2008 Teaching and Learning Symposium

2:30-4:30 p.m., May 6, 2008
HUB Ballroom

Session Description



International Students with Long-Term Trauma: A Safer Class Space to Restore Learning

Mary Giles - UWMC Interpreter Services

Classes in English as a Second Language generally focus on language acquisition to enable performance of professional tasks in an English-speaking setting. As a rule, if students have personal issues, they resolve them outside class. It would be inefficient and perhaps irresponsible for a teacher to intervene in their personal problems. Counseling is not usually part of our training, and is not our job. However, among my ESL students there were talented individuals who developed difficulty learning, interacting with the class, and coping with America. (Overall, these were men from Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia; but issues could certainly arise with other groups as well.) My peer teachers, supervisors, and counseling staff provided suggestions. But the problem persisted until in each case the student confided to me, and then to the class, some burdensome past experience. Given respect, validation, and support, each student found resolution and settled in to the class. This is not to recommend that ESL teachers take up amateur counseling! But sometimes trauma causes learning difficulties and cultural stress, and a student may choose to confide in a teacher and classmates. Then a teacher can draw on campus support resources for perspective, referring the student to appropriate professionals when necessary. At the same time, we can work to facilitate an emotionally safe class space where students can cope with a troubling past event. Then class support for culture shock can actually help students practice language and cultural insights, and strengthen group morale.




Index of Symposium Presenters