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.
Summer 2017 in Seward, Alaska
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.
I’ll admit, I don’t often use sports metaphors. I do love baseball and football, but they don’t encompass my being. Our school is a basketball school and I don’t know as much about the sport as I should after a decade plus. Certainly not enough to use basketball-based imagery.
But here I am: one (big) assignment away from submitting all work required for my M.Ed in Education Leadership. And clearly procrastinating it while I decide which phrase to use the rest of the night.
Red Zone: this is the last 20 yards before a touchdown. It makes me think of offensive plays, though the defense also has red zone stats. (Actually, is it really a thing other than the TV graphics and commentators? Like I said, fan, not fanatic.) The team wants to convert the red zone field position into a score, preferably a touchdown.
Bottom of the 9th: this is clearly an offensive term since there is no bottom of the 9th if the home team is winning. The visiting team is on the offensive (as the defense) to keep the ball off the field, out of the stands, off the scoreboard. The home team is actually playing offense, looking to advance runners and win the game.
Friends, I think I’m in the bottom of the 9th here. Perhaps down by three with one out left but the bases are loaded and the clean-up hitter is at bat. Full-count then the sweetest, juiciest pitch ever slips from the pitcher and there it goes. Root for the home team grand slamming away.
What a dramatic metaphor…if you’re into baseball.
The good news is that the situation isn’t quite two-out, full-count drama. More like a single runner on base and all the outs left to use in a one-run game. And possibly extra innings because of the extension I received because my husband’s cancer decided to throw down, charge the mound, and delay the game for a bit.
Stading to the plate.
Game’s on the line.
A crook of the elbow.
A shuffle of the feet.
Settle into the crouch.
And here’s the pitch.
My goal was to blog once a week about Genius Hour as we did it in class. I got one week. And I think there is a draft in here somewhere for week two. But then this poor blog falls fallow, like so many other years. Well, my new co-teacher is planning on blogging once a week and I am going to use her to keep me accountable.
Necessity: I am starting my third week out of the classroom, unplanned. A month ago, we rather suddenly discovered my husband has cancer. Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma (Clear Cell), if you care for the specifics. We have a big, big monster to slay so we’ve left Alaska and got him set up in Seattle for care there. Family first. I’m very thankful to my co-workers, school, and district for their agreement in that belief.
Invention: Now, I know many teachers do this all the time: deliver content online to students. And I am generally moving my few electives to blended-style courses that can be (mostly) accessed asynchronously. This week, though, I’m designing a series of lessons that my co-teacher will help deliver in person to our MS ELA class so that when I’m back in person, we keep carrying on. It’s a read-aloud. I love reading aloud to students. So why let a few thousand miles interfere with that?
Here’s a video I recorded for my class where one-take dorkiness abounds.
If you’re looking for a fun elementary/middle grade read aloud to do this Spring, look up The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown.
PS. Some friends set up a social media campaign of encouragement for us in this cancer journey; check out #stadingstrong on Facebook, IG, and some on Twitter.