Helping traumatised students

I am currently reading a book about childhood trauma in the classroom. How do we as teachers help students who have had a traumatic experience? — A., Iowa

I discovered the biggest hole in my teacher preparation when, after 25 years of teaching, a tragedy outside of school deeply affected students in my classroom. I had no idea how I was supposed to respond. I did the only thing I could – I asked for help. Guidance counselors and school psychologists are better trained to help with tragic situations. I sought out their advice and kept them apprised of what I observed in my classroom.

My other students didn’t know if they should talk to the traumatized students, if they could laugh or joke around, or if they could just go about their lives as normal. A classroom is a micro-community which we cultivate as teachers. This community was hurting and I asked if one of the specialists could come and talk to the classroom.

This event greatly affected me, too. Thankfully, my wife helped me cope.

Learning doesn’t mean much to someone when they are dealing with a horrible situation. Give all the support you can by easing off and giving them space and time. When it comes to class and homework, grading, and testing, remember your grade book is your grade book. Be a caring adult.

So, my advice to you:

  • Seek the help and advice of specialists. 
  • Remember that other students may be affected indirectly.
  • Observe and report what you are seeing to the appropriate counselors.
  • Take care of yourself. Find a confidant, seek out personal help. Almost all teacher organizations have help lines.
  • Be compassionate and flexible in teaching and grading.

When they can, traumatized students may be able to pick up the pieces and you should be there to hand those pieces to them with compassion and understanding.

I hope you never need this advice.

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