Understanding the Employment Conditions of English as an Additional Language Instructors of Adults in British Columbia

Standard

by Sherry Breshears

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Introduction

This year marks BC TEAL’s 50th anniversary, and the present newsletter is dedicated to reflecting upon the past few decades of our professional practice. This is a time to reflect back on where we have come from and consider where we might take the profession in the future. At this landmark moment, I propose that we take up a theme that has permeated the dialogue about English as an additional language (EAL) teaching for years: the problem of poor working conditions for a significant segment of teachers in our field.

I became interested in the topic of EAL teachers’ working conditions early in my teaching career, and have explored the issue from various perspectives. I have taught in both the public and private language education sectors and have seen first-hand the work-related struggles that many adult educators experience. For several years I volunteered for the union at my workplace, and my master’s thesis focused on unionization among EAL teachers in the private sector (Breshears, 2008). In my current doctoral work, I am looking at work insecurity in EAL teaching through a labour studies lens, in particular through the lens of precarious employment. Precarious employment is a framework for understanding the complexities of work insecurity and includes an examination of the factors the come together to create precarious work situations.

In recent decades, a body of empirical evidence has emerged to support the sentiment that EAL teaching for adult learners in North America is, in large part, insecure work. The evidence shows that EAL teaching for adults involves a high reliance on part-time and temporary work, low wages, a high proportion of unpaid work, limited access to benefits, and a lack of professional and administrative support. Reports also suggest that such problematic working conditions affect teachers’ abilities to serve their students. As claims about difficult employment situations for teachers of adult EAL learners have emerged, so too has the concept of precarious employment, but there has been little intersection between them.

I propose here that we begin to think about what employment conditions are like for educators of adult EAL learners in British Columbia. Which EAL educators are most likely to experience precarious employment, and why is this so? What are the consequences of teacher working conditions for the sustainability and quality of adult EAL educational practice? These are the questions I hope to answer as I begin the research segment of my doctoral journey.

Previous Research: Employment Concerns for EAL Teachers in North America

In the 1990s in North America, several practitioners and scholars began to express their frustration with the unstable employment conditions and lack of professional status of the EAL field. In the early part of the decade, Elsa Auerbach, adult EAL literacy teacher and scholar, wrote:

A fact of life for [EAL] educators is that we are marginalized; college [EAL] instructors are often hired as adjunct faculty on a semester by semester basis to teach non-credit preparatory courses in academic skills centres. Elementary [EAL] teachers teach in pull-out programs, travelling from school to school and setting up shop in closets, corridors, and basements. Adult educators teaching survival [EAL] have to work two or three jobs in order to survive; jobs with benefits, living wages, and any measure of security are few and far between. (Auerbach, 1991, p.1)

Over the years, several surveys that examine the employment situations of teachers of adult EAL learners have been conducted by professional organizations, unions, universities, and other research organizations throughout North America (Power Analysis, 1998; Sanaoui, 1997; Smith & Hofer, 2003; Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013; Valeo, 2013; White & Naylor, 2015). Although these reports vary somewhat in their focus, they consistently find that EAL teachers for adult learners often experience insecure employment conditions and that this has both personal and professional implications. I highlight here a few of the primary employment concerns identified by teachers across the surveys. 

A central issue for EAL teachers of adults is the lack of permanent positions in the field. For example, two large surveys of EAL teachers of adults in Ontario found that only about a quarter of respondents have continuing contracts, while all others are casual or limited-term (Power Analysis, 1998; Sanaoui, 1997). Another key problem for teachers is the lack of full-time work. Four different studies reported that a majority of respondents are part-time (Power Analysis, 1998; Smith, Hofer and Gillespie, 2001; Sun, 2010; White and Naylor, 2015). Further to this, temporary and part-time employment could lead to a situation where a teacher held multiple jobs in order to protect against job loss or to make up for a lack of adequate work (eg. Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013).

In addition to job insecurity related to temporary and part-time employment, teachers in the reports expressed dissatisfaction with their salaries. The sufficiency of the income package is best understood in view of both paid and unpaid work time. Some surveys highlighted the fact that teachers of adult EAL learners often put a large proportion of unpaid time into lesson planning and preparation, grading, administrative duties, staff meetings, and meetings with students. For a number of teachers, this non-teaching time brought their total work load to above fifty hours per week (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999; White & Naylor, 2015). Other complicating factors that add to job insecurity included working shifts or teaching at multiple sites or in multiple programs (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999; Sun, 2010; Valeo & Faez, 2013). Taken together, these common characteristics of EAL teachers’ employment may be the reason that Sun’s (2010) survey of over 1000 adult EAL teachers indicated that 43 percent of respondents felt that job insecurity was their primary employment concern.

Such difficult working conditions affect teachers’ physical and mental well-being. In their study of over 100 adult educators in the public school system in B.C., White and Naylor (2015) found that teachers “spoke of their fatigue and, in some cases, ill-health because of their reports of ‘doing more with less’, constant lay-offs, and lack of prep time” (p. 8). Another concern is the relationship between challenging working conditions and life outside of work: “I really try to keep my work down to 40 hours a week. I want a quality personal life” (Crookes & Arakaki, 1999, p.17). Survey authors noted that work insecurity not only influenced educators on a personal level, but also “undermine[ed] the professionalism of the field because many educators have to contend with juggling several jobs, receiving low pay, and being prevented from improving their instructional practices or keeping abreast of current research” (Sun, p.142).

Over the decades, it seems that the concerns expressed by EAL teachers about their job conditions have not changed. And while the empirical evidence strongly suggests a prevalence of precarious work conditions in the EAL education sector, there is little critical assessment of the factors that contribute to employment insecurity in the sector. I suggest that we look to labour research for tools that can help to illuminate the conditions that contribute to precarious employment.

Work Insecurity for EAL Teachers: Part of a Growing Trend in Precarious Employment in Canada

There is an increasing trend toward work insecurity in Canada. Accompanying this trend is a growing dialogue about the diminishing quality of jobs. The term “precarious employment” has emerged as a way to conceptualize work that is uncertain in one or more ways. It generally includes temporary, part-time, and low-paid work, as well as work with minimal benefits and work that lacks union representation.

Precarious employment is best understood in contrast to the “standard employment relationship” which is conceived as “a stable, socially protected, dependent, full-time job” (Fudge, 2009, p.132). The standard employment relationship is what we typically think of when we talk about a “good job,” or at least this is what we used to expect. The standard employment relationship involves a work arrangement that is full-time and permanent. It likely includes benefits and may be unionized. It’s something one can build a career around. In contrast, precarious employment is based on a flexible model. It responds to the short-term, market-oriented or funding-dependent needs of the employer rather than an employee’s need for stability. Since the 1970s, there has been an overall decline in work characterized as standard employment, an increase in precarious forms of work, and an erosion of the social safety net. Precarious employment can have profound effects on an individual’s life, on quality of work, and on families.

The Usefulness of the Precarious Employment Framework for Understanding the Work of EAL Instructors

There are clear parallels between precarious employment in the general labour market and work insecurity in EAL teaching. But what is the usefulness of applying the framework of precarious employment to EAL teaching in B.C.? Several aspects of this framework can help shed light on EAL teachers’ work experiences beyond an education perspective, but with implications for educational practice.

First, aligning an analysis of adult EAL teachers’ work with common characteristics of precarious employment provides a language for understanding work insecurity in an educational context and provides a new level of analysis. Once precarious forms of work are identified, we can start to see how one form is entwined with other forms, creating a cumulative effect. For example, if a person works part-time, they may be ineligible for employment insurance benefits. This leads to a situation where a teacher is more likely to stay in a “bad job” because they cannot afford to leave it.

The precarious employment framework also helps to clarify that work insecurity in EAL teaching is part of a broader trend in industrialized nations where companies and governments are shifting financial risks to workers by “flexibilizing” employment relationships. Current employment laws involve much fewer obligations on the part of the employer than they once did, and employers are thus less likely to retain workers on a permanent basis. Additionally, we could also examine the landscape of education policy that shapes the field. The shrinking of publicly funded language education for newcomers to Canada along with the simultaneous growth of international education for full fee paying students is currently having an effect on the field. This shift has played out in the recent layoffs at local colleges and school boards and may have other yet-to-be-identified consequences for teachers’ work.

A final consideration is that the concept of precarious employment offers a framework for distinguishing how employment practices in EAL line up with those in other occupations and to link such practices with identifiable characteristics of an occupation. For example, research shows that there are more women than men in precarious employment (Vosko, 2006). Similarly, the studies about the work of EAL teaching referred to above on average show that 85 percent of EAL teachers are women (eg. Sun, 2010). This may lead to explorations of EAL teaching as a gendered occupation.

Conclusion

The issue of employment conditions for EAL teachers of adult learners is an important one for organizations like BC TEAL who are committed to upholding professional standards and advocating for teachers. The framework of precarious employment offers a new lens for understanding the complexities of work insecurity in the field. As we come to understand the unique contours of EAL employment, we can start to recognize how to better support teachers so that teachers, in turn, can provide quality learning experiences for students.

References

Auerbach, E. (1991). Politics, pedagogy, and professionalism: challenging marginalization in ESL. College ESL, 1(1), 1-9.

Crookes, G., & Arakaki, L. (1999). Teaching idea sources and work conditions in an ESL program. TESOL Journal, 8(1), 15–19.

Fudge, J. (2009). The new workplace: Surveying the landscape. Manitoba Law Journal 33(1), 131-149.

Power Analysis Inc. (1998). Study of ESL/EFL services in Ontario. Retrieved from http://atwork.settlement.org/downloads/linc/ESLFSL.pdf

Sanaoui, R. (1997). Professional Characteristics and Concerns of Instructors Teaching English as a Second Language to Adults in Non-Credit Programs in Ontario. TESL Canada Journal, 14(2), 32–54.

Smith, C., & Hofer, J. (2003). The Characteristics and Concerns of Adult Basic Education Teachers. NCSALL Reports# 26. National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL). Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED508605

Smith, C., Hofer, J., & Gillespie, M. (2001). The working conditions of adult literacy teachers: Preliminary findings from the NSCALL staff development study. Focus on Basics, 4. Retrieved from http://www.ncsall.net/index.html@id=291.html

Sun, Y. (2010). Standards, equity, and advocacy: Employment conditions of ESOL teachers in adult basic education and literacy systems. TESOL Journal, 1(1), 142–158.

Valeo, A. (2013). The TESL Ontario member survey: A brief report. Contact Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.teslontario.net/uploads/pinterest/contactarticles/Survey_Valeo.pdf

Valeo, A., & Faez, F. (2013). Career Development and Professional Attrition of Novice ESL Teachers of Adults. TESL Canada Journal, 31(1), 1–19.

Vosko, L. F. (2006). Precarious employment: Towards an improved understanding of labour market insecurity. In L. F. Vosko (Ed.), Precarious employment: Understanding labour market insecurity in Canada, 3-39. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

White, M. and Naylor, C. (2015). Chapter Four: Working conditions and workload issues in adult education. Retrieved from https://bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/Issues/Worklife/AdultEd/Chapter4.pdf

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Sherry Breshears is a PhD Candidate in Education with a Labour Studies focus at Simon Fraser University. Her research interests include language and literacy education, the employment conditions of EAL teachers of adults, and international education in British Columbia. Her work draws from methods that consider how policy contexts shape everyday lives in educational spaces.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Breshears, S. (2017, Winter). Understanding the employment conditions of English as an additional language instructors of adults in British Columbia. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

Making Affiliate Connections

Standard

By James Papple

BC TEAL collaborates with many organizations, creating a strong network for its members.  One organization that BC TEAL is affiliated with is TESOL International (TESOL; tesol.org).  BC TEAL has been an affiliate of TESOL for many years and is one of over 115 international and American affiliates.  As a result, BC TEAL stands out amongst the pack with its professional development offerings and spirit of collaboration.

Working with the ANPC

One of the ways that BC TEAL collaborates  with TESOL is through TESOL’s  Affiliate Network and Professional Council (ANPC) .  This council helps to ensure strong affiliate connections by advising on initiatives and activities that advance the associations’ strategic goals.  The ANPC also acts as a liaison for the affiliates and the board of TESOL International, helping both achieve their missions. 

The ANPC brings like-minded affiliates together that might not otherwise ever meet.  These affiliates can share a variety of information like conference details, communications and best practices with each other to ensure the best support for membership. The ANPC supports affiliates through affiliate leader webinars and events that promote best practices in governance, fiscal responsibility, membership outreach, and other useful topics.

The ANPC supports affiliates through affiliate leader webinars and events that promote best practices in governance, fiscal responsibility, membership outreach, and other useful topics.

Who We Are

Currently, there are 9 members on the ANPC along with 1 TESOL staff and 1 TESOL board member. Many of the ANPC are former chairs or presidents of an affiliate and the composition of the ANPC reflects the geographical diversity of TESOL International with one member from Canada, Columbia, Israel, and Nigeria, as well as 5 members from the United States.  In addition, each member liaises with approximately a dozen affiliates to help them find the support that they need.  Throughout the year, the ANPC members work on four different subcommittees including:  Newsletter, Affiliate Peer Advisory, Convention, and Events committees.  BC TEAL has been one of the biggest supporters to the ANPC since the council’s creation three years ago.  For example,  the past president of BC TEAL  presented at the last face-to-face TESOL convention and members of the current board continue to attend the ANPC webinars along with sharing resources with other affiliates across the globe.

Discover More About Us

This year the ANPC will have a presence at the TESOL annual convention, as well as a large online event in mid-April.  The event is intended for board members or future/potential board members from all affiliates. The ANPC also recruits from members who have recent past experience on a board. Joining the ANPC is a great way to continue to make connections with others in the field.  For those who might be interested in joining or learning more about the ANPC, please visit the webpage.  

In conclusion, thank you to BC TEAL for being such a big part of the Affiliate Network and for supporting the ANPC!

A question for you

Did you click on the links in my blog? You’ll be happy you did. Have you visited our webpage, watched our webinars, read our newsletters, or connected through our many Communities of Practice? There’s something for everyone. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

Bio: James Papple is the current chair of the ANPC and a member of BCTEAL and TESOL International. He has been working in EAL for over 20 years and volunteering in the field.  He holds a masters in TESL from Brock University and he is currently the interim Associate Director for York University’s English Language Institute  

#CdnELTchat summary for February 9, 2021 (What should we Keep Doing in #ELT? )

Standard

#CdnELTchat summary for February 9, 2021
Jennifer Chow

It’s been almost a year since many ELT educators have had to make a sudden shift to online teaching. Students and teachers have had a range of feelings and experiences from being overwhelmed and exhausted to finding resilience and compassion. For the past year, we’ve experienced challenges, changes and opportunities. We’ve learned to use new ideas, perspectives, methods and technologies. As we move forward, we should consider how we want to harness the positive changes. What changes have me made that we should continue to do and build on post-pandemic?  

Thank-you to the educators who shared their thoughts about the things we should keep doing in #ELT post pandemic. Here are the questions that guided the #CdnELTchat we had on February 9:

Q1: Are there tools and approaches that you used to use in the F2F classroom that have been successful in the online environment?
Q2: Are there new tools or approaches that you have tried during the shift to online that you will definitely continue going forward? 
Q3: What new knowledge have you gained that you will carry forward in your practice? What would you say is the most important part of teaching and learning in online spaces? 
Q4: What has been your most profound learning during the shift to online? 
Q5: What have you learned about doing assessments online that you want to continue to do post-pandemic?  

We’ve collected the tweets from our chat in Wakelet, but here are some of the highlights from our discussion

  • Students have been able to practice digital skills through blended teaching/learning, and that will be more important as the nature of workplaces change. Students will want to continue studying and collaborating online post-pandemic.
  • Integrating #UDL guidelines by giving students the choice of text, audio, or video responses should continue.
  • Using instructional design by laying out outcomes, inputs, learning activities and assessment for each chunk of course strengthens f2f classes as well.
  • Spending more time establishing relationships and building rapport are important in any environment.
  • Attending to cognitive load for teachers and students by choose a few versatile tools that work for a range of purposes is something to keep in mind post-pandemic.
  • Continue to teach with compassion. Being fair doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. What’s fair is not having the same due dates, but that everyone has a due date that takes into account the differences in unchosen realities. 
  • Teaching/learning online has allowed us to create more flexibility in how we assess, when we assess and what to assess, which allows students to discover their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Covering everything in the curriculum doesn’t not mean rushing through everything to cover all the material. It’s more important to focus on learning outcomes. 
  • It’s important to build on the ideas that emphasize learning over assessing, trust over proctoring and effort over achievement.

We hope #CdnELTchat can provide the space for #ELT educators across Canada and beyond to continue to reflect on what we’re learning, what we’re finding challenging and what solutions we’ve tried, especially during this time. Use the hashtag #CdnELTchat anytime to connect and to share information of interest to the #CdnELT community. 

#CdnELTchat is a collaborative effort that we hope will lead to more reflective practice for all of us involved in ELT. If you are interested in joining our team, or have any ideas for topics, please send @StanzaSL, @EALStories, @Jennifermchow, or @ELTAugusta a tweet. Our Padlet is also always open for your questions and comments. 

Jen Bio Pic

Jennifer is passionate about learning how technology can empower her students. After experiencing how technology enabled her to stay connected as an educator, a parent and an active citizen, she is motivated to find the same opportunities for her students. Twitter: @jennifermchow

 

Extending Perspective: From Local to Global

Standard

by Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Several years ago I decided it was time to do a master’s degree. I was a dedicated, passionate English teacher and intended to continue to develop my career in the field, but felt that I wanted to step outside the boundaries of teaching English to speakers of other language (TESOL) to explore teaching and learning in a broader context. After all, English classes are certainly not the only places we find English language learners, and speakers of various Englishes are found all over the world. I applied and was accepted to the University of British Columbia’s Master of Education, Adult Learning and Global Change (ALGC) program, and so began my journey to extending my perspective on adult education beyond the traditional parameters of English language teaching (ELT).

I refer to my learning experience as a journey because the changes in my perspective have not come from single illuminating moments, but have developed gradually over the course of my studies. When considering the options for graduate studies, the international nature of the ALGC program was a significant draw for me. I am somewhat well-travelled, and as a teacher of individuals from all over the world, I learn about different languages and cultures daily; therefore, I thought a program with a global focus was a good fit for me. In hindsight, I have not changed my thoughts on my suitability, but I now realize that my perspective and approach to teaching was much less international than I believed, as it was limited to the individualized and localized realms of linguistics and intercultural competence. Through my studies, my perspective has now extended from the individual to the collective and from the local to the global.

Interestingly, my previously narrow focus of ELT is exactly the criticism of the field by prominent writers studying the global spread of English such as Alastair Pennycook and Robert Phillipson. Pennycook (2001) critiqued applied linguistics, the basis of ELT, as “…limited to an overlocalized and undertheorized view…” (p.5). Likewise, Phillipson (1992) espoused the need to look at the wider historical, social, economic, and political contexts and implications of the field. When I first read these criticisms I struggled not to be defensive, but I questioned their claims on three bases. The first is on the pragmatic grounds. My thoughts were in line with those of well-known author David Crystal (2003). His view is that it is simply practical to learn English because it increases an individual’s opportunities for employment and a nation’s opportunities to participate in the global economy. I now understand that to be a gross simplification of the spread of English around the world that underestimates issues such as social, economic, and political inequalities and ignores issues of linguistic human rights. Secondly, I considered the possibility that the work of Pennycook and Phillipson was outdated. ELT as a profession had its inception in the 1950s (Phillipson, 1992), so I had to question if 20-year-old literature, in a profession that is only 60 years old, was still valid. In my experience, ELT is a rapidly developing field with many areas of growth and specialization, so I reasoned that much must have changed in the past two decades. Here I was both right and wrong. A lot has changed in terms of classroom pedagogy and intercultural competence; however, the scope of ELT, the very source of criticisms, has remained unchanged. Finally, I questioned whether or not their work, focused as it is on English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes where English is not a primary national language, is applicable to the context of English as an Additional Language (EAL) classes where English is one of the primary national languages. It is this final question which I will explore at length here.

I consider ELT a helping profession as well as part of the wider field of adult education, so it was hard to accept that the products of English language teachers’ work may not contribute to the world in only a positive way. However, my new found and extended perspective on the field concedes that the Phillipson and Pennycook’s criticism of ELT, as narrow and lacking in critical analysis, are applicable to at least some degree to the EAL context where English is a primary national language. At the beginning of the ALGC program I had to identify my learning goals and what the evidence of my learning would be. As an EAL professional with a strong focus on classroom practice, most of my goals were directly linked to teaching, and I identified teaching materials and practices to be evidence of my learning. Herein lays a double-edged sword. Connecting learning to practice is a strength at the same time as my narrow focus on the classroom makes me guilty of Phillipson’s and Pennycook’s criticisms. This leaves English language teachers with the challenge of extending our perspective outside our daily practice and then incorporating that extended perspective back into our daily practice. The intent is not to shift our focus, but to widen it. As English language teachers move from the individual to the collective and from the local context to the global context of our work, the connections are less direct and the implications less obvious, but are nonetheless important to our practice as EAL professionals.

In my experience most EAL instructors approach their role from the humanist perspective, an orientation to learning that focuses on the individual learners and their well-being (Fenwick, 2001). For me, this meant that when asked to identify the micro, meso and macro contexts of my work, I identified the learners’ personal contexts, the institution I work for, and the field of EAL in Canada respectively. In contrast, my new extended perspective situates my institution with its programs and students at the micro-level, the field of TESOL in Canada at the meso-level and the field of ELT (both EAL and EFL) globally at the macro-level of my work context. What does this mean for practice? It means that my practice has more depth; it means that I connect the English as a global language to my Canadian classroom with more than just passing reference. One simple example is in recognition of the pluralism of English. In the past, I would highlight differences in Canadian, American, British, and Australian English in classroom discussions and lessons. Today, I reach beyond the core English speaking countries to explicitly recognize other Englishes such as the varieties spoken in African countries such as Nigeria and Asian countries such as the Philippines. This serves to validate both those languages and the students’ prior learning, and to foster an inclusive learning environment.

Upon reflection, I think it is the constructivist pedagogy of ELT that led me to identify the learners as the micro level of my work context and to initially resist Phillipson’s (1992) critique of ELT as lacking in context. As EAL instructors, we are trained to take a constructivist approach to lessons; we focus on the learners’ individual contexts to plan lessons that are relevant to the learners’ lives and we draw on their background knowledge and prior learning to activate their schema (Doolittle, 1999). With this narrow focus on context, I believed the students’ personal contexts and histories to be the global aspect of my learning. However, I learned through my studies that the global aspect of teaching EAL is much broader than the international citizenship of the students. It encompasses ELT around the world and the role of English language teaching in globalization. Globalization has both beneficial and detrimental consequences (Chanda, 2002), and unfortunately, ELT plays a significant role in one of the negative effects, the decline of global languages.

Although the field of ELT’s contribution to the decline of global languages is primarily a result of EFL and educational language planning policies which stress the importance of English for participation in the global economy, the focus on English for newcomers to Canada is also a factor. Families are the primary cultural carriers in society, but new immigrants are perhaps so busy with day-to-day tasks, working, and learning English that they may neglect to make a conscious effort to teach their children their mother tongue. This is particularly true once the children begin school and quickly become fluent in English. While learning English may be an important part of creating human capital, Skutnabb-Kangas (1999) stressed the need for fluency in a mother-tongue as well in order to be able to speak to family members and to form one’s identity. She referred to this as a cultural right on the individual level. Similarly, when speakers are from a minority language group, it is considered the collective right, and a linguistic human right, of the group to foster the development of their language (Phillipson et al, 1995). As EAL teachers, if we extend our perspective further than our local contexts, we can instruct in a way that recognizes linguistic human rights. The key to this is to situate English as another language rather than as a replacement for the languages of the students’ home countries. This means foregoing English-only policies in classrooms and when possible incorporating students’ first languages in lessons. It may also be possible through activities such as discussions and journal writing to bring the topic of language transmission to the next generation to the classroom.

It is in these ways and with these implications that my perspective has grown from individual to collective and local to global. Despite its congruency with criticism of ELT, at the time when I began to consider the options for post graduate studies, my inclination to explore the broader field of adult education was not at all connected to a critical reflection of the field of English language teaching. I see it now as the desire to go beyond my knowledge of teaching methodology and instructional strategies to contextualize my work and learning globally. I think it is likely that the implications of my studies and my newly extended perspective will continue to surface in my daily practice in the years to come and I hope that by sharing my journey outside the confines of ELT I have planted a seed for extending the perspective of your practice and of our field.

References

Chanda, N. (2002). Coming together: Globalization means reconnecting the human community. Yale Global Online. Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization. Retrieved from: http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/about/essay.jsp

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a global language (2nd ed.). UK: Cambridge University Press.

Doolittle, P. (1999). Constructivism and online education. Proceedings from the 1999 Online conference on teaching online in higher education. 1, 13. Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University.

Fenwick, T. (2001). Experiential learning: A theoretical critique from five perspectives. Information series no. 385. ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. Columbus: OH.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Introduction In Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. UK: Oxford University Press.

Philliipson, R., Rannut, M., & Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1995). Introduction in Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson (Eds.), Linguistic human rights: Overcoming Linguistic discrimination. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (1999). Linguistic diversity, human rights and the “free” market. In Miklos Kontra et al (Ed.), Language: A right and a resource. Budapest: Central European University Press.

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Cari-Ann Roberts Gotta is a BC native who has returned after a long stint in Alberta where she worked at Bow Valley College. She is currently the School Chair for International at Selkirk College and the BC TEAL regional representative for the Kootenays.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Roberts Gotta, C. (2017, Winter). Extending Perspective: From Local to Global. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

Self-Care: An Ethical Imperative for English as an Additional Language Teachers

Standard

by Diana Jeffries

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Starting a new life in a new country while coping with the adversity of migration is for most new immigrants and refugees an overwhelming and challenging experience. New immigrants and refugees are compelled to come to Canada for a variety of reasons. Even though Canada is a multicultural society, newcomers still need to learn English or French so that they can participate in Canadian society as a whole.

We as teachers support many students as they continue to find their path and weave into Canada’s social fabric. However, we don’t only teach language but we also help our students to make community connections that supports social cohesion. We celebrate our students’ perseverance and resilience every day they show up in our classes to learn and engage with their new community. We become part of our students’ strength and support them with resources that build their capacity to learn in our multicultural classrooms. We play an important role in helping students acquire the much needed English or French language skills for work and social inclusion.

Although we as teachers have an opportunity and obligation to support our students as they are learning English, I have found in my own teaching practice for the past 14 years that there is often little attention given by teachers and their employers on how English as an additional language (EAL) teachers cope with stress. Teachers struggle with relationships with administrators, time pressures, excessive workloads, societal expectations, and feelings of isolation in the classroom (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2005). In addition, there are added demands made on teachers, such as the expectation that teachers will continue with education and training, and at the same time there is a lack of new and diverse teaching and professional development opportunities from within EAL education programs. These stressors can lead to disillusionment and depression.

There needs to be further studies on the stressors that are experienced by the unique and complex teaching assignments done by EAL teachers. Education programs often highlight their ability to meet the needs of students but rarely factor in the needs of teachers. Therefore, until the private, non-profit, and public sectors of education all take action to better support the needs of EAL professionals, it is up to teachers to find ways of self-care. If teachers can’t find ways to recognize and manage their stress, they will continue to be susceptible to compassion fatigue and burnout. The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn out, but can coexist. Compassion Fatigue can occur due to exposure on one case or can be due to “cumulative” level of trauma.

Many teachers are unaware of what compassion fatigue looks like. While it is commonly linked with other stressors, there are hallmark signs of compassion fatigue such as: avoidance, detachment, addiction, sadness and grief, changes in beliefs and expectations, and assumptions. There can be somatic or emotional complaints too and all of these symptoms can signal to a teachers the need to step back and examine their workplace health.

Burnout is considered to be an element of compassion fatigue and it has been defined as the psychological strain of working with difficult populations (McCann & Pearlmann, 1990). Burnout is also seen in the deterioration and depletion of care caused by excessive work related demands (Brady, Guy, Poelstra, & Brokaw, 1999).

Burnout and compassion fatigue can be experienced by any teacher, but for those teachers working with refugees that have experienced traumatic events, teachers can also suffer from vicarious trauma as a result of being exposed to the stories of trauma told by refugee students. Vicarious trauma is related to working with vulnerable populations that have suffered from pain and trauma, and that trauma is then vicariously experienced by the teacher. Vicarious trauma is often a concern for social workers and other health care providers, but arguably teachers can often experience it just as acutely. Those professionals more susceptible to vicarious trauma are those who are overworked, ignore healthy boundaries, have too high an expectation of their role as a teacher, are new to the profession or the particular classroom setting, and work with large numbers of people who have suffered from trauma.

Some of the impacts of compassion fatigue, burnout, or vicarious trauma on teachers include change in identity, world view, or even spiritual beliefs. While teachers are at risk of succumbing to these stressors, there are many things teachers can do to help manage it. There are protective factors that can help overcome these real obstacles to health and work as an EAL professional. The protective factors include: having a good social support, strong ethical principles of practice, continuing education, competence in teaching practice, and the ability to deliberately step back to minimize the impact on one’s health and wellbeing. If left unmanaged, symptoms of burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma can have a destructive effect on professional and personal lives. These destructive effects can also including losing the ability to have a positive helping relationship with students.

Self-care, therefore, is an ethical imperative. Teachers have an obligation to students as well as to themselves, their colleagues, and their loved ones—not to be damaged by their work. One way of doing that is through understanding the ABC’s of self-care: Awareness, Balance, and Connection (Saakvitne & Pearlman, 1996).

Awareness refers to being attuned to one’s own needs, limits, and emotions. It includes self-reflection, debriefing, journaling, meditation, and other mindfulness-type activities. It is developing awareness of how your work as a teacher will affect your worldview and psychological well-being. It is the awareness of your own needs.

Balance refers to the strategies for enhancing life balance between work, play, and rest. Balance includes: time spent with non-work friends and family, creative outlets, and basic physical care such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep. It means taking time for leisure pursuits such as listening to music, reading for pleasure, or spending time in nature. It also means knowing one’s own limits, keeping boundaries, and recognizing that no teacher is alone in facing the stress of the workplace. Balance means maintaining realistic expectations of oneself at work and seeking out activities that foster a sense of control and optimism.

Connection refers to a connection with oneself, to others, and to something larger. These connection strategies include: developing a social network beyond the workplace, political activism that is attuned to your values, community involvement, and paying attention to spiritual needs.

The ABC’s of self-care are much easier to set up when there is a self-care plan in place. The plan may include:

  • Setting up goals such as taking a meditation workshop to build awareness of feelings at work.
  • Creating balance goals by building in reminders to take breaks and get out into nature every week.
  • Making connections a priority by spending more time in with friends and family away from work, or join a social group such as a choir or sports team.

For you as a teacher, developing a self-care plan is not only about minimizing the strain of working in a highly demanding profession, it is also about enhancing the positive aspects of your work. Most of us teachers can testify to the joy of participating in the development of another person’s education and growth and most teachers will meet the needs of students and the school administration, but in order to continue to maintain a high quality of education for others, self-care must become a priority for all. Self-care needs to be supported by employers. The continuous expectations and demands made by employers can be overwhelming for teachers, but if employers promote and encourage teachers to have a self-care plan then the work can still be done with care and compassion. EAL schools need strategies to design and promote supportive work sites, and employers must take responsibility for establishing a supportive and respectful environment where there is an understanding of the effects of working with vulnerable populations such as EAL students.

Making a self-care plan using the ABC’s (Assessment, Balance, and Connection) will alleviate the stressors caused by compassion fatigue, burnout, and vicarious trauma. In my classroom, I spend the first five minutes doing some deep breathing exercises and light stretches. This is not only for my students to pause and calm their nervous systems, but also for my own benefit. I also do my best to make time for my life outside of work, and I find the ritual of meditation helps me to stay conscious and present at work. My empathy and compassion for others makes my teaching practice effective and fulfilling, but I can only maintain my care for others if I have a self-care plan for myself. We must take good care of ourselves by monitoring how we react in stressful situations in our profession and know that it is the obligation we have to ourselves and our students to promote self-care so that we can maintain health and happiness in the EAL profession for years to come.

References

Boyle, G., Borg, M., Falzon, J., & Baglioni, A. (1995 March 01). A structural Model of the

Dimensions of Teacher Stress. Retrieved November 20, 2016 from PubMed:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7727267

Brady, J., Guy, J., Poelstra, P., & Brokaw, B. (1999) Vicarious traumatizatio, spirituality, and the

treatment of sexual abuse survivors. Professional Psychology, 30 386-393.

Hakanen, J.J., Bakker,AB, & Schaufeli, WB. (2005, Nov. 05). Burnout and Work engagement among teachers. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2016, from Journal of School Psychology http://curriculumstudies.pbworks.com/f/Burnout.pdf

McCann, L. & Pearlman, L (1990) Vicarious traumatization: a framework for understanding the

psychological effects of working with victims: Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3 (1) 131-149

Saaskvitne, KW & Pearlman KW (1996) Transforming the Pain. New York: Norton&Company

The American Institute of Stress. (2016, Nov. 20). Compassion Fatigue Definitions. Retrieved

from The American Institute of Stress: http//www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Diana Jeffries has been involved in the EAL sector for the past 15 years. She worked for ISS of BC in the LINC program and was an instructor for other settlement programs where she specialized in working with refugees and multi-barrier learners. She presently works at Pacific Immigrant Resource Society in the women’s refugee program and she is the Literacy and Language Support Supervisor for DiverCity. Diana has had a successful art career and has implemented art based learning into her classroom teaching practice. She has been a strong advocate for the rights of refugees in Canada and volunteer on the BCTEAL board as the Chair of Research and Inquiry.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Jeffries, D.  (2017, Winter). Self-Care: An ethical imperative for English as an additional language teachers. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

Building Anti-Racism in Ourselves and in the Classroom

Standard

By Tanya Cowie

In our field, many of us strive daily to create a comfortable and safe classroom. We look at our biases, teach with empathy, and model cultural understanding. We want everyone to feel they are accepted and that their diversity is respected and worthy, but are we doing enough? 

Different perspectives and opinions make for wonderful discussions, but conflict still occurs. I have found by using respectful guidelines, like BC TEAL’s, to guide classroom discussions, as well as talking about accepting cultural differences, useful. However, we have to also look at historical factors that have led to racism, both for ourselves as instructors and for our students. Two recent online events brought this home to me.

Intersectionality

I participated in a twitter chat on intersectionality with #CdnELTchat that was really thought provoking. By looking at the parts that make up one’s identity, you can become aware of how you see yourself in the world and how you think others see you. I realized, by taking part in the intersectionality wheel activity, that I see myself as a teacher, mom, and west coast Canadian before I see myself as white. Many of the BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Colour) instructors saw themselves as their race first. This gave me huge insight into the privilege I have taken for granted. It also made me think more about my classroom and the part that race plays in it. 

Anti-Racist Education

One of the most meaningful webinars I attended this year was when BC TEAL hosted Ismaël Traoré on November 26th. The title of his talk was Beyond Celebrating Diversity: Basic Principles of Anti-Racist Education (click the title to watch). He gave us some great suggestions on how we can develop as anti-racist educators.  

Ismaël talked about how the theory of intercultural communication aims at teaching the differences in culture to help us understand each other. The belief is that the root of conflict is cross cultural misunderstanding. This is a good start, but the anti-racist paradigm suggests it is incomplete.

Ismaël said that a critique of the intercultural communication paradigm is that it does not take notice of the dominant power. It undermines disparities in social outcomes. Looking at things from an anti-racist lens allows people to recognize the unequal access to power and focuses on organizational equity.

He says racism in education, and all institutions, discriminates against racialized people. It does not allow for a feeling of belonging and, therefore, creates disparities in racial outcomes. 

We look at different cultures as “other” and the Canadian dominant culture as the norm, which can hold more power and have more agency. Even if we are sincerely working towards a classroom with equity, we cannot get there without considering the racism that is built into our society and institutions. We need to unlearn racism. Ismaël made many suggestions for teaching with this anti-racist lens. I invite you to read the suggestions (click on the button below) as we try to do more to make everyone around us feel they are accepted. Check in with yourself; are you really doing enough?

Come tweet with #CdnELTchat   

Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.

What are you doing to be a more inclusive/anti-racist teacher?

Write your comments in the comments section!  

  References 

#CdnELTchat Summary for January 26, 2021 (What should we leave behind in #ELT?)

Standard

#CdnELTchat summary for January 26, 2021
By Bonnie Nicholas

What should we leave behind in #ELT?

Whether we were ready or not, since last spring COVID-19 has forced almost all of us to become online teachers. For many of us working in ELT, the move to online teaching was a giant leap out of our comfort zone. As the pandemic enters its second year and mostly-online teaching and learning continues, we have an opportunity to think critically about our practices and to reflect on what we should maybe leave behind. This was the theme for the January 26 #CdnELTchat; the follow-up chat is on what we should keep going forward.

These are the questions that guided our discussion: 

  • The pandemic has been called “the great pause”. As we pause many of our habitual activities what have you learned? What don’t you need as much as you perhaps once thought you did?
  • With many of us working from home, we may have abandoned our work spaces. What have you perhaps left at your workplace that you now realize you don’t need to be an effective teacher?
  • Are there any teaching practices that you have left behind? Were you surprised that these practices weren’t as effective as you thought and that you really didn’t need them?
  • Are there things that you would like to leave behind but can’t because of program or funding requirements? How can you reconcile this?
  • Are there attitudes towards learning that you will leave behind after the pandemic ends and we return to a new normal (whatever that looks like)? 

You can read the collected tweets from this chat on Wakelet or by searching Twitter using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. Here’s a list of suggestions that were offered during the chat for what we can think about leaving behind when the pandemic is over:

  • the need to control everything
  • all the paper we thought we needed – and all the photocopying!
  • working so many long hours
  • a physical classroom / a physical workplace
  • rushing to “finish” a course or “cover” the curriculum at the cost of learning
  • the worry that we are not teaching students enough tech skills for workplace success
  • Sunday 11:59 deadlines
  • widespread proctoring and the belief that students must be trying to cheat
  • forcing students to have cameras on
  • teaching without sensitivity or compassion for students’ lived experiences

Do you agree or disagree with this list? What would you add or take away? What is something you know you should leave behind but find difficult to let go? What habits do you need to change? 

Our hope is that connecting through a social medium like Twitter will lead to more reflective practice for all of us. We invite anyone to continue the conversation asynchronously by using the hashtag #CdnELTchat. We hold chats on a wide range of topics every couple of weeks, usually on Tuesday evenings. We’re always looking for people interested in sharing their passion for a particular topic in #ELT by co-moderating a chat or by joining the team. Reach out to Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), Augusta Avram (@ELTaugusta), Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), or Bonnie Nicholas (@bonniejnicholas).

zAB6NaOy_400x400Bonnie Nicholas (@BonnieJNicholas) is an enthusiastic participant in the bi-monthly #CdnELTchat as well as a member of the #CdnELTchat team along with Svetlana Lupasco (@StanzaSL), Jennifer Chow (@jennifermchow), and Augusta Avram (@ELTAugusta). Bonnie teaches LINC at NorQuest College in Edmonton.

 

Teaching Syrian Refugees in a Small Community

Standard

by Lian Clark

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

It all started several months ago. I was taking the TESL program at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. The program was about to come to an end, and I was feeling the pressure to look for a teaching position. When a job posting to teach Syrian refugees came through BC TEAL’s website, I was really interested. With a background of helping immigrants to settle and integrate into the local community, I got the job. The position involved developing and delivering an eight-week English as an additional language (EAL) course to a group of newly arrived Syrian refugees in a small town in the British Columbia interior. The primary aim of the course was to increase their English skills so that they could integrate into their new community.

The location of this EAL course may be a small town, but it is definitely not a small community. Shortly after the arrival of the first four Syrian families, local people realized that language was the key for them to settle in their new lives in Canada. Since there was no government support at the time, the community raised enough funds to hire a teacher through donations and fundraising. In addition to financial support, there were always two volunteers from the community attending classes, and groups of volunteers to look after the children while their parents were in the classroom.

Learning English was a matter of survival for those newly arrived refugees. They needed language skills to carry out daily tasks, to communicate with people in the local communities, to understand Canadian culture, to look for employment opportunities, and to train for a job. Learning about etiquette is always important. After conducting a thorough need analysis, I designed a course syllabus and planned for the first and subsequent lessons.

For my very first class, I planned to let my students know my expectations of them. Considering this group of students didn’t know much English, and all of them spoke Arabic as their first language, I decided to bring in an Arabic-speaking interpreter to make sure all the students understood my introduction to the program. With the help of the interpreter, I welcomed the students, introduced myself, and distributed a notebook and a binder to each student. I explained that there were no textbooks for the class, and the students would learn practical English that could be used in their own daily lives. I indicated that the class would often work in pairs or small groups to give students more opportunities to talk in English; however, if students were not ready to talk or say something in English, they could just listen for a while and participate silently by nodding their heads or pointing. Last but not least, I expected each student to speak in English during classes. They were only allowed to speak in Arabic at the beginning or at the end of each class, during the breaks. They could also speak in Arabic when they had questions or needed more information on something. Thanks to the interpreter, my expectations were clear to the students in the first class, and I did benefit from setting a respectful tone toward each individual and their culture; hence, the students would learn to respect, understand, and collaborate with each other. 

The program started with a group of eight students, who were actually four couples. The first day, they chose to sit beside their spouses. Naturally, whenever there was a question, there was a discussion between spouses in Arabic. I assigned them to sit with different students during the second class. Soon, the students began to make friends and got comfortable with each other. Obviously, Arabic was still frequently heard in the classroom. When students got used to the relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, something totally unexpected happened.

The second week of the program, a class discussion went out of control; there was a debate in Arabic between two male students. The wife of one of the male students also joined the discussion with an upsetting tone of voice. In a minute, the discussion heated up and turned into an argument. As the high volume of the voices extremely agitated both parties, I failed to intervene. When the husband asked to be excused, I gladly let him leave the classroom before his wife burst in tears. The class finished with me introducing key vocabulary such as “conflict” and “argument” to describe what had just happened; however, I knew I had to come up with a way to turn things around. The next day, both families came to class, but I could easily see that they were avoiding each other. That day happened to be the birthday of one of the students, so we had a little celebration. Before sharing the cake, I deliberately made some interaction between the two wives to break the ice a little. After having some treats, I started the conversation by addressing the conflict and confessing how helpless I felt as a teacher. I opened a discussion for solutions in situations like that and asked the students to work in groups. I particularly asked them to write down their ideas of classroom norms and rules on a poster. That activity went great with all students participating and giving opinions. My students were puzzled when I said that I was actually glad that there was an argument in the classroom. I explained how this conflict not only fostered new ideas, alternatives, and solutions, but most importantly it led to growth and change by building more synergy and cohesion among us. After the class, one of the classroom assistants shared the heartwarming moment she just witnessed outside the classroom: two Syrian men double-kissed each other on the cheek, and hugged. Peace arrived.

When reflecting on this teaching experience, one of the unexpected challenges was flexibility. During the interview, the hiring committee and I agreed that “being flexible” is an important component of this job; however, we totally underestimated the extent of that flexibility. The challenges I experienced were having toddlers in the classroom with their parents, interruptions by childminders for unexpected incidents, constantly preparing backup plans to meet the students’ various learning needs, etc. Adjusting plans was the most frequent challenge. For instance, I planned to show a video on popular culture. After a few minutes of viewing, I realized my students had difficulty in following the language and cultural information. I had to adjust my plan to include a study of the key vocabulary, an explanation of some cultural norms involved, and a discussion on the differences between popular culture in Canada and Syria. stretching flexibility, the impact of a spontaneous question or discussion on my students’ learning always delightfully surprised me. When I followed their needs and the flow of the class atmosphere, I was not only experiencing naturally emerging wonderful teaching moments, but also establishing my unique teaching style. Most importantly, I was establishing rapport with my students by showing my care for their learning and my effort in catering to their needs.

Thanks to the generosity of the community, the initial eight-week program was extended one more month, then another three months. It has been five months now, and the program is still running. Due to the one-year sponsorship agreement, which is coming to an end, some of my students are expected to find employment to support themselves. Even though they have made significant progress in the past five months, the language barrier would still be the biggest challenge for them to find suitable jobs. I expressed my concerns to a new friend I met through the BC TEAL Reginal Conference, and his wise insight into life has brought me some comfort:  “Desire for the best is never too ambitious; doing what is necessary to get there is important for achieving satisfaction” (Michael Wicks).

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Lian Clark is a new member of BC TEAL. She is teaching community EAL programs in the BC Interior. She has taught EAL at private schools in China. Having a background as a settlement and integration counsellor supporting immigrants in BC communities, she is interested in language learning and cultural transition as well as teaching students of refugee and trauma backgrounds.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Clark, L.  (2017, Winter). Teaching Syrian refugees in a small community. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

AIDS and Health Education Award: Community English Classes for Women

Standard

by Amea Wilbur

[This article was first printed in the Winter 2017 issue of TEAL News.]

Rima arrived in Canada in February 2016. She came with her husband and four children, her youngest child is 4 months old. Her husband just started language classes. Rima really wants to learn English so she can help her children, make friends, and participate in Canadian society. She is lonely and wishes she had family close by to help her. Her son Sayid has a disability and she knows she will have to attend many doctors appointments with him. She sometimes feels like she is back in Syria listening to the bombs go off. She has many dreams for her family and particularly her children. She would really like to attend Language Instruction for Newcomer (LINC) to Canada classes but can’t because her children are too young.

Between November 4th, 2015 and June 27th, 2016, 28,755 refugees arrived in Canada, many of them like Rima. They fled war, persecution, torture, and faced multiple losses before arriving on our shores. This story is based on the many stories I heard working with refugee women. There are thousands of mothers like Rima, who have come to Canada to make a better life for their children.

For someone like Rima, settling here can seem insurmountable. Rima does not know the language to be able to speak to her children’s teachers, clinic staff, or dentist. She does not have family or friends here to support her. She does not understand the education system and worries about what her children will learn here. She knows how valuable it is to learn English. She wants to attend government funded language programs called Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC). She can’t attend until her youngest child reaches 18 months. She is worried because she also knows if she misses more than two LINC classes a month, she may be asked to leave. Rima also struggles with flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, and memory. Rima continues to have a lot of hope too. She believes her children will have different opportunities than she had in Syria after the war.

In 2016, Pacific Immigrant Resources Society (PIRS) was fortunate enough to be awarded the BC TEAL AIDS and Health Award for curriculum development to support refugee women like Rima who have experienced trauma and are struggling to find their way here. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you how the award was used and the ways we are trying to respond to the needs of women like Rima.

In late 2015, PIRS saw a need to find a way to support newly arrived refugee women and their young children. My own doctoral research identified some of the barriers that students who have experienced trauma faced in accessing government funded English as an additional language (EAL) classes, in particular LINC classes. Some of the barriers include lack of childcare space, attendance expectations, lack of understanding about the impact of trauma on learning, assessment practices, and not feeling ready for a LINC class. 

We at PIRS felt we might be able to fill a gap and respond to the needs to of refugee women. We have 41 years of experience working with refugee and immigrant women. PIRS was not looking to replace the LINC classes but to provide language support for women who are not quite ready to enter LINC classes. In April 2015, we piloted an EAL class for refugee women, specifically women who have experienced trauma, at Edmonds Community School. We had 20 women and 21 children attend the program.

Our program and curriculum were different than the LINC program. We wanted to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of the participants. Women, in the pilot class, brought their babies, and we were able to provide childcare for the older children. Many of the women had experienced violence and trauma, and some have never been in an educational setting before. Being comfortable and feeling safe is was the primary goal of the instructor.

We used the following guiding themes in developing the curriculum:

Control: Trauma can rob people of their sense of control and power over their lives. One of the first steps in supporting people with trauma is to provide a sense of safety and to equip them with the language to identify their feelings and experiences. Our curriculum covered language around feelings. We also developed lesson plans that addressed mental wellness and personal well-being.

Connection: Trauma can destroy the bonds between an individual, their family, and their community. Therefore, one means of supporting students who have experienced trauma is facilitating connection with others. Our curriculum and classes offered opportunities for women to get to know each other and develop friendships in the classroom. As well, they learned about the education system, parenting in the Canadian context, how to best support their children, and social services.

Meaning: Trauma can dismantle one’s sense of value in the world. Students need to gain a new sense of self and hope—so they can look toward the future. Our curriculum did this by having the women think about their own interests, passion, and hopes.

BC TEAL has shown leadership by supporting the needs of refugees. I am honoured and proud that BC TEAL funded our curriculum and program. This funding has helped to ensure that women like Rima are given the much needed support and opportunity to engage in our communities. PIRS is hopeful that the continued support for refugee women, such as Rima, can continue. In this time when we are witness to divisive and social strain, it is essential that we continue to create innovative, and inclusive programs and curriculum. Our students can offer as much to Canadian society as it can offer them.

Biographical Information (From the Winter 2017 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter)

Dr. Amea Wilbur completed her Doctorate at UBC looking at how to make government funded language for adults more inclusive for students who have experienced trauma. She has facilitated numerous workshops on how to support students who have experienced trauma in the EAL classroom. She, along with Diana Jeffries, created “ Beyond Trauma: Language Learning Strategies for New Canadians Living with Trauma” through LISTN. Dr. Wilbur currently works for Pacific Immigrant Resources Society as the Program Manager.

This article is licensed under a

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Original reference information:

Wilber, A.  (2017, Winter). Community English classes for women. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/TEAL-News-Winter-2017.pdf

Navigating the New Classroom

Standard

By Tanya Cowie

Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible

and find joy as best we can.

Tanya Cowie

As EAL instructors, we are used to dealing with intercultural challenges, such as students not wanting to work with each other and misunderstandings. This is stressful, and given we are now teaching and learning online, even more intense. Students are also dealing with tech stress and those with disabilities can have an even tougher time. I was fortunate to attend some online events that promoted mindfulness in intercultural communication and the realities of the new classroom, and wanted to share what I learned.

Being Mindful

Last October, BC TEAL/SIETAR BC’s Self-Studies in Language and Pedagogy included a webinar on Mindfulness and Intercultural Communication with Amea Wilbur and Taslim Damji. This was a great reminder to be mindful in all our interactions with students (and colleagues!). The key is to be aware of yourself and notice your physical sensations, your emotions and feelings, and your thoughts and behaviours. Follow this cycle in times of communication breakdowns: breathe, suspend judgement, take a step back, reflect on what happened, and then decide on a goal and how to get there. Many times, if we are mindful of our responses and find curiosity in the moment, we will handle things better. 

Handling Tech Stress

We especially need to be mindful of tech stresses involved with switching to online. Our students have not only had to learn new technologies, but getting the actual devices is also difficult for some. True inequalities are apparent. Some students can only use a phone to connect, some are without wifi, and many are without a video cam. In the webinar Digital Equity (a SIETAR/ Langara event), Dr. Suzanne Smythe recounted that the CTRC found that 31% of Canadians who earned less than $33,000 a year did not have access to the internet, and 37% did not have a working home computer. This includes many of our students.  I have to remind myself to assess English, not tech skills.  Being flexible helps. I give students multiple ways to submit assessments, such as sending videos via email or an app; I reset listening assessments if there are wifi interruptions and give extensions if possible. 

Learning Technology for Students with Disabilities

For students with disabilities, moving online can create even more difficulties with course materials and digital platforms. In another BC TEAL/SIETAR BC  self-studies webinar, Seeing Beyond Vision Loss, Anu Pala talked about students with vision loss navigating online platforms. Anu has complete vision loss, and due to this lived experience and her being tech savvy, she helps teachers and students learn what technology can be adapted. (Watch for Anu at our next BC TEAL conference!) 

Finding Joy

If you have not tweeted with #CdnELTchat you should! It is such a great platform for discussions about all things EAL and tech. While participating, I always feel inspired. Recently they had a twitter session on the stresses of teaching/learning online and we talked about finding joy in these difficult times. For me, teaching with my dog sleeping at my feet helps me to see some happiness in these times of the pandemic.

Surviving Covid

Acknowledging that we have extra stresses now, and being mindful of all our interactions, can build understanding. Let’s take a deep breath, be flexible and find joy as best we can.

Further Study

If you would like to take part in discussions on diversity and equity in the classroom,
come to the next BCTEAL/ SIETAR BC Self-Studies! 
Come tweet with #CdnELTchat.  

References

Smythe, S. (2020, April 21). Digital equity and community solidarity during and after COVID-19. Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.policynote.ca/digital-equity/

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.a-nuvision.ca/

Author Jen, & Jen. (2019, October 04). #CdnELTchat Summary for September 24, 2019 (Self-care for teachers). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://bcteal.wordpress.com/2019/10/03/cdneltchat-summary-for-september-24-2019-self-care-for-teachers/

https://www.bcteal.org/bcteal_event/self-studies-in-language-and-pedagogy-october-2020/. (n.d.).

https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/self-studies-series-2020-tickets-129064618749

Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.


Putting it to You

What are you doing to make your new classroom work?

Share your ideas in the reply section below!