By Machelle Rogers
Something came undone in me one night while I was watching the news and the weight of my chosen career came crashing down with a sudden clarity. I was watching a report of the Florida students and their planned re-arrival at their school the next day following a school shooting that took 17 of their community; the teachers were standing in front of the school with signs to welcome them back, offer care, and promise hope. And I fell apart.
The report was covering all the ways students would be and are supported in their return following a traumatic and tragic event and I wondered who would be there for the teachers? What about their trauma, sleepless nights worrying about their students and how they, as the teacher, could face going back themselves?
Some of my own stressful events with students came flooding back into memory and for a bit, I experienced my own little post-trauma stress. I relived the body check and being told by my principal to not press charges or rock the boat; I relived the screaming, yelling, desk throwing child placed in my room for cooling down; the child brought for Think Time who ended up throwing chairs at me and destroying my room and computer- all while my students watched in horror. I relived my student melting down and threatening suicide while destroying anything in his path. I suppose that is why I fell apart.
I am not alone. I know this. Many, if not all, teachers have experiences like this that give sleepless nights and moments or hours of anxiety.
What does this mean for students and teachers?
It means that for some teachers, this will be too much and the system loses another hero. It means that teachers cry many tears. It means that teachers can’t focus and resort to “punting with purpose” for their lessons. In a report out of Pennsylvania State University, it was reported that, when teachers are highly stressed, students show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance. It means that teachers and students lose out on relationships and academia at a level necessary for learning. It means that teachers need support and help.
It means for students who have experienced trauma, in any form, that academia takes a vacation. It means that allowances must be made in behavior and expectation. It means that structure must remain for normalcy, but fluidity of learning has to be allowed. It means that students cry many tears. It means students can’t focus on heavy academic information. It means that relationships are crucial. It means that students need support and help.
This means that a new style of discipline, responsiveness, and learning must be adapted by everyone. This is not an advocating of new curriculum or new standards, but an advocating of a new united front. Building relationships sometimes isn’t enough and we need to acknowledge that and move forward to something beyond saying we build relationships. What is the new step? I don’t know, but I do know that we need to change the isolation that is part of education.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are a start in this process, but it needs more than that. I am very lucky to be in a school where we like each other, truly care for each other, and support each other. This has not been an overnight endeavor, but one forged from shared tragedies and trauma- as well as one forged from PLC work and celebrations. Over the years, our work to support all student success has helped direct our processes.
However, when recent student behaviors created traumatic events, we were at a loss as how to help- except to say we stood with each teacher. As a teacher in this event, it is easy to feel isolated and alone. It is overwhelming and all-consuming in its emotionality and energy. Listening and offering support is empowering and helps lift the load- even when nothing else is done. As a song from The High School Musical movie says: We’re all in this together. We’re there together for each other every time. That’s what we need to believe: we’re there together for each other every time.