What is the most uncomfortable thing that’s ever happened to you in a classroom? Have you ever come across a quiet group of learners who, due to shyness or uncertainty, remain silent when you ask them questions or address them? Have you yourself been a quiet student?
Canadian TESOL classrooms are often comprised of one or more of the following groups of learners:
- International students
With such a diverse group, these students often bring with them a variety of experiences, some of which may not be so positive.
Monica Waterhouse writes about the implications of students sharing experiences of violence in the ESL classroom. Waterhouse’s research stems from her own personal experience as a teacher in a LINC classroom. She recalls, when teaching the Canada Food Guide, a woman who commented that she no longer eats red meat. When Waterhouse asked if the woman was a vegetarian, the woman replied that she no longer ate red meat because it brought back memories of witnessing her husband’s murder.
In response to hearing such stories of violence, students often feel upset or surprised, and may relate those experiences of loss to feelings about loved ones in their own lives. Waterhouse notes that based on these reactions, discussions about experiences of violence offer an opportunity for “critical affective engagement” — an important pedagogical tool that provides learners opportunities to self-reflect and to sympathize with others.
The “transformative and pedagogical potential of violent stories” suggest that these stories do, in fact, have a place in the classroom. Through listening to other people’s experiences, we become more aware of the world around us. Through discomfort, we learn to grow. Through sadness, we learn to sympathize. Through discussion, we are given the opportunity transform.
The best thing we can do when hearing about violence in our classrooms is to simply enjoy the silence. For out of the silence of self-reflection, both ourselves and our learners have the potential to become more aware of the world around us and how to get along with everyone in it.
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