The result of the EU referendum is having a massive impact on ESOL teachers and students. This post is mostly for ESOL teachers as they try to be supportive and hopeful when they are probably in need of support and hope themselves.
Teachers at EFA have been sharing our lessons, our students’ thoughts and our own worries and hopes over the last week and we wanted to reach out to other teachers. Here are some of the questions we have been asked by students and teachers have been asking each other:
What will happen to EU citizens in the UK?
Will there be another referendum?
What will happen to freedom of movement between EU countries in the future?How can we oppose racism and xenophobia most effectively?
What can we do to support students who are scared about the future?
How can we help to rebuild our communities after such a divisive campaign and response to the result?
We only have the beginnings of answers to some of these questions and will continue to explore them with our students, colleagues and allies. In terms of the first three questions, we won’t be campaigning for another referendum or for parliament to ignore the result, but we encourage everyone to fight for continued freedom of movement and the right to remain for all EU migrants already here. This is a big issue for our students. Hope not Hate, among others, are lobbying the Tory leadership campaign candidates (after all it will likely be the new Conservative leader doing the negotiations) to accept the right to remain.
The fourth question is an urgent one. We would urge all students (and teachers of course) to report hate crime if they experience it. Perhaps it’s a good idea to share information about how to do that. Perhaps this video, from Stop Hate UK, would be good to show in class too?
In terms of the fourth and fifth questions, there is a tension to be found however between tooling people up for the sometimes unpleasant and dangerous world we belong to and scaring people or making people feel depressed? ESOL should be a safe space for students as well as a space to discuss and challenge injustice. Our approach is to be gentle, to ask students how they are feeling rather than launching into a “Brexit” lesson. If you plan to tackle the issues, then it’s worth having a plan b lesson under your sleeve in case the vibe you are getting is “can we please not talk about it?”. Remember also that some of our students will have voted “leave” and they should not be made to feel like the enemy. Our experience over the last week however is that students do want to talk about it. So what works?
- Perhaps start the class with a round where everyone says how they feel. Do some language work about these feelings.
- If people say they don’t feel welcome anymore, remind them that in their local community they are welcome (this works better in some areas than others and all EFA classes are in inner London boroughs) and in their ESOL class they are EXCEPTIONALLY welcome. This last point drew some smiles last week.
- Analyse the issue in small groups. People are less exposed this way and can say what they think. If people are upset they are better able to control their participation than in a whole group situation. They might feel more comfortable about expressing their feelings too. Here are some picture prompts: eu referendum pictures.
- ”Create a group writing about the situation. Here is one created by Joanna’s class in Hackney: We are worried. The economy is down. Lots of people apply for residency. They are worried because if they don’t have residency, maybe they can’t have a job in future. And if people can’t come from other European countries, no more cleaners and builders in London.
- Also, some Colombian people lived here a long time and they have a British passport. On Facebook, they tell new people from Spain and Italy to go home because they are on benefits. It is not good”
- Why not try a Brexit problem tree? This worked really well in Becky’s class in Bow. The roots of the tree are the causes, the branches the consequences and the fruit the action we can take.
- Discuss and anaylse action. Give students a chance to talk about what action they would like to take (if any). Joanna has prepared these materials about the demonstration last weekend.
Finally, hope for the future and re-building our communities? We must join together with other groups fighting for the same things. We must continue to fight against the cuts that are likely to get worse. These anti-austerity struggles must involve migrants. Communities can be built through struggling together for our rights and there will need to be stronger struggles than ever before. ESOL needs to reach out to campaigning groups and vice versa. ESOL teachers, you are in the right place at the right time! Let us continue to build safe spaces and powerful groups. They have never been more needed.