Did You Say Virtual Chaos?

I sat in my corner in the bedroom from where I have been interacting with my students since the beginning g of this crisis. I have just finished a weekly meeting during which the faculty share updates on the progress of their classes discuss challenges, and reflect on possible changes for the week to come. I quickly run to the bathroom so I won’t have to interrupt the class with a bathroom break. The meeting ended about five minutes ago and I have to be in my chair and ready to fire up my students in the next five. Motivate them the best I can, which is to call their names one at a time to ask them how their day went and how challenging the independent assignment they had to complete twice a week went.

Last night, I had spent some time reviewing their previous assignment and assigning grades, and marking some absent for failing to complete the independent assignment, which is used, apart from the stated learning objective, to determine attendance on Tuesdays and Thursdays, our asynchronous days. Nearly half of the class had completed and submitted most assignments, so I decided that some pep talk was in order. As we waited for more students to sign in to our virtual classroom, I shared some useful announcements about the exit test and the summer semester. Some students had expressed concerns and asked questions that I had been unable to answer during the previous synchronous session. The students mostly listened silently. Occasionally, a student would try to justify why they still haven’t uploaded an assignment or completed a survey they were to have completed about two weeks earlier, which would have provided information to the administration about their desire to attend the program in the summer or not.

At last, class begins around 5:15 PM with some 15 students logged in. Some would disappear from my screen and log back in. Technology or connection issues? Hard for me to say. Ordinarily, there would be 25 in the classroom. Since the beginning of the crisis, some students, who used to attend regularly had gone AWOL.

It’s been a challenging ride, to say the least. But I do know that using video clips or short movies or documentaries has been much easier. Consequently, I feel that I have enriched my teaching beyond the use of worksheets. Now, students can watch several videos about say, the use of the passive voice in English. A video would introduce the concept, another one would break down and explain the structure, and yet another video would provide some “real-life” communication context, and finally, there is ample time for group and individual practice. Yes, sometimes, we may look at teaching virtually as potential chaotic on account of the blank screens and unresponsive students, but we certainly can’t discount the benefits.


When School Reopens

When school reopens, I would like to be in my classroom just as I used to be before the coronavirus came along. When school reopens, I want to see my students sitting at their desks, working independently individually, in pairs, in groups. When school reopens, I want my students to be able to learn from one another, to be able to joke around with one another when they need a light moment, to be able to smile at one another. When school reopens, I don’t want to be sitting in a little corner of my two-bedroom apartment in the South Bronx, a laptop on my lap, stuck in that blue office chair that used to be our living room computer chair and having to teach standing because of hemorrhoid that popped out of nowhere two weeks after transitioning to distance learning. When school reopens, I want to be able to circulate the classroom to exchange with my students as they work in groups to complete various tasks. I want to be able to interject when a student strays away from the task.  When school reopens, I want to restore the human touch to my teaching; I want to do all the things I normally do in class that I cannot do virtually.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Computers are important learning tools. They can complement in-person teaching. They can be used for wholly virtual learning if that is the learner’s deliberate choice. I completed my terminal degree online, but I want to work in person with the students who need this human touch, students who log into the same class session more than twenty times because of faulty connections, students who are trying to put forth their best effort but may fall short because they do not have the technical wherewithal to excel… students who are still acquiring new literacies.

Just thinking…



Lord Did I Shed a Tear!

Coronavirus, virtual classroom. It’s as if the two terms have become interchangeable. At least for the teacher that I am. Since the beginning of this crisis, when it became clear that going the a brick-and-mortar classroom would expose all of us to a deadly virus that has taken the world by a storm, we have been convening online for our daily, weekly and by-weekly classes.

This morning, like every Tuesday and Thursday, I am poised to start my English 130 class. The course had started toward the end of January, and every time I drove to Queens from the Bronx, I was a little nervous, or maybe apprehensive, not because I wasn’t prepared for class, but because I was always moved by the desire to do the best I could to get my message across to the very best of my ability. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, how could this be otherwise? I have been in this profession since graduating from college, and, apart from my three-year hiatus as a dishwasher and customer service representative at a sporting goods store, I have close to 30 years of teaching under my belt. And I am still going strong! I intend to continue teaching part-time even after I retire.

In my English 130 class, a course focused on writing about literature, a writing-intensive course as you may have guessed, I have students for whom English is not the first language. Some have been in this country for less than five years, so you can imagine them reading short stories and novels of varying lengths and writing critical essays about various story elements, elements of literature!

I was an English learner myself, starting my learning curve as a 12-year old in my native Ivory Coast. Do I need to say how much I can relate to the English learners in my class? I am one of them, and I know the countless hours they have to put in to produce a fraction of the work their native-speaker classmates produce in the same amount of time… countless hours, long nightly hours trying to make sense of an assignment, afraid to contact the professor because unsure of his reaction! So I decided that I would share my experience.

This is what I told my students. I want to thank y’all for signing on today. Honestly, I have never seen such a group of dedicated students. We started at the end of January with 24 students, and despite the challenges of the day, at least 22 of you have been attending consistently. I am very proud of you. See, I know some of you are apprehensive, maybe a little nervous as the end of the semester approaches. I want to reassure you, nobody will fail this class because you have consistently shown me that you care about your education. You have consistently signed on to our class platform and put forth your best effort. I know a number of you, especially those who are users of English as a second or foreign language, are apprehensive; you are not alone.

I was born, raised and educated in the Ivory Coast, a former French colony. As you can imagine, most of my education was completed in French, the official language. But in most schools in my country, students are required to take English beginning in middle school until they complete secondary school, the equivalent of the 13th grade if such a thing existed in the USA. I studied English for four years beginning in middle school before specializing in philosophy and literature for the last three years of secondary school, as is the practice in most French-speaking countries that follow the French educational system, where students may choose various concentrations. I subsequently went on to study English and American studies in college.

Once in the USA, I decided to continue my teaching career and enrolled in college for a BA despite having obtained a master’s degree from the University of Ivory Coast. After my undergraduate degree, which I completed while teaching middle school English, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in English education. It would take me one year to graduate. To make a long story short, I went on to get an Ed.D. And this is why I take the time to provide feedback not only on the ideas developed in an essay, but also on the language used to convey them. I pay particular attention to the language production of my English learners knowing fully the challenges they face. As I spoke with my laptop on my lap, sitting in the little corner of my bedroom that has become my classroom for my virtual sessions, I saw, “Professor, you’re awesome” written in the chat bubble!

4:00 PM, Netflix, watching “Becoming,” which features Michelle Obama. Flashback to my class this morning! Challenges, belief in oneself, weathering the high tides… tears… and a renewed commitment to be the best I can be as an educator, to make sure none of my students, with all the effort they have put forth throughout this coronavirus crisis, fails… Lord, did I cry! Lord, did I shed a tear! I need to rewind “Becoming” or at least the last thirty minutes of it.





March 27th, 2020

 It is 12:45 AM. I wrote my last entry exactly two weeks ago. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined that we would have another break, that my wife would have been right about students’ access to the technology they need to complete their semester. Unfortunately, this happens to be the case. Beginning today, the classes are suspended until April 2nd. This is called the “recalibration” period. This is supposedly to make some time for the students who do not have the right technology to secure it. I believe CUNY will buy additional laptops and tablets to ensure that all the students who need them can borrow them. Now, this may sound like a whole lot of time, but with essays to provide feedback on, the time will go by really fast.

On a personal level, life has changed, not dramatically, but changed all the same. Leaving the house is not exactly a problem, but you have to constantly be aware of what you touch when you’re out there. You need to wash your hands as soon as you’re back in the house or whenever you get a chance because you don’t know what’s on the surfaces that you touched outside. This Coronavirus has taken many lives already, but it is very far from over. Its destruction curve is still on the rise, as New York City has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. The chief of the White House Coronavirus task force even suggested that people who travel from New York to other states self-quarantine for at least two weeks. This is as serious as it gets.

Around the world, Italy has been hit the worst of all! Dozens of dead people, sometimes hundreds in a single day. Watching the cortege of military trucks carrying the bodies of the dead to be cremated without their loved ones to pay their final respects is heart-wrenching! But this is the world we live in today. All we can do is outsmart this virus by hunkering down for as long as it takes to vanish, to go away. In the meantime, we pray for Italy, for ourselves, and the rest of the world. The invisible enemy has taken over! How much longer will it endure?

Coronavirus is more powerful than the most powerful of this world. It has affected people in the highest echelon of society in more than one country: Canada’s First Lady, top professional athletes, senators, and congresspeople. Nobody is spared! But in the midst of all this, life must continue. Many everyday activities or routines like exercising have mostly transitioned to the virtual world. Karate classes offered by instructors using their cell phone cameras or other live cast platforms, distance education for all students from pre-K to college. Even my wife has been working from home.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It feels good to see my wife still at home when I wake up in the morning. She works on the desktop computer in the living room while I sit in a little corner of our bedroom to teach my classes, two of which happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Obviously, I have my Hostos CLIP class, which normally meets five days a week from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. But because of the current situation, I teach synchronously for two hours Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and reserve the remaining two weekdays for independent, self-regulated assignments. Life under the Coronavirus regime is different, to say the least. Walk into the supermarket to buy groceries. At the checkout line, all the cashiers have their masks on. These are unusual times. We all need to be careful. No more handshakes, no interactions at close proximity. It has even become problematic to visit family and friends. We’re all struggling to keep afloat and alive when this is all over.

April 25th, 2020

Mr. Coronavirus is still reigning like sovereign! My wife dragged me out of bed at 6:00 this morning. I was snuggling under my cover when I heard, “Honey, time to get up!” For what? I said. It’s too early! She said we’re going to the meat market. I labored out of bed, brushed my teeth, pulled on some jean, my sneaker, a hoodie, and we were gone. Off to Casablanca Meat Market on 110th Street in Harlem.

Casablanca is typically jam packed on a normal day, but since the beginning of this crisis, and because of the social distancing rules, most customer line up extra early so they can be the first in and out. We pulled up in front of the store at 6:45 a.m. strangely, the was nobody in line. The line typically form on the sidewalk and customers would be allowed in a small group at a time. We sat in the car, waiting. But soon I decided to step out to see the signs on the door. They said nothing about a potential closing. Normally, they would open at 8:00 a.m. By 7:30, there were two or three other customers ambling around, no doubt waiting for the place to open. About 15 minutes later, we saw a woman gesturing at us. We lowered the can window to hear her inform us that the store would remain closed for the next month.

Back at home, I sat down at my computer to try to figure out whether something had happened, maybe a death in the owner’s family or something. This little search led me to discover Casablanca’s Facebook page. It turns out they had been closed for a while. A message dated March 20th already mentioned social distancing and advising customers to stay safe and healthy. Then there was the “online orders only” message, and then “We will remain closed for the foreseeable future.” The stated reasons: “to keep our employees and customers safe.”

We are in this together, this was the essence of the message I posted on their Facebook page after taking the time to thank them for their service to the community and wishing them well.


A Short History of Bilingual Education in the US

Contrary to what the average American may believe today, bilingualism has existed in the United States since the early colonial days. Crawford (2004) mentions many languages spoken on the island of Manhattan in the mid-1600s. In fact, a plethora of languages was spoken with German, Swedish, Irish, Welsh, Dutch and French among the most prominent (Crawford, 2004, p. 81). However, as time went by, fear of the “alien” grew and eventually developed into an outright English-only movement.

From Bilingualism to the Rebirth of Bilingualism

Bilingualism was common in the early days of the American colonies. On the small island of Manhattan, for example, at least 18 languages were used, and people from all walks of life could be heard using non-English languages. As an illustration of the prevalence of other vernaculars, a poster for runaway domestic workers listed the language skills of one individual who spoke some “Dutch, German, Spanish and Irish” (Crawford, 2004, p. 81). Moreover, bilingual education existed in many places and was accepted or rejected according to the dominant language in each area. For example, there were German public and parochial schools where German was the dominant language. Other languages are known to have been in use in public and parochial schools until the mid-1800s were Swedish and Italian (Crawford, 2004, p. 85).

At the turn of the 20th Century, however, fear of immigrants and their cultures was so high that a poem published in the Atlantic Monthly referred to immigrants as ” These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,/Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws./In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,/Accents of menace alien to our air…” (Aldrich). In 1918, this sentiment will lead to an era of Americanization efforts conducted by Ellwood P. Cubberly, dean of the Stanford school of education. Ellwood advocated the dispersal of immigrant groups to teach them Anglo-Saxon values and culture. Ellwood’s efforts will eventually lead to the rise of language restriction in many states and territories, including Puerto Rico, where English will be imposed as the language of instruction in public schools. The overall trend at the time was Anglo-conformity, the forced espousal of everything of Anglo-Saxon origin. Americanism even led to the forced removal of Indians from Eastern states (Crawford, 2004).

Eventually, in early 1960, in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, Dade County, Florida will lead the way to the rebirth of bilingual education. With an influx of Cuban refugees fleeing from the revolution, three events militated for bilingual education. These were the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the Anti-Poverty Initiatives of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson (which brought social inequalities to the forefront), and the Cold War (which triggered to search for scientific talent and forced a greater involvement of the federal government in designing education policy) (Crawford, 2004).

Evolution of Bilingual Education Policy

Initially, three laws signaled the shift in education policy: the 1958 National Defense Education Act (NDEA), the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The first of these laws aimed to ensure that the United States had enough qualified scientists to compete with Soviet scientists whose work had resulted in the launch of Sputnik, the first spacecraft. It supported more college enrollment and made funds available to promote interest in math and science ( The second law forbade discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin (US Senate Committee on the Judiciary), and the third one aimed to ensure improved academic achievement for the “disadvantaged,” train and recruit educational personnel and provide language support for LEPs and immigrant students.

With the passage of these laws, New Mexico ushered in a new era of bilingual education beginning in 1969. Despite these legislations, the government had focused mainly on discrimination against African American while children of Mexican immigrants continued to suffer the brunt of discrimination. This contradiction will be addressed on May 25, 1970, when Pottinger, the then director of the Federal Office for Civil Right will write a memo requiring schools to provide services for language minority students. Here again, the impact of this notice will be minimal. Eventually, it is in courts that Mexican students will secure a favorable mandate through the Serna v. Portales Municipal Schools (Crawford, 2004). Texas will follow suit in 1981 with a mandate by Judge William Wayne. Even though this mandate will be reversed a year later, it set the stage for programs destined for language minority students in the state of Texas. Hence, through legal victories, including the famous Lau v. Nichols (1974), it appeared that the needs of LEP students were being addressed. However, the were no clear directives or proposals regarding programs and only 6% of qualified LEP students were receiving proper accommodation. To address the situation, Senators Ted Kennedy, and Walter Mondale will introduce legislation to include at least 15% of qualified LEPs (Crawford, 2004, pp. 111-112).

Even though the future looked promising for LEPs, an American Institute for Research (AIR) report released in 1977-1978 will claim that there is no evidence of the effectiveness of bilingual education (Crawford, 2004). Strengthened by the findings of this report, the Washington Post’s Noel Epstein will release “Language, Ethnicity and the Schools,” a paper in which he critiques bilingual education, going so far as to label it “Affirmative Ethnicity.” For Epstein, teaching children ethnic pride was a parental prerogative, not a government obligation. Hence, he staunchly opposed the use of taxpayer dollars to finance bilingual education programs (Crawford, 2004). Epstein’s paper convince many, including President Reagan, who opposed maintenance programs, that is, bilingual programs that promoted the preservation of students’ first language. At the time of the re-certification of Title VII in 1984, proponents of bilingual education had to make some concessions limiting the scope of bilingual education. The new programs would be known as Special Alternative Instructional Programs (SAIP’s). These programs made provisions for parents of LEPs, gifted students, the replication of effective instructional models and limited Developmental Bilingual Education. Frustrated by the inertial of the OCR, more parents will now take their cases directly to federal courts (Crawford, 2004, p. 128).

Bilingualism or Monolingualism?

For over 200 years, English had been the de facto official language of the United States, but constitutionally, the US had no official language. Still, to the Average American, English was the official language (Crawford, 2004, p. 131). It was not until Senator Hayakawa’s call for English as the official language of the United States failed that pro-English sentiments began to grow. Bilingual education became an easy target, especially for those who thought it was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Previously, it had been seen as one of the most successful ways of ensuring both academic success and the maintenance and development of students’ first language (Crawford, 2004).

Around this time, US English, an English-only organization was created under the impulse of the then former California Senator Hayakawa. The objective of the group was to advocate for English to become the official language of the United States. They claimed that English was threatened. Hence, their agenda was to convince federal and state institutions to mandate English as the only language used in any program they funded. Soon, the group began to enjoy the support of many celebrities and politicians. Attacked by opponents on charges of racism after some its members used racially charged language to describe immigrants (Crawford, 2004, p 135), US English hired a Hispanic president, Linda Chavez, who recast the group’s image as an organization concerned with the welfare of the United States. By positing the group’s agenda as a way of bringing new immigrants into the mainstream, the group garnered support again. However, this victory was short-lived. After a racially charged message had become known to the public, many of the group’s leaders began to distance themselves from it, and the popularity of US English declined (Crawford, 2004, pp. 135-139).

This decrease led to the birth of a new group called English Plus in 1985. This new group comprised members of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD). The two groups will create the English Plus Information Clearinghouse (EPIC) with the aim of promoting cultural and democratic pluralism, as well as multilingual skills as a path to cross-cultural understanding and better world trade.

Even with many of its leaders gone, US English kept exerting influence on policy makers. They met many times with Reagan administration officials, especially with former ESL director and author Rosalie Porter, to discuss educational policy. Though Porter got support from the organization and was apparently pushing their agenda, she claimed the support she received from the group had no strings attached. As criticism of bilingual education mounted on the impulse of those convinced by English-only proponents, including then education secretary William Bennett, Congressman Augustus Hawkins asked the General Accounting Office of Congress to assess the real effectiveness or lack thereof of bilingual education. The assessment conducted by an independent group of experts overwhelmingly rejected Secretary Bennett’s critiques. In fact, in their results, the team found that students who had been in bilingual programs had the best scores on the standardized test and in many cases did better that native speakers of English.

Even though these results clearly supported bilingual education, it would take a lot of diplomacy for advocates of bilingual education to make gains. They had learned that politics takes precedence over research when it comes to educational policy. Consequently, around 1993, a group known as the Stanford Working Group devised a document called A Blueprint for the Second Generation. Their goal was to have bilingual education included with the overall school reform agenda. They wanted equal opportunity for all students and special programs for limited language students (Crawford, 2004, pp. 149-150). The group also broadened its agenda to include Title VII. With the beginning of the Clinton administration, many of the group’s recommendations would be adopted. The recommendations encouraged bilingual education, specifically developmental bilingual programs, defined states’ role in ensuring adequate LEP programs, and mandated districts to identify and provide services for LEPs and involve their parents in the decision-making process. Finally, it seemed that the proponents of bilingual education had made important gains.

ESL/Bilingual Education in New York City

New York City has witnessed a proliferation of ESL/Bilingual programs over the past decade and a half. As the demographics of the city changes, so do programs intended to serve the new populations. Hence, in New York City in general, and particularly in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, many schools have opened to address the needs of an increasing LEP population. Currently, around 100 schools citywide offer some form of bilingual or ESL program, and the languages include French, English, Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Korean (Bilingual Education Student Information Survey, Winter 2010). The message on the Department of Education ELL page states that the DOE is dedicated to serving ELL’s, people with limited English language skills and their parents through professional development for teachers, the publication of better educational materials and an environment that promotes academic achievement, language development cross-cultural understanding.

To accomplish its stated goals, the New York City Education Department has created many curricula targeted specifically to LEPs. Depending on the type of program offered, schools may have school curricula entirely in a foreign language for specific grade levels. The website provides general guidelines for creating a school curriculum in the foreign language, but no ready-made curriculum is available. On the other hand, there was a school curriculum made specifically to help LEPs understand the same concepts their other peers are learning. For example, a school programs for grades 2-4 states that “Students will listen, speak, read and write in English for information and understanding” (ESL Elementary Grades, p. 34). In one of the tasks, students, and their teacher go on a neighborhood walk and observe people engaged in various occupations. Once they get back to school, they work in pairs to complete a chart for the jobs they found. The task and instructions vary slightly for beginning, intermediate and advanced level. Another unit on fractions uses many pictures of words that might be difficult for students to understand. The instructions also recommend pre-teaching certain vocabulary words that might hinder comprehension.


Diversity is a reality in American schools today, just as it was in areas of the country even in the early colonies. With the NCLB mandate, all education stakeholders need to ensure no child is left by the wayside because of language challenges. The development and implementation of a bilingual program need the conjugated efforts of educators, second language acquisition experts, and parents. Teacher education programs can help by using the findings of research on LEPs to prepare not only ESL/bilingual teachers but also content area teachers to provide support to their students.


Aldrich, T. B. (Date unknown). “Unguarded Gates” (accessed at

Crawford, J. (2004). Educating English learners: language diversity in the classroom. 5th ed. Los Angeles, CA: Bilingual Educational Services.

National Defense Education Act (1958). (Accessed at ation_Act.html)

New York City Dual Language Programs (2010). Bilingual Education Student Information Survey (Accessed at

New York City Education Department English Language Learners (2013). The Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners (accessed at

New York City Education Department (2013). Spanish Native Language Curriculum Guide (accessed at B390-8F5AEA5461F7/0/SNLACGFinal092413_khFINAL.pdf)

New York City Education Department (2013). Sample unit on fraction for 5th grade (accessed at ning+Standards+for+Mathematics+Sample+Units+that+Support+English+Langu age+Learners.htm)

New York State Education Department (2009): English as a Second Language: Elementary grades 2-4 (accessed at US Education Department (accessed at

US Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (accessed at