For those children who are not doing well in my class, I generally have an interview with the parents right away to discuss about the child’s difficulties. I hate to wait until after the report cards get sent home. It would seem to be a bit too late for me by then. I want the children to do well and I want to help them overcome any obstacle as soon as possible. Often, during the interview, I get to know the personal side of their family stories.
One day I had to talk to a parent for the third time regarding her child’s progress. The family just moved to Canada about a year ago. The child is still receiving additional language support from the ESL program. It usually takes an ESL student three to five years to fully function at the regular grade level. For this particular child, she has sufficient oral language competency to communicate in class. I am more concerned about her learning behaviour at school because she does not seem to acknowledge whether she fully understands a new concept after the instruction or she needs more teacher assistance. I can not help a student who simply stares at you blank with two big bright eyes, no nodding, no facial expressions or no words of YES or NO.
The parent was very supportive at the interview, and she told me that both she and her husband are aware of this problem. They are working consistently at home to help the child bridge the gaps. Afterwards, she started telling me about their family situation, which is just like many other family stories that I have heard over the years.
This family just came from Asia. Both parents were university lecturers with PhDs in their native home country. They came with a dream and a hope of securing a similar position here in Canada. Both of their credentials and qualifications have been evaluated, converted and recognized by the professional institutions here. The mother has to stay home with the youngest toddler and two older school-aged children due to the expensive child care cost. The father has been looking for work for the last six months in his field but is currently pumping gas at a gas station. They are distressed and disappointed that they can not find jobs in their professional field. It is only the matter of time when their saving runs out. When the family is distressed, the child usually reacts to the distress in their own way.
I call this one a typical immigrant story because I have heard many others like this one over the years. I have met teachers working as school custodians, engineers working in the factory, doctors working as maids at nursing homes or as taxi drivers, accountants working as cashiers or architects working in constructions. Historically, Canada is a country of immigrants but has not been able to fully utilize the highly skilled workforce they have welcomed with open arms in the recent years. It takes a long time for these foreign trained professionals to finally find suitable jobs for their skills. It is a waste of human resources and intellects in my view.
In addition to teaching, I had work experience in sales when I was in Taiwan. When I first arrived in Canada years ago, I worked as a saleswoman at a furniture store for a while to keep myself busy (or shall we say, to maintain my sanity from having too much idling time.) I knew then that the only way that I could get into a profession here was to go back to university to pursue another degree. It was simply not easy to find a job equivalent to my old ones in Taiwan because most of the institutions or companies here required “Canadian work experience”. (Heck, if no one would give me an opportunity to work here, how on earth could I get a Canadian experience?) I ended up volunteering at a school for more than a year to get my “Canadian experience” and meanwhile, working full time at the store after school.
I came to Canada alone, but many others came as a family. It is not always easy and affordable for one to go back to school when there is a family to feed. Many skilled or professional immigrants end up taking up a job or jobs that are flexible and do not require any so called “Canadian experience”. Some are lucky to build a better life here eventually, but some may continue to struggle or sadly return to their home country with a broken dream.
The good news is that many of the second generation of immigrant children are able to surpass their parents to advance to higher professional fields. In fact, many of these immigrant families have better family support for the children’s education because both parents are highly educated and they realize that education is the key to integrate into the new country.
It is a life long struggle for many of these skilled immigrants to survive in a newly adopted land. Fortunately for Canada, from an educator’s point of view, the new generation of immigrant children raised by their highly educated and diligent parents will help pave the road for the country’s future workforce, at the cost of their parents’ despairs.