Discrimination or Fair Play?

April 16, 2009

The majority of my ESOL Conversations students don’t work. They complain about how hard it is to find a job, or even volunteer work. But for good reason. There have even been some employers who say they don’t like the way the students speak English. Say what?

Yup, it’s true. This really happened.

So, when one of my students told me that she was hired as a nurse assistant at a local hospital, I was thrilled.

She credited the class for helping her to be able to express herself and feel comfortable holding conversations with people whose native language is English (her native language is Chinese).

She attended a local community college and took courses so she could become a certified nurse assistant. Once she passed, she started job hunting. She was so excited and couldn’t wait to share her good news with the rest of the class.

After one week on the job, Jin Hong was beat. Even though she’d only been in the nursing field for a week, the staff gave her the most patients. She was responsible for taking care of nine people, while other staffers had six or seven. I suggested to Jin Hong to communicate her frustrations with the team leader. That didn’t go so well. The team leader told her to “suck it up” because the other workers had to experience the same workload when they first started.

But it wasn’t just the workload that was the problem. Jin Hong just wanted advice on how to handle so many patients. Since she was new, she just looked to her co-workers for support and a little guidance.

Despite her many attempts to communicate her frustrations, she got nowhere. They would say, “I don’t have time to help you” or “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” After only two weeks at the hospital, Jin Hong quit.

When she explained her dilemma to the class, we all felt her pain. Jin Hong only wanted to put her skills and education to use, doing something she loved: helping other people.

But thanks to insensitivity, Jin Hong not only lost a job, but the hospital lost a good employee.

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