A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Secondary Trauma with Teachers

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional or physical response to a terrible event. For many students in high school, change and trauma can be prominent in home life and in school life.

Similarly, secondary trauma is the response to hearing a terrible event and having the same symptoms as first-hand trauma. The symptoms are; isolation, depression, difficulty focusing, aggression, anxiety, insomnia, excessive drinking, appetite changes, anger and/or sadness.

“Roughly half of American school children have experienced at least some form of trauma. In response, educators often find themselves having to take on the role of counselors, supporting the emotional healing of their students, not just their academic growth,” writes Jessica Lander from Harvard Graduate School.

Countless teachers feel the need to take on the trauma that their students have, but the relationships between students are different for the type of class they are taking, and the type of teacher they have. Personal life is more likely to come up in a Language Arts class as opposed to a Math class.

“I just taught expository writing and the students did a personal narrative and I really learned about their lives and it was very touching. Some of them had things I had to turn in into the counseling office because we’re required if there is some kind of danger,” said Language Arts teacher Wendy Landin.

Many students know that they have the ability to go talk to a teacher or a counselor, but many teachers do not have the same advantage. The compassion fatigue that teachers face can lead to the symptoms of secondary trauma.

Often times schools are unable to provide their teachers with help or therapy, but awareness about the trauma is a key step in being able to get better, according to Concordia University.

“I’ve taught thirty years and I think that sometimes as teachers get older, they lose their empathy somewhat or they could be drained by having heard so many tales especially when you’re a Language Arts teacher,” says Landin

There are many things the teachers can do, like building a strong peer network or visit a therapist to help this trauma. A school is a safe place where the students and the teachers should have the opportunity to share how they feel, and shouldn’t feel afraid to do so.