Complete Working with Refugees

Working with Refugees

As previously described, refugees have endured persecution of some form in their home country to be given the label of “refugee” in the US. Other than facing acculturation issues upon resettlement, refugees and asylum seekers have had tumultuous pasts and typically remember their traumas (if they’ve had them). However, the societal and mental impacts on the lives of adult and child refugees differ during resettlement. The literature states that children deal with traumatic events and resettlement with a more positive outlook, whereas adults may have more serious troubles to deal with upon their arrival (Guerrero & Tinkler, 2010; Randall & Lutz, 1991). This is because adults are developmentally able to register what certain traumatic acts mean and/or are a result of in regards to political governance, war, torture, trafficking, separation, and death.

 

Several studies have shown that adult refugees with traumatic past events or who have been clinically diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be negatively influenced by post-resettlement issues such as discrimination, acculturation, and socioeconomic stressors (Ellis, Lincoln, MacDonald, & Cabral, 2008; Olsen, 1997; Nilsson, Brown, Russel, & Khamphakdy-Brown, 2008; Westermeyer & Uecker, 1997). This is associated with the affective filter; again, when students are experiencing any form of anxiety in the classroom (regardless of age), their focus will be diminished. However, it is not to say that all students at all times in the ESL classroom will have reoccurring memories or flashbacks of past traumas. It is vital for teachers and professionals working with a population prone to past trauma to understand the varying degrees, documented cases, and effects of it as well as how to strategically intervene when their students are having problems learning and acculturating due to coping.           

 

Trauma. Although it impossible to say whether each immigrant, refugee, or asylum seeker currently resettled in the United States and New York State have endured past trauma, it can be assumed that they have encountered persecution of religion, race, political opinion, or preference toward a social group which has lead them to such extreme fear they must flee their country (UNHCR, 1951). An example case of how many people are in fact touched by a traumatic event while seeking asylum or refuge in another country is shown in a recent survey by the UNHCR. This survey says that out of a total of 3,553 Iraqi people seeking refuge in Syria, that each an every one experienced at least one, if not more, traumatic events while in Iraq. These events include surviving bombings, interrogations, death threats, and/or torture, all within a one month period (UNHCR Briefing Notes, 2008).

 

Cited in Nicholson and Walters’ 2010 article was the description of trauma found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) from the American Psychiatric Association (1994): trauma “involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threats to one’s physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; or learning about an unexpected or violent death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member of other close associate” (p. 424). Also, Nicholson and Walters describe levels of trauma as the severity of feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror over the unexpectedness of the event, the length of the occurrence, cultural and symbolic consequences, and the possible continuation of the event. 

 

This study aimed to gauge refugees’ acculturative dispositions after varying degrees of trauma. It stated that Cambodian refugees’ main trauma as being “forcibly separated” from family members and loved ones. Over 50% of the 447 participants reported separation of family because they were murdered, isolated from them, or due to other unnatural deaths. The next most reported sources of trauma were reported as ill health, lack of food and water, lack of shelter, and being close to death. Overall, they concluded that the worse the trauma, the more difficult the acculturation to their new country.

 

Traumatic experiences can lead to various long- and short-term effects in children and adults. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common effect found in much of the literature (Burns & Roberts, 2010; Ellis, MacDonald, Lincoln, & Cabral, 2008; Koessler, Wöhrmann, Zwissler, Pfeiffer, Ertl, & Kissler, 2010; Maercker, Povilonyte, Lianova, & Pöhlmann, 2008; Magro, 2007; Somach, 1995; Westermeyer & Uecker, 1997). PTSD is defined as a “psychological disturbance lasting more than one month following stresses, such as natural disasters or military combat, that would produce anxiety in anyone who experienced them” (Coon, 2005, p. G-22). The most common symptoms are psychological and include anxiety, depression, difficulty with attention/concentration, insomnia, nightmares, paranoia, and hyper-vigilance (Somach, 1995). Some cases of these include psychosomatic complaints of headaches, sweating, and dizziness. A psychosomatic disorder is an “illness in which psychological factors contribute to bodily damage or to damaging changes in bodily functions” even though the person has no bodily afflictions, the mind makes the body sick (Coon, 2005, p. G-24).

 

An example of adult PTSD is presented in Daniel Goleman’s (1994) research: an American soldier recently returned home from the Vietnam War was sleeping in his bed one night when a thunderstorm rolled over his residence. With a sharp crack of lightening, he shot out of bed and immediately became sickened with fear; in his mind, he was back on the battle lines, having intense flashbacks of the Viet Cong returning to his camp with a fellow soldier’s severed body parts on a plate in the pouring rain. He literally relived this traumatic experience.

 

Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier of Sierra Leone, recalls in his memoir witnessing and being part of several atrocities such as murder, rape, and drug use (2007). During and after the war, he suffered from flashbacks and repressed emotions. He fought for a little over two years against the rebel militia; from 13 to about 15 years old until UNICEF placed him in a rehabilitation center. In a recent interview, he stated, “Those memories of the war are now part of my makeup. But I think I've been able to transform them, so that I can use them positively, rather than focus on their harshness, because that would actually kill me — there's so much bad stuff. But I still get flashbacks. When I look at different things, it triggers memories for me” (Kirschling, 2007). Luckily, Beah was able to restructure and control his inner turmoil, however it is not the same for everyone who suffers from PTSD.

 

Victims who go without treatment can remain in a stressful state for years. Remaining in this negative condition can actually create a sense of “learned helplessness.” Helplessness, as Goleman (1994) refers to it, is one of the most catalytic components of PTSD and recovering trauma survivors. A study by Weiss (1976) showed that helplessness can be a learned attribute in rats. Rats were repeatedly given shocks; some were given the ability to push a lever to prevent the shock and others weren’t. The rats which were not given a lever to push to avoid the negative feeling had a higher stress rate, moved more slowly to prevent the shock, and eventually just came expect it. This can be compared to humans in that if there is no end in sight for the duration of a negative or traumatic event, often times, we just “give up.”

 

This feeling of helplessness can often time lead to other ways of dealing with negative memories and emotional scars. Coping mechanisms are ways or methods that many people use to deal with negative or destructive emotions and thoughts. Maladaptive coping mechanisms are commonly found in the literature on refugees and trauma victims. These methods can help the person feel better for a short period, but do not actually aid in the physical, mental, or emotional healing of the afflicted person. Some of these documented coping mechanisms involve substance and/or psychological abuse as well as violence towards family members. Maladaptive coping mechanisms are sometimes frequent: in the 2008 study of 62 female Somalian refugees, 34% reported psychological abuse from their spouse (who had experienced previous trauma) and 47% reported physical attacks (Nilsson). Other reports of substance abuse include alcohol, sedatives, and anxiety medications (Somach, 1995).

 

Forms of adaptive bereavement, or a manner of grieving for the loss of loved ones or overcoming past traumas can often times lead to repressed emotions, isolation, denial, avoidance of feelings and in some cases alexithymia, or the negation of all emotion (Somach, 1995). Hostility has also been identified as a possible aftermath of trauma in the literature. It can be defined as feelings of annoyance/irritation, uncontrollable temper outbursts, urges to harm/injure others, urges to break things, getting into arguments, shouting, and throwing things. A study suggests that hostility is regularly associated with people from traumatic pasts. Hostile acts would typically revolve around financial problems, marital problems, and mental-emotional problems (Westermeyer & Ueker, 1997).

 

Resettlement issues. Past traumatic events simply do not go away once the individual has been removed from the location where they were inflicted. Problems such as these psychological issues can have an effect that lasts even in their new home. Compounded with past trauma and often times associated psychological challenges, refugees can be faced with great anxiety and stress from being resettled (Burns & Roberts, 2010; Hussain & Bhushan, 2009; Johnson & Stoll, 2008; Nicholson & Walters, 2010; Nilsson, 2008; Olsen, 1997; Somach, 1995; Westermeyer & Ueker, 1997).

 

In fact, the same Nicholson and Walters study (2010) which measured the amounts of experiential trauma and acculturative stresses in 447 migrants of Southeast Asian descent stated that 69% of the participants rated education as a “severe” stressor and 55% rated language “severe” stressors while acculturating in the US. Educators and social workers working with resettled refugees and asylum-seekers should not always assume that people with traumatic pasts will have acculturative stress or become hostile.

 

The family structure can also be touched during resettlement. Language puts a division between children and adults in families of resettled people. As the children of refugee and immigrant families grow in the United States, they are able to attain English faster than their parents. This creates several problems. A study shows the importance of learning English for reasons other than those associated with financial stability and employment. The participants in the nationwide study included 1,001 interviewed people. They were asked several questions on their family structure and the familial dynamics before and after moving to the US and having to learn English. The study states that adults have the means to be better language learners than children, it is a rare occurrence since other needs such as work and taking care of children supersedes the need to take English classes.

 

Nonetheless, it shows that when the family’s children exceed their parents level of English ability, several problems form: frustration, anger, depression or anxiety over the loss of their language and respective culture has lead to a feeling of the undermining of the traditional, patriarchal family structure in certain cases even physical abuse among family members (Fillmore, 1991). Similarly, López (2010) shows that children can feel distressed when having to take on family responsibilities before they’re ready such as translating for and mitigating adult ordeals (paying bills, asking for directions, etc). This can cause a role-reversal between the parents and children which ultimately leads to more stress and negative actions. With family being very important to many immigrants (Valdes, YEAR), it is pivotal for American ESL teachers to uphold and respect refugees’ first languages and realize that English is not always a unifying factor; rather it can tear apart one of the most poignant lifelines a person has.

 

Culture shock. Culture shock is the instinctive reaction to a new environment. It is common among all people entering a new country or setting and is apparent within the first few hours. Symptoms experienced can be felt emotionally, mentally, and physically and present themselves in a variety of ways. Some may last a short or long period. These symptoms include a feeling of helplessness, a longing for persons of common nationality, homesickness, anger, irritability, frustration, depression, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, refusal to learn majority language, and hyper-vigilance over minor discomfort. Generally, culture shock is felt in four sequential phases, each can last anywhere from a few days to several months, but people can revert back to previous stages. However, the feelings follow a similar pattern which is discerned by the stages that are displayed in Table 4.

 

Discrimination. Refugees working through trauma and culture shock also have reported several instances of discrimination upon resettlement in the US. Discrimination can make one hesitant to join the mainstream culture out of resentment or fear. Especially in a country typically described as being ethnocentric as well as having a plethora of other cultures in it who can be ethnocentric towards their own culture as well, or just different from the refugee’s and the mainstreamed culture, it is very possible that discrimination occurs regularly. Discrimination is defined by the Legal Information Institute (2010) as when the civil rights of an individual are denied or interfered with because of their membership in a particular group or class. This leads to the list of civil rights and liberties that all people in the US are inherently endowed with: such as the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion, as well as due process, the right to vote, equal and fair treatment by law enforcement and the courts, and the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, such as equal access to public schools, recreation, transportation, public facilities, and housing (Nolo, 2010).

Table 4

Stages of Culture Shock

 

 

Stage

 

Symptoms

 

1

 

Honeymoon

 

Fascination, novelty of newness, enthusiasm, admiration of surroundings, however, these feelings are superficial. Heavy reliance on people from same nationality

 

 

2

 

Hostile/Aggressive

 

Individual struggles with language, concepts, & values. Feelings of inadequacy, frustration, anxiety, and anger surmount. Over-glorification of home country is seen.

 

 

3

 

Recovery

 

Individual begins to adjust, accept, and understand the new culture, customs, and language. Feelings of contentment, relief, and enjoyment are experienced.

 

 

4

 

Adjustment

 

Individual feels comfortable interacting with people and things in the new environment. Clear understanding of culture, customs, and language are apparent. These feelings are meaningful.

 

 

 

Several documented instances of discrimination have occurred in the American schools and it is a common problem with adults as well (Burns & Roberts, 2010; Ellis, MacDonald, Lincoln, & Cabral, 2008; López, 2010; Somach, 1995). A study on Hispanic English language learners’ identities and motivation in Texas and Arizona show that perceived discrimination was a constant hurtle for students in Arizona. They reported having a lower standard of self image, self-perceived scholastic competence, and were viewed as being less motivated to learn (López, 2010). Perceived discrimination outside of school has negative effects on immigrants. It leads to depression, further repression of negative emotions and thoughts, inability to cope, and economic difficulties (Ellis, MacDonald, Lincoln, & Cabral, 2008; Somach, 1995).

 

A 2003 study investigated the opinions of students and parents from the white community of a school as well as the ESL student population and their parents (Gitlin, Buendía, Corsland, & Doumbia). The parents of the ESL children were generally grateful for the physical safety and food services provided to their children despite the parents as well as their children not always understanding what the teachers, administrators, and other students were saying. When the investigators went into the school’s lunch room, they found the immigrant children sitting on the outskirts of the room while the white children sat together in the middle.

 

When worrying about affective social issues, scholastic matters can take the backseat. Several examples of students changing their cultural clothing and even customs for fear of being made fun of are presented in Olsen’s 1997 study of immigrant children in a multicultural school. The students have clear groups they socialize in, stand by on school campus, and date. They often report being stressed about leaving their group of friends and worry about being judged.

 

The similar grouping of students by ethnic origin, race, and/or cultures can be seen in Laurie Olsen’s 1997 book, Made in America. She presents a map, created by students, which shows the Latin kids standing by the F building in the courtyard, the Asians standing between the F and B buildings, the ESLers group between the F building and the temporary bungalow, black students talk between the A and C buildings, and so on. The groups consisted of the aforementioned but also include the band kids, “normal,” “housers,” “Mixed groups that don’t stand for anything,” whites, blacks (different from black students), and white skaters. When Olsen asked the students why they group themselves this way, their responses reflected racial consciousness, identity, social class, different privileges, and discrimination or fear from other groups.

 

Several of the ideals explored by the reports of the students are reflected similarly in the school and communities in the 2003 research of Gitlin, Buendía, Crosland, and Doumbia. They found stereotyping of the newcomer families by the white community, the belief that the immigrant children will “slow down” the white children’s class, and the fears the white children had of the potential violence the “other” students may produce. These views are enforced by deficit and assimilationist policies in the school (whites having better privileges than immigrant students), and traces of racism. The authors reveal that the school “welcomes” the immigrant children on the surface, but truly “unwelcomes” them on a more subtle, yet impacting scale.

 

Anyon’s 1980 article describes a “hidden curriculum” between social classes. She describes four American schools she observed: working class, middle class, affluent professional, and executive elite schools. Children who go to working class schools come from families who are at or below the national poverty level and have parents that are unskilled workers. These children are taught to follow procedure, not speak unless spoken to, and have little chances to explore creative thinking. Middle class schools are comprised of children whose families earn between $13,000 and $25,000 a year, although these numbers can fluctuate (and are dated) since some families can make more or less. In these schools, the main goal of children’s work is to get the correct answer and creativity is still not addressed. However, in affluent professional schools where parents are in the upper middle class with professional skills, creativity as well as conceptualization of ideas are fostered and used often in the classroom. Finally, executive elite schools have children in them that come from parents who make at least $100,000 or more a year. These schools focus on authentic, real-world learning situations, creativity, and not only the steps in problem solving, but the conceptualized models behind them. 

 

She states that what the children are taught and the methodologies that are employed to teach them create student expectations and essentially training for students’   future vocation. If a child is trained for years in school to act and think like an unskilled worker, then the child is destined for their parent’s social class. However, if a child’s creativity and problem solving skills are nurtured in school and they are taught to think out of the box and understand how the real world works, then they will follow in their parents’ footsteps. This hidden curriculum is still seen: schools are hiring unqualified teachers and reading from a text book while other schools are going on field trips with teachers in doctoral programs. However, refugees and immigrants, being new to the country, often fall below the poverty line.

 

While other studies exhibit cultural and racial discrimination, Anyon’s article describes the differences in social class, which is a feature that been reported as discrimination as seen in Olsen’s work. The hidden curriculums in schools also show the deficits in policy: the poorer schools do not have the privileges or opportunities of the richer ones (in relation to Gitlin, Buendía, Corsland, and Doumbia’s 2003 study which shows one school’s policy which gives more privileges to white students) despite the fact that poor and/or ethnicially diverse students have the scholastic ability to succeed equally.

 

These studies show that discrimination exists even if it is not always flagrant and immediately visible. Still, prejudice and perceived ignorance affects school aged-children and adults’ identities and motivations to learn. It changes their views on success: if they’re a “lesser person,” they could consider themselves to be less able for scholastic success; whereas, it has been shown that those students with a positive outlook on their abilities, generally do succeed more (López, 2010).

 

A 2006 study showed that while working with acculturative stress and discrimination, students would achieve greater academic success with more support from additional people other than their families (DeGarmo, & Martinez, 2009). This suggests that since immigrants and refugees face discrimination, acculturative pressures, and are often times overcoming traumatic events, that interventions or support systems will aid in the ability to work through problems as well as reach higher levels of scholastic competence in the classroom.

 

Strategic interventions. It is recommended by the UNHCR and the Refugee Act of 1980 that some sort of interventions need to be made in order to help acculturate refugees, immigrants, and asylum-seekers with more ease and help them work through past difficulties. Several instances have been cited in the literature that communication, either verbally or written, alleviates some of the acculturative stresses, and helps to organize thoughts and past and present traumas and negative thoughts as well as empowers people.

 

Goleman, in another book titled Social Intelligence (2006) attempts to prepare those who work with people suffering from PTSD in that, they must be aware of “triggers” or things that make the trauma victim have a flashback, feel unsafe, or helpless. Acknowledgement of trauma, adaptive bereavement, negative coping mechanisms, and PTSD can actually create an even more negative atmosphere for the individual; thus, it is under the recommendations of Maercker, Povilonyte, Lianova, and Pöhlmann (2009) that acknowledging a victim’s past should only be used as a “protective factor.” In other words, the only reason one should openly recognize trauma is when they intend to seek strategic interventions.

 

A study by Brittain (2010) proposed that by giving ELLs the vocabulary necessary to describe their emotions, it can have a protective factor from trauma by empowering then with the ability to express their inner thoughts. Another study proved there are linguistic predictors of trauma healing (Pennebaker & Mayne, 1997). Two groups of individuals wrote for a few minutes for three to four days out of one week (for six months); one group wrote about a recent trauma, the other on superficial problems (non-traumatic events). In the following four to six months, those who wrote about emotional distress, or traumas, had less visits to the doctor, higher GPAs, and less self-reports of anxiety. Pennebaker and Mayne (1997) state when distressing thoughts are written, they become more organized which aids in the clarification of problems.

 

Based on this notion, a primary school Swansea, Wales (Townhill Primary School) has adopted guidelines from the book, The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians, and Administrators. The framework found in this piece of literature aims to give students the power of using writing and speaking to actively respond to inner turmoil that can be from in-school or out-of-school problems. By explicitly teaching students emotional vocabulary and how to use it in a comfortable intervention setting, they will be able to prevent negative confrontations, social or academic struggles, violent outbursts, and self-destructive tendencies.

 

However, obstacles can present themselves when psychologists and other mental health professionals work with refugees. Common problems such as illiteracy could prevent reading and writing exercises initially, however, talking about stressors with a professional in their native language is appropriate (Krashen, 1981). Despite speaking possibly being the only form of communication available, studies have shown that adult refugees with traumatic experiences do not want to talk about them due to lack of support or fear of being ostracized in their new environment (Bogner, Brewin, & Herlihy, 2010). Maercker, Povilonyte, Lianova, and Pöhlmann support this notion in their 2008 study based on Chechnyan refugees’ acknowledgement towards their previous trauma; the refugees’ view it as a negative factor since it could lead to a lower social status, less employability, and further discrimination in their point of view.

 

Making Strategic Interventions Effective for ELLs. However, there are simple strategic interventions that begin on a very human level and can even take place in the classroom between teacher and student. This first is for teachers, caretakers, or other professionals working with refugees to appeal to basic humans need and feeling. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1970), he describes five essential components of life that are important for all people regardless of age, gender, or race. The first and most basic needs are physiological such as air, food, water, and sleep. The next is safety and security. The third need is the feeling of love and belonging. The fourth is esteem and self-esteem. Finally, the fifth need is self-actualization, or to know that you are alive (Coon, 2005). These parts of life can easily be tied into lesson plans to aid in acculturation.

 

On a different level, all humans also have social intelligence. Social intelligence is a two-fold idea: we have conscious abilities to notice and interact with others (awareness), and we have subconscious, primal motives that draw us to certain people or sends away others. Social awareness is comprised of primal empathy, or the ability to feel what another person is feeling; attunement or giving someone you’re interacting with your undivided attention; empathetic accuracy, or understanding why a person feels the way they do; and social cognition, or knowing the cultural/social implications of interactions. On the other hand, social facility is the unnoticed interaction facilitator: it is made up on synchrony or the smooth, nonverbal connection one has with another person; self-presentation; influence, or the effect of the final outcome of the interaction; and concern, genuinely caring about the other person (Goleman, 2006). Goleman warns against trying to act with any of these faculties unless they are true because either the “high road” (what he refers to as social awareness/consciousness) or the “low road” (social facility/subconscious) will pick up on it and instantly create a sense of distrust or general dislike in the other person.

 

Implications for social awareness in the ESL classroom can be highly beneficial in a multitude of ways: there is no need for language to be able to communicate affectively and efficiently. Also, a volunteer does not need a teaching license or certification to be able to have such an interaction. In a difficult time, interacting with or creating a rapport with an empathetic, upbeat person can create a feeling of safety, belonging (Maslow’s second most universal need), and happiness (Rosenthall, 1990). This also aids in lowering the affective filter to aid in meaningful learning. Appealing to social intelligence is also a culturally relevant practice; this type of connection is universal and breaks customary boundaries. Thus, it can be surmised that volunteers or professionals working with a population that typically has a high rate of past trauma as well as acculturation concerns ought to be aware of their empathy levels and truly listen to their clients or students to become authentically engaged.

 

An interesting piece of literature shows the power of smiling (Johnson, 2005). A researcher showed two groups of Caucasians pictures of white and black people. One group had to smile while looking at the pictures (Johnson accomplished this by having them hold a pencil in their mouths) and the other group was the control (did not have to keep a pencil in their mouth). The first “smiling” group showed less signs of own-and other-race biases. This suggests that actions related to positive emotions, even something as simple as smiling, can open the door to better relationships.

 

A study on the relationship between emotions and ability to describe them with spoken or written words shows a powerful connection. In a vocational setting, employees were asked to reflect on their emotional states at work. The researchers then paired it with their productivity rates. Of those who are more in-tune with their emotions and are able to actively describe them, they have been shown to be more likely to resolve conflicts and produce more innovative ideas at work. This study suggests that business owners, supervisors, and bosses need to understand the social and cultural perspectives of their employee’s emotional intelligences (Suliman & Al-Shaikh, 2006).

 

In fact, the powerful connection between words, emotions, and thoughts can be seen in other fields outside of education. This ideology actually dates back to 500 BC with Hippocrates’ “four humors” and is cited in Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, and Glaser’s (2002) article on psychoneuroimmunology. Psychoneuroimmunology is the positive or negative effects emotions have on the body’s immune system. Other studies theorize if the mind is ill, then the body will be ill and the same is true for the opposite: well mind, well body (Azar, 2001; Lichtenstein, 1995; McCain, Gray, Elswick, Robins, Tuck, Walter, Rausch, & Ketchum, 2008).

 

An interesting experiment which proves the effects of mind and body synchronicity provided 252 HIV positive people with three stress management programs: behavioral relaxation training, tai chi training, and spiritual growth groups. Researchers told the control group they were “waitlisted” for services and will not receive any of the services the three programs offered at the time. Of the patients treated with behavioral relaxation training, their immune functions improved, whereas those who did not receive the services did not show improvement (McCain, et al., 2008). Psychonueroimmunology and its sister field, psychonueroendocrinology (the impact emotions and thoughts have the body’s endocrine system) can be referred to in research on trauma and refugees (Nicholson & Walters, 2010; Somach, 1995).

 

These behavioral therapies do not require the use of language and can often times be culturally relevant and provide positive reinforcement. Through accessing refugee’s cultural schema and competence (for example, Nepali refugees teaching and/or practicing yoga), people find value in their backgrounds and can build their self-esteem by teaching others.

 

Teachers. Teachers must consider culturally relevant pedagogy when instructing adult refugees in an ESL classroom. Culturally relevant pedagogy is when teachers of diverse students use their customs and cultural knowledge as a means for learning something new. For example, if a student from Bhutan has practiced yoga for his entire life and the teacher uses his knowledge of yoga to provide the rest of the class with a healthy lifestyle activity or exercise, it would be considered culturally relevant pedagogy. The teacher is not only showing that students are interested in his customs, but value what the Bhutanese student understands as a custom and even part of their religion. This can lead to higher self-esteem, motivation, pride, and a desire to maintain their cultural heritage.

 

Research on adult refugee ELLs suggests that teachers who deliver instruction for adults must be not only culturally sensitive but emotionally aware of stressors and understand how to take preventative measures to ensure affective learning and create a safe learning environment (Guerrero & Tinkler, 2010; Randall & Lutz, 1991). Teachers need to individualize instruction, display interpersonal behavior with their students, acknowledge their histories, and form trusting bonds with their students (Finn 2010; Maercker, Povilonyte, Lianova, & Pohlmann, 2009; Van Petegram et al., 2008).

 

Volunteer considerations. A survey taken from Peace Corps volunteer English teachers practicing in host countries from around the world show their lack of guidance and insecurities in teaching; it has been suggested that the Peace Corps should provide more training and supervision of ESL/EFL teachers in other countries (Peace Corps, 1976). More recently, Margaret Olebe joined the Peace Corps after completing her bachelor’s degree in geography and American literature. She was immediately assigned to teach overseas. Despite being given sixteen weeks worth of language and teacher training at Columbia College, she still felt ill-prepared to teach, especially without education resources such as a classroom and a black board in her new country. It is under her suggestion that teachers receive more training, and be given more preparation before they enter the field (Olebe, 2005). Another study shows that experienced teachers rate their performance in the classroom higher than do volunteers, or untrained educators (Fenzel & Flippen, 2006).

 

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is the most recent US legislation on education, being enacted in 2001. It requires states to hire only “highly qualified teachers” (HQT). For an educator to be considered a HQT, they must possess a bachelor’s degree, teacher certification from their state, and be able to prove they know or are “competent” in the subject matter they are teaching. The United States Department of Education states that being able to read, write, speak, and understand speech in English does not make one competent in subject matter. What does make one competent in ESL is the ability to teach using specific methodologies and approaches developed for ELLs (United States Department of Education, 2004).

 

This suggests that resettling agencies working with refugees seriously considers creating a training seminar for those teaching English to their clients. The volunteers must have a basic understanding of the clients’ histories and cultures, as well as be able to call on basic human similarities such as social and emotional intelligences and the needs presented by Maslow. A training seminar can provide the teachers for this program with a basic understanding of TESOL methodologies and practices. Such models must create comprehensible input for the learner, engage their background knowledge and incorporate new vocabulary and American customs into it, offer chances for student success to foster self-esteem, and provide reliable and valid forms of assessment to show student achievement.

 

It is important to stress the flexibility and fluidity of language acquisition and acculturation; it is not an overnight process, nor is it sequential. Language acquisition is static and can happen sporadically–when the learner is ready. Thus, it is always important for the person in the position of an ESL teacher to create authentic learning situations out in the community at their discretion. In hopes of creating an effective volunteer-based ESL class, the framework of this curriculum evolves around the mindset of celebrating of diversity, practicing patience, and maintaining a sense of altruism and advocacy for the clients to help aid in their rapid advancement in society and to be able to find their true journey’s end.

Comments