On Trauma and Teaching

This morning, I woke up and did what I always do.  I got ready for the day, packed my son’s lunch, and checked facebook.  But, what I saw on facebook was a tweet from my brother that the schools in his suburban town of Sandy Hook, Connecticut were on lockdown.  A few minutes later, I saw a post and received a text that the lockdown was at my 7-year old nephew’s school.  Soon another message followed that my nephew’s school was being evacuated and my brother was on his way to pick him up.  In the intervening moments before receiving news of my nephew’s safety, I (on the other coast of the US) had to take my own almost 7-year old to school and hope that everything would be okay.

My nephew is fine physically, but some in his school were not so fortunate, and it remains to be seen the emotional toll of such a trauma on such very young children and the faculty responsible for their safety.  For me, this incident immediately triggered memories of my own experiences being a staff member during a lockdown and (in a separate incident) helping students recover from a deeply tragic sudden loss of a friend on our campus.  It then brought me even further back to September 11, 2001, my first year of middle school teaching, when the tragic events in New York City, on what was supposed to be our “Back to School Night” marked my first experience with collective trauma and teaching.

Collective trauma is a subject we have a lot of trouble talking about.  As a society, we don’t like talking about personal trauma, so collective trauma seems even harder.  Generally, we express our emotions in outrage, anger and confusion, but then we just try to get back to “business as usual” as soon as possible. However, for children, who depend on us and look to us for guidance, we can’t just brush what they’ve been through under the rug.

In my most recent encounter with trauma and the classroom, one to which I’ve already referred in this blog, I realized that as educators, it is our responsibility to be with our own emotions and help children heal through theirs.  Rather than going back to business as usual, we must acknowledge loss and share in our common grief.  The only way through pain is through pain.  There is really no way around it if you are experiencing it (at least, no healthy way around it).  We cannot protect our children from loss, but we can help them understand that we can honor and keep those we’ve loved and lost in our hearts and alive for others.  We can teach them that it’s okay to cry, to wonder why and to have a hard time going back to “business as usual”.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that we put learning to the side, but it means that we learn through our experiences and alongside of those who have shared them with us.  We can teach community through trauma and hopefully prevent even further trauma in the future.

My heart goes out to all the families in Sandy Hook and to families all over the nation who have had to go through trauma (highly publicized or not) in their schools.  May we teach peace and prevent any further pain.

2 thoughts on “On Trauma and Teaching

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Betina, and for sharing your thoughts and insights on trauma and teaching. You have helped me think more about how to talk about tragedies with my son and my students.

  2. Pingback: No Ordinary Monday | The Life and Times of an Assistant Professor

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