Trauma and the classroom

Like many teachers in urban districts, many of my students come from backgrounds that are less than idyllic.  This year has been no exception and in many ways, it has been worse. Is it the economic upheaval? Is it the learned selfishness of our society? A social scientist may have answers – all I know is that a good percentage of my students are in crisis most of the day.

We come to teaching with the optimism that we can change things, we can make a difference.  While I still feel that passion, I also feel the exhaustion from waves of crisis each day, all day long.  Can I really make a difference? Does what I say or do matter at all?

Getting ready for a summer self-study on the ways violence in its many forms and trauma effect students, I’ve come across a term I had not considered before – compassion fatigue or secondary trauma.  Do we get so wrapped up in our drive to change the unchangeable that we become dysfunctional adults? What can be done to avoid burnouts?

Lots of questions, not many viable answers. And making matters more intense is the current economic crisis and the impact on my beloved profession.  As of today, any teacher with less than professional (tenured) status — that’s less than 4 years experience — is receiving a pink slip.  Now we worry about job security, overloaded classrooms, no materials, while we attempt to teach children who may come to us from unfathomable home situations.

Teaching is hard. Trying to support students who have experienced trauma in its many forms is hard.  Summer vacation will be a welcome respite and perhaps a time to figure out a way to manage my own secondary traumas so that, come September, I am better able to help my students.

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