Toward the end of my senior thesis research at an anti-trafficking social enterprise last summer, the founder and director of the organization offered me a job as their Educational Research Developer. I accepted, knowing that my primary responsibility would be to create and implement an English as a Second Language (ESL) curriculum for the survivors who work at the organization. Because of my prior internship at this organization, current anti-trafficking research and advocacy, and studies as a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) minor, I knew that this was a perfect combination of my interests and training.

Later that summer, however, I learned that my future job would require more specialization than I had initially anticipated. During the Students Opposing Slavery International Summit, I met Bonnie Martin, a licensed counselor who works with victims and survivors of human trafficking. She gave a presentation on complex trauma and the brain, which was the first time I had heard about trauma-informed instruction. She said that survivors of human trafficking often deal with complex trauma, which influences their short-term memory, focus, and the ability to retain information that is inessential for daily survival. Therefore, she explained, anybody who teaches survivors of human trafficking should instruct with a trauma-informed approach.

Equipped with this knowledge, I began my senior year curious about the aspects of trauma-informed teaching. I was reminded of its importance when a student that I tutor, who has survived traumatic circumstances, demonstrated clear signs of what Ms. Martin had informed me of over the summer. It was at this point that I decided I needed to learn more about teaching through a trauma-informed lens. 

I began brainstorming cities in the US that would likely have several anti-trafficking organizations I could visit. I found and contacted workers at four different organizations in Los Angeles and set up times to interview their curriculum designers and instructors. Once there, I visited these organizations and engaged in one-on-one conversations about the best practices, struggles, and triumphs that come with teaching survivors. In one interview, the instructor told me at the very beginning that “trauma-informed” was being replaced by “healing-centered” approaches to teaching and rehabilitating. Though I was slightly shocked that my research topic was already dated, I found this information useful because it pointed me toward a newer approach that I could then compare and contrast with older forms of teaching survivors.

I plan on using the information I gathered from these interviews for my term paper for Sociology of Education, a graduate-level course that I am taking to complete the honors requirement for my major. Additionally, my proposal has been accepted by the National University of Ireland Galway for their Writing and Well-being Symposium. In April, I will travel to Galway to present my findings on trauma-informed and healing-centered instruction for survivors of complex trauma.

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