Founder of ESL Reads   EAL Teacher (Secondary)

5 Common Challenges for EAL Students

July 31, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

Recently, the teacher shortages in Australia have meant more of us have had to take classes outside our specialisations and year levels. We have been plucked out of our comfort zones and thrown in the deep end.

These experiences may have left you feeling shaken, anxious, uncomfortable or even inferior. You may have compared yourself to a pre-service teacher in certain situations, and pleaded with school staff to understand that although you’ve taught for a number of years, you’ve never done this before! 

You see, some of us TESOL folk work with different cohorts, contexts and class sizes than what you see in the mainstream. For many of us, the behaviour management challenges of a mainstream classroom can look very different in our EAL classrooms. But this certainly does not mean that we are less knowledgeable, skilled or “have it easy” as it can sometimes appear. 

The complexity of our EAL students baffled and still baffles me as I think about the layers of challenges they endure, and their unmatched resilience. And I’m not just speaking about the obvious language, educational, cultural and religious barriers. 

In this blog, I will outline 5 huge challenges I have watched my students contend with as I have attempted to support and teach them.

1. Changing Family Dynamics

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I think every single one of us, whether we teach children, adolescents or adults, have been witness to this. The children in the family often take on the role of interpreter, accompanying their parents to all kinds of appointments from Centrelink to pharmacies, schools to doctors, and everything in between. Parents or guardians can also feel powerless in raising their children in a new country due to limited language and social networks and a new, strange culture.

2. Perpetuating Instability

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Our students come from incredibly unstable situations and circumstances, having to flee across borders and be at the mercy of unpredictable governments and bureaucracy.  When re-settling in a new country, instability around visas, housing, overseas relatives, finances and employment continues. This creates a high level of anxiety and stress for students and families, and can trigger past trauma.

3. Ongoing Trauma

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EAL students, and in particular those on humanitarian visas, have very little control over their final destination, finances, and visa restrictions in their new country. This lack of control can result in ongoing trauma, even though the student has been settled into a “safe” country.

4. Survivor Guilt

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Students and families that arrive in their new country ahead of other relatives or friends can feel guilty for the safety, educational and material opportunities they have been afforded. Although mostly relieved and delighted to be in a safe and prosperous place, this can be counteracted by a strong sense of guilt. This can result in a “give back” or “obey” mentality for some students.

5. Identity

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Our students are often caught between two worlds; their home country and their new country. Sometimes, in an attempt to hold onto what was, communities can become almost more traditional and conservative than what they were in their home countries. As their children or siblings go to school and see “Western” freedoms; gender equality (or more so than in some other countries), clothing choices, leisure activities, religious variation and more, tension in families and communities can occur.

These 5 overwhelmingly big challenges that our students take to school each day, and that we see the repercussions of in our classrooms, can be very difficult to know how to manage. However, there is so much invaluable information we have about each of these challenges, and a toolkit of strategies that we use to support them with this. 
In next week’s blog, I will take a deep dive into Changing Family Dynamics, in an attempt to spark a conversation with each and every one of you. 

Be sure to check LinkedIn or Facebook to catch the next one!

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3 thoughts on “5 Common Challenges for EAL Students”

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