Teri: So, trauma — that’s a really heavy topic. We just learned a lot about it in the training, but I wanted to take some time and go a little deeper with things and just really first, remind teachers that they’re not expected to be licensed mental health counselors. We’re not trained for that. It’s not our job to cure trauma. What we are responsible for is our mindset. And so just knowing that these kids could have very difficult behaviors, there could be some aggressive kids, there could be children who are all over the room, and then we could also see some very withdrawn, avoidant behaviors. It’s just recognizing behavior is a form of communication, keeping that at the forefront of our minds, and then questioning why. Why are we seeing some of these behaviors?
Cristina: I think it’s important to note, too, that sometimes talking about trauma can stir up some stuff inside of you if you’ve experienced it. I know I didn’t even realize the childhood trauma experience until about two years ago when I was in a trauma informed training class, and I had no idea the things that I experienced were not okay. So I think it’s important to also note as teachers, we don’t have to heal the trauma, but we do need to take a look at what’s going on, even with ourselves, in order to just come at the situation with kinder, softer words.
Like you were saying about the avoidant child, that was definitely me, the shy child. I always believed that I was just painfully shy or just didn’t have the confidence that I saw other people having. I just believed that that was a part of who I was. It wasn’t until digging a lot deeper and going into learning about trauma that I realized that that’s not actually a part of who I was. Those were just labels that I was putting on myself. Just knowing now, I didn’t feel safe as a child to open up to anyone and tell them what was going on.
Recently, I was going through my childhood mementos and cleaning things out. I noticed on my report cards and all my notes from my teachers that there were several years where they had noted, “Cristina is extremely shy, doesn’t speak up, lacks self-confidence.” So I’m always curious to know now as an adult, were they recognizing things and just not digging a little bit deeper to find out what was going on with me? So I say all of that to say that as teachers, we are so important and we matter to the students. We can make a shift in how a child is handling trauma. We can definitely make a big difference, all the difference, for a child.
Teri: So first, thank you. Just thank you for being vulnerable and for sharing. I’m sure that impacts someone listening now. But just knowing if you have a child in your class and there’s anything, just listening to that feeling in your gut and that little voice that something’s off and something’s not right. Because hearing your story and knowing you, you knew the answers. You’re so smart. I know you. You’re very smart. You knew the answers, just not believing enough to share that. Knowing that teachers noticed it, it’s just painful to even think about.
As teachers, we have to get over the uncomfortable part of it. We have to dig deep within ourselves. I think the risk is far greater to question something and be wrong than to not question because you don’t want to be awkward, you don’t want to offend somebody, you don’t want someone to laugh or think you’re so extra and you’re going so overboard when you miss it. And then a lifetime can go by before… And look at all of the long term consequences, how that affects how you present yourself to the world, life opportunities, all of it. Our teachers, they have so much power, and that’s what I want them to recognize. So first, before we move on, thank you for that.
Cristina: I think it’s really important to note that we don’t really know what our students are coming into the classroom with.
Teri: Right. And so we can think of the iceberg example. So you have an iceberg, and we just see the tip above the water. We don’t know all the depths that are under that. That’s exactly how children are. So they’re walking into our classroom with so much. Even a child who hasn’t experienced trauma has so much that they’re bringing in. Whatever stress has happened in their morning routine, getting out of the door. But the children with trauma are coming in with so many experiences, things that have been said about them that aren’t true that they are starting to believe about themselves. Maybe they’re going between homes, maybe there’s been abuse, they’ve seen things children their age who have only been on this earth for three years should never have witnessed.
So they’re bringing all of that into the classroom, and we know that those experiences truly cause structural changes in their brain. Their brains do not look the same as the other kids. So they don’t have emotion regulation skills, they don’t have the self-regulation skills that all the other kids have. And yet, we’re expecting them to behave like the other kids. It’d be so great if they walked in with a little name tag that had a T for trauma. That’d make our jobs so much easier. But that’s just not it. They come in looking initially just like the other kids. And so it always goes back to that mindset, to what we’re thinking and what we’re keeping in the forefront of our mind.
Shift Your Mindset to Help Your Students
As a teacher, you know that every child in your classroom is different. Each little one’s personality, background, and life is completely different from the friend sitting next to them. Unfortunately, you never really know if a child is coming into your classroom with trauma; and yet, it’s important for you to hone your sensitivity to trauma and shift your mindset, so you can help your students feel comfortable and confident in the classroom.
When you provide trauma informed care, you’re helping empower students who have experienced trauma to feel safe in their school environment. When they feel safe, they have the space to learn and grow the way they deserve — and you can help make it happen.
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