Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
ESL Tutors: Islands of Calm in the
Multicultural Storm
Mark-Ameen Johnson

Mark-Ameen Johnson has directed Brooklyn College's Starr ESL Learning Center and taught CUNY students since 1994. He has also served as the Pace University Liberty and Stay-in-School Partnerships Program Manager, a Brooklyn Public Library literacy consultant and tutor trainer, and a New York City Board of Education teacher. He first began teaching when he was in grammar school; his younger sister was his first student. While enrolled in junior high school, he carried out volunteer work with mentally retarded children. These first experiences hooked him, and he has been teaching in one form or another ever since. He is also a freelance writer specializing in travel and popular culture.


FIVE LIVES, ONE DILEMMA

“Are you intelligent?” wrote the professor. Large red squiggles and even larger exclamation points decorated his endnote. “Not only have you failed to follow my directions, but you continue to write any way you wish even though I have taken the time to explain grammar to you. You are in college now. Prove it. ”

Forcing herself not to cry, Fatimeh, normally a font of energy and optimism, handed the paper to me sheepishly and said she had been trying her best to produce the kind of writing her professor demanded. In fact, she had been spending so much time on his work that she was beginning to neglect her other courses. “I am not an idiot, ” she told me, “and I know this work. Don't these professors realize that English is not my first language?”

I thought back to my own college days in the mid-80s. One particularly difficult professor did not like the way I answered a question on his midterm. Although I usually kept course work for future reference, I had burned that professor's materials in adolescent glee. I do remember that he compared me to “an ESL person” who did not know what he was talking about and had to learn to write more clearly. I also remember wanting to

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