trauma (noun): a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
Trauma-informed teaching is a new term that represents what good teachers instinctively know: a child isn’t going to learn to the best of his or her ability if they are dealing or have dealt with trauma in their life. If a child lives in a home where there is violence and fear, her brain isn’t going to function at full capacity. A teen who stays awake all night to keep her abuser from coming into her bedroom yet again probably isn’t going to stay awake too well in class. Children who only eat food at school because there is nothing else are not going to have stellar Mondays. Good teachers know that learning will not be the most important thing in these students lives when survival is on the line. Great teachers will take the time to do something about it.
What about the children whose father’s terminal prognosis from Stage IV Kidney Cancer came to pass a lot sooner than anyone expected? Living with a parent who has a chronic illness is stressful enough, and many families who have this prognosis do approach it as a chronic disease: something to manage. Priorities change, foci change, benchmarks for success change. Great teachers work with these students to individualize for their educational needs while also helping meet social and emotional needs.
When the passing comes, though, children react differently depending on developmental stages. The seven-year-old takes everything seemingly in stride while feeling “a little bit sad” that her dad has died. The nine-year-old is angry, going through all of dad’s things, pushing the boundary of established rules yet trying to step up and be helpful around the house. The 14-year-old retreats into Netflix and laughs some of mom’s weak jokes about being a single homeowner and tries not to let the sadness overwhelm her by hanging out with a trusted friend or two.
It isn’t just trauma-informed teaching we are doing. It is trauma-informed everything. Because their mom is also in the midst of a great trauma and things aren’t going to run as well with a sub in her classroom as it might otherwise. Her students are concerned and her colleagues are compassionate.
We knew my husband’s kidney cancer would shorten his life but we most certainly did not expect it to be over on Labor Day 2018. Not when three weeks prior he had been healthy enough to travel back home from Seattle where he’d been doing treatment for six months, reconnect with his friends through visits, and transition to being a stay-at-home dad. We expected a few more years at least of this and us being a family of five with a dog. In twelve years of teaching at my school, we’ve only lost two parents and those were a while ago. Three students lost a parent over that weekend, nevermind their teacher mom.
Great teachers do something about it.
We love you, husband and dad. Thank you for taking care of us so well.