Founder of ESL Reads   EAL Teacher (Secondary)

4 Reasons Why EAL Students Experience Ongoing Trauma and 6 Strategies to Try

August 26, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

Many of our students, especially those arriving on humanitarian visas, have very little control over their destination, daily life and visa restrictions in their new country. This lack of control can be a cause of trauma and an result in ongoing trauma for our students, even though they have been settled into a “safe” country.

In the last blog post, I discussed the second of five huge challenges (perpetuating instability) that I have seen  in my secondary and young adult EAL classroom. As a follow on, this blog focuses on the ways in which I have seen these students experience a “lack of control” over areas of their lives. I will also list some strategies that address this issue..

This “lack of control” can play out in a myriad of ways:

1. Location

Ana Sees a Doctor
  • Students can be placed in locations that have very few speakers of their language, or few humanitarian services available, resulting in isolation.
  • Moving states/houses from original settlement in search of a community can mean students are at risk of homelessness.
  • Students and families are often moved into government housing in neighbourhoods that are not of their choosing.
  • Much of this housing is in low socio-economic areas which are not always the safest or friendliest of places. 

2. Sponsorship

Layla Wants a Job
  • Students who are sponsored by other family members may not know this family member well, or may be sponsored with conditions attached.
  • Students who are sponsored are not financially independent and can be trapped in unsafe or unjust situations. 

3. Financial Independence

Layla Wants a Job
  • As students and their families may not have the language or skills for employment early on, they usually have to rely on charitable organisations for food, clothing, furniture and bedding which substantially limits their choices.
  • Bureaucratic, hard to navigate systems make financial, health and educational access difficult and limited.
  • Some families believe that their children’s welfare payments belong to the family, and resulting in our young adult students lacking financial independence. 

4. Belonging

Milad Goes to the Library
  • Many students, due to the colour of their skin, clothing or religion, experience racism in public, education and employment contexts.
  • As mentioned above, some students are outcasts in their communities due to being placed in an area with limited cultural community members. 


While these are very difficult situations to go up against, there are some small things I trialled in the classroom so that I could help my students restore a small amount of control over their learning. 

These strategies included:
  1. Providing a choice of themes, topics and sub-topics. Sometimes we could take a vote on these as a class before deciding on them.
  2. If this is not possible to have input with themes due to a set curriculum, you could get students to vote for the area of the topic they are most interested in. I used to provide my students with the key learnings for the unit and give them 3 stickers to vote on what they wanted to learn about most.
  3. Designing assessments and tasks where students have some freedom to choose areas of interest or incorporate their goals.
  4. Explaining students’ future educational or employment options and pathways clearly. Luckily, the school I worked for encouraged frequent student-teacher meetings where I could do this on a regular basis.
  5. Frequent goal setting to discuss students’ ambitions and options.
  6. Term reflections on the operations of the classroom, understanding and engagement of the content and questions around what more they wanted to learn more about was most insightful and gave students a platform to voice their opinions. 

So while this is a challenging topic to consider and reflect upon, I hope that this blog has highlighted some of the issues you have also been a witness to. I hope the strategies have stirred up that creative centre inside of all of you amazing teachers, and encouraged you to take a risk with your themes, units and assessments!

Stay tuned for the next post; How I Incorporated Student Choice into my EAL Classroom.  Look out for it on LinkedIn and Facebook.

*Please note: I am a teacher and am not in social services or mental health. What I write about in this post comes only from my observations and my students’ experiences across the 5 years that I have worked with them, which I communicate broadly here. 

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