Blog Reflection #1 for the Community Field Experience at UBC

Under the guidance of Dr. Andrea Webb, Community Field Experience at UBC teacher candidates used our graphic narratives to create teaching materials for a variety of classrooms. Education that addresses trauma and human rights provides skills and strategies for students to develop an awareness of the value of diversity in a pluralistic society and encourages sensitivity to a diversity of positions. This educational approach connects with curricular priorities including historical thinking and global citizenship, and provides strategies for teachers to support students as they learn about topics such as genocide. 

Each week, we will post a new reflection by students from the UBC CFE Program. 

Reflection by Nico Yu

I have always spent most of my time sitting in classes in a state of constant, slight discomfort. Certain topics have always affected me more than it seemed to affect my peers, and I have always mentally categorized that as my unusual empathy or my anxiety growing up. For the longest time I had grown to recognize that the learning outcomes of the material always outweighed my discomfort, and it was academically wise to just “suck it up”.

Obviously, this only lasted until I was in my 4th year of university when I had to quite literally run out of a workshop due to the material we were discussing. It seemed so sudden to others in the room, but in reality, I was stuck frozen in my seat for 20 minutes until finally my resolve to keep my “dignity” broke. I spent the rest of the workshop time huddled in a corner of the hallway, trying to remove myself from the experience. In short, it was awful, embarrassing, and I felt humiliated that I was not able to handle the subject material.

This situation was rather defining to my pedagogy. Since then, I stopped pushing myself to sit in classes or workshops that I was overly uncomfortable in. I started becoming more aware of the signs of anxiety gripping me when discussing certain matters that hit too close to home. I grew more willing to discuss my boundaries with my profs and peers and to excuse myself when those boundaries needed to be breached. Somehow, that “moment of weakness” ended up becoming a huge step forward in my wellbeing and became a key piece of my pedagogy.

Emmie by Barbara Yelin

That all brings us to my Community Field Experience project in the UBC Bachelor of Education program. As a part of my CFE, I was tasked with creating a unit plan that relates to using graphic novels as a narrative while teaching the Holocaust. With my experience, I have always gravitated towards a trauma-informed approach and saw this as an opportunity to teach others how to teach difficult topics like the Holocaust with compassion and patience for the students. During my practicum, I came up with a strategy that I named the Traffic Light Strategy that enabled students to leave and/or communicate with me their mental wellbeing during a lesson. This was successful and resulted in positive feedback from my students, with some comments that they appreciated how I cared for their wellbeing, or that it felt more comfortable to sit in the lesson knowing that they could leave if they needed to. The use of this strategy was a large influence in my work for this project and accompanies the unit that I created.

I created a 3-4 lesson unit that examines the use of various mediums to examine survivor’s testimony, primary and secondary. A lot of teaching history has been focusing on the perpetrator, the “winning” team. With this, I wanted a focus on the survivors, especially using sources that recounts their experiences decades after the event. A key part of this unit was the graphic novel, Emmie. This graphic novel depicts the story of a woman who survived the Holocaust. What was most intriguing to me was the artist’s choice to show so much of Emmie outside of her narrative as a young child in the Holocaust. There are several pages and panels that depict Emmie as a tired woman who is still struggling to stay asleep at night due to her trauma. This was an important aspect of my unit as well; I want students to understand that survivors exist years after the event they survived, and to understand what it is like to continue to grapple with these events.

The first two lessons examine primary and secondary sources for survivor’s testimony, using video testimony from the VHEC and Emmie, respectably. The third lesson challenges students to create a secondary source out of the video testimony they viewed, making decisions on what information is important to include in order to faithfully depict the survivor’s story. They will use Emmie as an example and guideline for creating this source. Finally, the fourth lesson brings survivor testimony to current events, where the teacher has the freedom to select a current events topic and conduct a formal discussion with students to examine survivor testimony in current day. This 4 lesson mini unit aims to teach students to empathize with survivors, learn important skills in interpreting sources and apply those skills to learning about current events.

Of course, encouraging students to empathize with survivors to this degree requires tact. This is where my Traffic Light Strategy comes in. Throughout the unit, it is recommended to set this strategy in place so students can also practice setting their own emotional boundaries and advocating for themselves. This may especially be relevant with the 4th lesson, as you do not know completely how your students have been affected by current events. However, having a plan like this in place can be very beneficial and build a sense of trust between you and your students.

While I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do for this project, I still learned much from it. As has been most of my pedagogy so far, I have a vague sense of what I want to do but no formal, academic terms to describe them. For example, looking further into trauma-informed approaches and reading professionals’ descriptions of practices that I already implement further informs my own practice, with the added bonus of being validation! It was a pleasure to work with Andrea and my peers to structure the rough, vague ideas that I had into something that I could deliver to others. This was especially important to me as a survivor in some sense, as I can help others create a classroom that is more friendly for the students like me.

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