey can relate to them pretty easily – but not last fall. About a month after school started, a new student showed up, Emiliano Campos.
At 15 years old, he was older than the other seventh graders. And Emiliano was still struggling with the language. “I didn’t like English because it was difficult to read and talk,” he says.
Hoey remembers how she felt that if she even looked at Emiliano the wrong way, he would shut down or stomp out of the classroom. She said that disruption made it harder to teach other kids and she took it personally.
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This piece was produced in partnership with the Teacher Project at Columbia Journalism School.