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Published by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation

Teaching EAL students proves emotional

Posted: 05/02/17 9:00am CST
Teaching EAL students proves emotional
Kirk Jones, who heads up the school’s team in teaching EAL students, has had some of these students throughout their high school years from Grade 9 through to Grade 12 with more arriving each year. He continues to marvel at the progress many of them achieve in a short time.

Trying to get a word in edgewise can sometimes be elusive if you’re talking to Laura Jorgenson during her English as an additional language class.

If it’s not the phone ringing or students coming and going, there’s probably something else that will crop up. Unflustered by any of this, the visitor can’t help but be struck by her calm demeanour and her ability to seamlessly conduct the class as if it’s no big deal.

“I don’t know that there is a typical day; there’s always something different happening,” Jorgenson chuckled. “You get used to it; you have to be flexible for sure and try to be ready for what might be coming next. So, you need to be able to think on your feet and be ready to switch gears. You’re dealing with a lot of emotion,” she added.

Given that the school is the “global village” exemplified, it’s a fact many from the outside may not have taken into account in such a multicultural setting. But, as Jorgenson noted, there can be instances where students are now classmates with others that would not have been imaginable from their native countries.

“It’s so important to build trust and to make this a safe environment where they feel comfortable, because otherwise, no learning goes on. You can see the students are so grateful for that when you get through to them because there’s no question they all want to learn. You can see they are very motivated and they want to fit in so they tend to have a very strong work ethic.

“It’s a big step for a lot of them but that’s what we’re about,” Jorgenson said.

She went on to add that once there’s a break, the students naturally revert to their own language as opposed to English.

Rebecca Schroeder, who teaches Science 10 and English in the school’s EAL program, is another of those committed educators who at least has the advantage of having acquired a significant insight from her travel experiences in Southeast Asia and Africa. Schroeder has travelled to five continents and not just as a tourist, but so as to gain a better understanding into how other cultures live.

It was in fact while picking up a job at a language centre in Thailand where she came to the realization that not only was teaching an awesome job but she realized, “I can do this.”

In her experience at Walter Murray Collegiate, she has seen the blending of many of the cultures she has experienced first-hand. She is also well aware that it’s not uncommon for students to carry some of the baggage from their respective homelands.

“It can be pretty scary for some of these students and I see myself as part-time teacher and part-time counsellor. But that’s all part of this and students really open up to you so it’s pretty emotional because they know I care deeply. At the same time, you have to understand there are sometimes limitations to what you can do. It’s really hard not to take it home because when you’re passionate about your job, it’s never really done and you think back to how maybe you could have handled a situation differently.”

Jorgenson concurs that this can be an all-consuming experience, but she is quick to add that it’s the best job she has had in her teaching career.

“I just love it and it gives me so much energy. There’s not a day I don’t look forward to coming to work. You see such improvement and so

I think this is the best job in the world. I very much feel like you have to be an anchor for a lot of these students.

“When you establish the trust, they will come to you with some of their problems. Sometimes it’s really hard to hear about their experiences, and you have to swallow a few times. That’s when you have to talk to a colleague right away because it’s not something you can hold on to inside.”

Jorgenson said she is conscious of trying to leave this often-emotional side of the job at school, but she said her soul is full of admiration for what she said are situations most of us will thankfully never experience.

“When you think how a lot of them never complain, how giving they are, and how happy they are here in their new home, that they are able to adjust to this big scary place, it really puts life in perspective,” Jorgenson said.

Schroeder stressed that it’s inspiring to be part of a team that works tirelessly to build up the students’ self-esteem aside from their English skills.

“It’s like a garden and you’re planting the seeds and hoping it will grow. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of for sure.”

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