Instruction & Curriculum

Trauma in Schools – Teachers Are Asked to Handle Too Much

Trauma in schools has always existed. From the first public schools until today there have always been hungry children, those who have lost parents during the school year, as well as those who have for one reason or another, moved during the school year, having to adjust to a new school. Something much different is happening now and the level of trauma seen in today’s schools is more than teachers can handle without support.
Teaching Isn’t an Easy Job
You are the only adult in a room with 30 students. They have different needs, abilities, and personalities. You are expected to be sure that every one of them leaves you with specific skills regardless of what each of them is dealing with. That is the stress of the job.
The trauma in teaching begins when you must deal with the trauma in your students’ lives. When I first started teaching the level of trauma I saw was manageable. The usual issues of death in the family or a divorce affected a few students. We had the support staff (counselors and a psychologist) to help us. Unfortunately, we lost counselors and other support staff because of budget cuts.  Our teachers had more traumas to deal with on their own.
Our teachers had more traumas to deal with on their own. Click To Tweet
Societal Changes Bring Additional Trauma
The first major increase in trauma during my career came with the crack epidemic. Many students were fending for themselves as parents dealt with their addiction. Some had parents who were so badly addicted that grandparents took charge. The disruption of lives caused changes in behavior, levels of depression and fears of being homeless. Those of you currently in the classroom are dealing with the opioid epidemic.
The neighborhood in which I taught had many good jobs and parents were able to support their families. When an economic downturn occurred job losses left some of my students in homeless shelters. That change brought frightened and angry students to the classroom. This was the worst trauma I had ever seen.
Trauma Teachers Shouldn’t Have to Handle
Since Columbine, school shootings have become so common that many people think the solution is to arm teachers. I believe that this is more than any teacher should be asked to do.
During interviews after the El Paso shootings I saw several people who had legal carry permits and had their guns with them. One such person was active Army. He stated that he assessed the situation and realized that his handgun would be no match for what the shooter was using. He chose to carry out as many frightened children as he could. Do you really think that a teacher trying to keep a classroom of students calm would fare any better?
The latest traumatic events that teachers have to deal with are ICE raids. A recent raid in Mississippi left schools scrambling to decide what to do with students who had no adults left at home. One school had been notified as the raid began and was able to give bus drivers the direction to return the children to school if no parent was home to greet them. Those who were returned spent the night at the school. The staff was left in the aftermath to care for the frightened children whose parents were gone. This type of trauma is not what teachers should be expected to handle.
Teachers are trained to educate students. They know how to handle sudden changes in schedules, lack of supplies and lockdowns. Teachers should not be expected to carry guns to ward off armed intruders or be left to deal with students who suddenly have their parents taken away.  Other professions like police and social workers should be handling those situations.

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