I attended my first PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meeting at my son’s school last week. The Chair had asked if I’d be interested in joining them to help execute a healthy food initiative for the students. I happily obliged because I’m a tad obsessed with food — the wholesome and tasty kind that’s kid approved. Anyway, I digress.
What struck me at this meeting was a new project directed at helping refugees, (particularly those who have fled from war torn countries), acclimate to their new community. The school is planning on raising a significant amount of funds to help them out, whether it be through financial or psychological support.
This got me thinking about the work we do as ESL instructors. During my ESL teacher training, a big part of the program focused on recognizing the students’ cultural backgrounds so that we could understand our students’ perspectives better and adjust our lessons accordingly.
Now I’m wondering how we can best equip ourselves as educators with those who have experienced trauma and loss. They are no doubt dealing with so much, both emotionally and mentally. On top of it all, they have to learn a new language and integrate into society. Where do we draw the line between ESL teacher and social worker? How can we extend a hand without getting too involved in their personal lives?
The Power of Now
Recently, a group of students I taught were affected by a terrible earthquake that had destroyed their village back home. It was all over the news here in Canada and simply couldn’t be avoided. I had no idea how to handle it. But luckily for me, my lead helped me understand how to deal with it. She told me that I wasn’t to mention the event unless the students brought it up, and to expect fewer if any students in class.
That advice helped me get through the day. I was still nervous because I didn’t know what emotional state to expect from my students, but being armed with my lead’s instructions definitely helped me get on with the lesson. In fact, I found that it helped the students forget about everything for those couple of hours.
Million Dollar Questions
What are we supposed to do when faced with such situations? My class had a horrific event affect them from a distance. What about those who have lived it, having seen things and having had to deal with unimaginable suffering and traumatic circumstances? What do we do? With the increasing number of refugees around the world, including Canada, how do we prepare ourselves mentally when faced with these issues? Should we get special training or address this at the next AGM? Are there resources already available to us that I may not be aware of?
What experience or advice do you have on this issue?