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Your Well-being

Helping students with trauma

New York Teacher
Embracing education informed by trauma
Olivia Singler

The pandemic has been traumatic for everyone. A child may have lost a loved one and may feel unsure about their future. Students may have had difficulty adjusting to the remote learning environment and experienced a lack of structure and boundaries.

Some children have withdrawn from friends and family and can’t enjoy things they used to enjoy. They may have experienced decreased or increased appetite or sleep as well as heightened anxiety or a sense of isolation.

In the classroom, students may be moody, disruptive or angry. They may struggle with school and homework, complain of physical problems such as headaches or stomach aches, and develop unfounded fears. They may feel depressed, emotionally numb or even suicidal.

We know trauma can slow or stop learning, and students experiencing trauma are more likely to fall behind in class or get in trouble for behavior issues. They may be misdiagnosed with ADHD or referred to special education. That’s why the UFT successfully advocated for more social workers in schools and social-emotional screenings for all students at the end of October.

What can you do?

Respond to your class with compassion and curiosity. It’s always important to build positive relationships with students and their families, and it’s even more important with students who are experiencing trauma.

Here are some other tips to create a compassionate classroom:

  • Be mindful of your own emotions. Identifying and managing your feelings can model that behavior for your students.
  • Expect students to overreact, and provide strategies, tools and the time and space they need to calm down.
  • Give students opportunities to talk or write about their experiences. Understanding the reasons behind a student’s behavior can help you respond with empathy.
  • Ask your school counselor for recommendations and support.
  • Remember to be compassionate with yourself, too. See self-care tools.

For additional resources, visit Your Well-Being.

The UFT Member Assistance Program offers short-term counseling and outside referrals to help you deal with a wide range of issues.