Guest Contributors: Allyson Eamer, Amea Wilbur, Katie Crossman, Jennifer Allore
If you are a LINC or ESL instructor, there is a good chance that you have taught learners who have experienced trauma. Syrian, Afghan and now Ukrainian refugees, for example, have been arriving in Canada in large numbers and are increasingly part of our classrooms. Although you are not a mental health specialist, you are often the first point of contact for many students. They likely see you more often and for longer blocks of time than they see their settlement workers or other professionals in their lives. Your students undoubtedly view you as quintessentially Canadian and very much a part of “the system” that directly impacts their lives and futures in Canada. Because you work hard to be a caring instructor and to build trust in the classroom, you are likely to witness the effects of trauma on student learning, and/or to have trauma disclosed to you by a student. You are therefore an important, if unwitting (and likely unprepared, we will argue), key player in responding to trauma.
Like many others in the field, I am always looking for new ways to improve my teaching. My research as a PhD student at York University led me to examine teaching from a critical pedagogical approach. The guiding principle of this approach is to construct equitable and democratic classrooms with a goal to positively transform students’ lives (Canagarajah, 2005).
While I was doing my research in an ELL classroom, I uncovered many ways in which ELL environments contradict the goals of critical pedagogical approaches. In many cases, planning and preparing ahead to foster a classroom environment that supports critical learning can overcome these challenges, but at times, there may be a dynamic need to shift classroom spaces towards empowering teaching and learning. I have developed a strategy I call critical pivoting to address this problem and would like to share it with you.
These tips and guidelines are meant for instructors and volunteers who are new to the field of literacy and intend to work with adult literacy learners. What makes this document different is that it is not based on research papers and teaching theories. Rather, it is based on my experience teaching literacy students from diverse backgrounds and various levels of literacy. It is also based on other teachers’ experiences and my learners’ feedback, which I always consider when planning my lessons. Despite the challenges, I find that teaching literacy is very rewarding and fulfilling.