My ESOL class shrank by 50% on Thursday when one of my two students didn't show. The result was a one-on-one tutoring session during which we practiced check-writing, comparisons/superlatives and wh- question words.
After class, "Victor" started explaining why he only went to school for three years in Mexico. In intermediate-level English he described how his parents abandoned him at a young age and his grandmother raised him. They were dirt poor; he often lacked shoes and could not afford to continue attending school. So at the age of eight he got a job at a city marketplace helping shoppers with their bags. He worked from early morning until evening to help support himself and his grandma. A native speaker of Otomi (an indigenous language), he learned Spanish as a child laborer.
Victor was a farmer before coming to the United States. Now working nights at a poultry plant, he occasionally sends money to support the family that never supported him. "I go to church," he shrugged, "so I can't do to them what they did to me."
With his bulky frame, easy grin and silver-lined teeth, Victor is my age, although he looks to be ten years older. He has a wife and three children (3, 11, and 15 years old). The two older children have both surpassed him academically.
At last the opportunity to continue his own education has presented itself: to study his third language, English.
And I get to be his teacher.