Her Voice

Students in Ms. Paredes’ classroom

“Oh, pobrecita Ely, she doesn’t understand you.” Her classmates would tell me since day one. She would look up at me with her big, brown eyes and nod. “Ely has to go to the bathroom!” Her classmates would scream out loud as Ely was leaned over whispering in their ears. She didn’t have a voice.

Ely has been in this country for almost a year. It’s evident that she quickly learned to be helpless. Her teachers, her classmates compensated for her seemingly out of love. They wanted to help! However that’s not what Ely needed. 

ESL Students in Memphis face an unimaginable amount of obstacles. Be it poverty, discrimination, language barriers, no documents, no support etc. But if that’s all we saw them for (especially as teachers) we would compensate for them in every moment and they would never learn. That’s not love.

Flashforward six weeks into the school year. Six ESL students are sitting in front of me in a half circle wiggling around as I teach. We are discussing the three parts of writing an informative paragraph. “The first part? The introduction! The second part? The body! The third part?” I wait. Ely’s hand shoots up! I whipped my head around to see her knees to her chest and eyes wide open. My heart literally melts within my chest. “Ely?” I say, trying to keep myself from shouting for joy. “The conclusion.” She says loud and proud in English. I couldn’t believe it. Ely and I make eye contact and we both smile. This moment is solidified in my mind like a picture. Quickly we moved on and no one noticed. But I noticed. 

In this moment Ely had a voice. After a year, Ely has a voice. 

My mentor teacher shared early on with me that her ESL classroom goal is to give her students a voice. If they have a voice they can advocate for themselves. If they have a voice they can stand up for themselves and their families. If they have a voice they can make change for themselves and their community.

ESL teachers give assignments, assessments, homework, directions and yes, many pencils. But more important than anything else, by the grace of God, they give a voice.

– Kelly Paredes, Class of 2020