Syrian Refugees: Allowing Stories to be told in the Classroom

I have begun to think about how I would make sure that my practice is fair for helping Syrian Refugees in classrooms.

First, I don’t know their stories, and can’t ever own them either.

I think that there is pressure for teachers to know all, and be in complete control of the underlying stories that are told in the classroom.

As a result, there are stories about Middle Easterner’s that have already become reinforced in our Canadian schools. I think we need to try and figure those out, and figure out why they have become our stories. Understand that we cannot possibly own these stories. Therefore, I think about promoting critical literacy, deconstructing stereotypes, and acknowledging my lack of any knowledge about their experiences, thus allowing them to own their own stories.

Paying attention tothe stories that we think we aren’t telling.    Considering that the Middle East does not come up in Canadian Curriculum for elementary school students, I would say that this counts as promoting ‘stories’ that promote oppression.

I think that as teachers we need to take risks, make mistakes, but also remain accountable. Accountability need not be about following pre-packaged lesson plans, teaching to a test, and using reproducibles.

Perhaps the most important things we do, is address the misinformation and ‘stories’ about Middle Easterners that we have in Canadian society.

Practically, I think that asking students who are Middle Easterners, who have either been here for a while or are new refugees, should have the time, space and opportunity to share their own stories, in their own time.

I would also want to ‘check’ that I as an educator, am not shaping their stories to match our own ‘stories’ that are full of misinformation. Therefore, I think it is important to facilitate activities with students that disrupts our stories. Disrupt the stories we get in the media. Allow students to have their own stories and honour this.

Since school is the source where our sense of self becomes negotiated with the stories that others have, I see a great deal of potential for this in the literacy classroom, and the processes associated with storytelling, and story writing. I think that these processes could help students to explore their own self-concepts and explore the conceptions that others have. Also to explore how they impact personal identity. My hope is that this would help to disrupt the stories that get reproduced through the school curriculum, the null curriculum, and media.

Most important part of this process would be myself, and all teachers feeling okay with learning and knowledge that is upsetting, confusing, angering, and even disruptive of our common discourses of Canadian Nationalism.

We can admit that we don’t, and can’t own the story. Knowing that it is okay not to know.


Deborah McCallum








One response to “Syrian Refugees: Allowing Stories to be told in the Classroom”

  1. ciedie aech Avatar

    I applaud your interest in bringing our world’s unknown, unpublished and unheard voices forward. Students who feel their own unique relationship to the education being made available to them often begin to thrive. The telling of their stories, however, relies upon a protective teacher’s care. Thanks for bringing this out.


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