What can school leaders do to support teachers who may experience vicarious trauma? Dr. Dorothy C. Handfield @consultingDCH
Dr. Dorothy C. Handfield: Schools can provide mental health services for staff members and staff appreciation events. This may demonstrate that schools are concerned with the total well being of their employee. We also need to be less judgmental of our parents and their circumstances.
Vicarious trauma is a major component of the teaching experience today. Children come to school now with so many issues from outside the school and teachers are expected to teach them. There are times when no teaching takes place in my classroom but conversations about things that are bothering them happen instead. In teacher education programs, we learn how to differentiate lessons, provide opportunities for growth, and work to make our students successful. However, no one talks about the fact that we have to deal with hungry kids, kids who are tired because they have worked all night, kids who are dealing with abusive relatives, kids who are angry, or kids who have kids themselves.
Teachers have no training to deal with trauma but it is like most teachers to try and be there for the students. We absorb all of the hurt, the anger and the feelings of hopelessness. In turn, we feel those same things because, for some of our students, there is nothing we can do to truly help them. Yes, we can refer them to an overworked guidance counselor, who has a ton of other duties. We can sometimes refer them to mental health services, if it’s available, but often the parents refuse to sign permission for the child to participate, citing ‘I don’t want them folks knowing my business.’ It takes a toll on you mentally because you can’t help but be concerned. I’m fortunate because my district does include 6 free mental health sessions with a local counseling firm and additional sessions are covered by insurance but all teachers don’t have access to those types of services. Being exposed to vicarious trauma daily breaks down your spirit and, for some, propels their leaving of the profession.
Dr. Mona Ivey-Soto @PhDSoto : How does student trauma impact educators who have to work in a trauma environment?
Vicarious trauma is the issue. Effective, culturally responsive educators find themselves burdened by the intense and complex challenges presented. It’s important to recognize that teachers and other school personnel can’t blame or punish students for high ACES ( Adverse Childhood Experiences) but need to address the systemic reason why ACES exist (racism, lack of affordable housing, healthcare inequality). Being trauma-informed means challenging oppressive policies, not the people (students or families) impacted and carrying the burden. This doesn’t mean that students are excused from taking responsibility but the burden of punishment or error shouldn’t be shouldered by our young people of color and others marginalized. Radical self-care and ensuring that there are whole school trauma-informed policies and practices will help to reduce teacher burnout and turnover when working in schools and communities impacted by trauma.
Dr. Mike Robinson: After hearing the comments from Stacie McClam, author of School Dismissed: Walking Away From Teaching, do you think student trauma is an issue impacting teacher retention?
Dr. Cristina Rodriguez Chen: Unfortunately, this problem is ever-present in education. This is exactly why I resigned from my position as Director of Special Programs. I am not old enough to retire. But I just couldn’t work for a school district one more day. Now I work for myself
Dr. Mike Robinson: Dr. Smith, after hearing the comments from Stacie McClam, author of School Dismissed: Walking Away From Teaching, do you think student trauma is an issue impacting teacher retention?
Dr. Shanna L. Smith: It is an issue impacting teachers. I walked away from teaching in 2002 — high school wasn’t a good fit for me. Teacher Education programs don’t always give new teachers what they need: classroom management skills, dealing with behavioral & emotional issues of students, even managing a grade book. It sounds basic, but you are thrown into situations without support. It is traumatizing. It is exhausting. You get sick of feeling like you are failing every day. I felt emotionally battered, but teachers today worry about being physically battered. I never planned to teach again. I used to say what she did I’d “teach” outside the classroom. Everybody was surprised when I wound up teaching college — I was surprised. But I found my fit and all that experience - even the trauma - helped. I deal with under-prepared students every day. I also teach Secondary English Education majors. I guess I’m saying now the road I took was necessary for me to be where I am. I don’t just know my subject, I know how to teach (all PhDs don’t get teaching training).
BLACK FATHERS SUPPORTING BLACK BOYS IN SCHOOLS SHOULD BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION! BY JASON B. ALLEN @jballen5
Over the last couple of years, I seen school and business leaders talk about the importance of turning around the academic performance of Black boys. But let’s face it, we want to know the schools and organizations actually making a difference in providing better educational outcomes for Black boys.
For the second year in a row, I’ve witnessed more schools in Metro Atlanta not participate in the Million Fathers March than what’s needed. Yet, the same schools will be the first to do a campaign, press conference or major write up on the need to turnaround schools to Black boys can thrive.
WE NEED LESS TALK AND MORE WORK!
Now let me pause here. Too often we see , “more work” and actually push this down to teachers, support staff and parents. We need less from those who influence school policy and more action. Action that requires us to focus in on the bias policies around attendance, behavior and discipline that often target Black boys in schools.
It’s about challenging and changing requirements for standardized tests, special education and social, emotional learning, all major areas impacting how Black boys find success or failure in schools.
Yet we aren’t celebrating the work being done through schools and organizations that get the importance of restorative justice in schools.
BLACK FATHERS SUPPORTING BLACK BOYS IN SCHOOLS SHOULD BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION!
Black men supporting Black boys in schools isn’t a hot topic. The Black males breaking and entering, getting busted for petty thief and drug chargers, streets hustlers, gangsters and deadbeat dads seem to continue ranking high on the news and trending social media list.
However, for another year in a row the Million Fathers March wasn’t trending or breaking news. Schools across the Nation that open their doors to fathers walking their children to school/class, volunteering at bus stops, reading in classrooms or helping with multiplication facts weren’t nationally highlighted at all.
One of the hardest parts about reform work is changing the narrative. Especially for Black boys who have been negatively viewed in school data and in schools for decades. Family engagement is a very important part of the educational experience. We place too much pressure on Black boys leading them towards the school to prison pipeline and not successful pathways. Fathers Incorporated and Real Dads Read are resources for schools and communities in reaching, rearing and empowering Black boys. Especially with literacy.
Getting Black boys to read is much easier when they see Black males at home and in the community doing it. More importantly, we need more media (locally) showing positive images of Black males reading. Perception is one of the best, free resources we have in improving the perception of Black boys and reading.
For additional resources on how to engage Black males in the initiatives to support Black boys with literacy/reading please visit Fathers Incorporated or Real Dads Read.
The Chicago teachers have been on strike for 9 days. Sadly, the United States is paying very little attention. Why is that? People expect teachers to simply "do whatever it takes to make it work." If you have never been a teacher, you have no idea of the sacrifices and adjustments teachers have to do to "make it work."
Here are a few real-life examples:
"Sure, add 5 more students into my class of 30. I will need more desks added to the already overcrowded room."
"Yes, I will buy all my classroom supplies again this year, because the school board cut school supplies out of the already underfunded budget."
"Of course, I will shorten my lunch and fill in the spot needed for student supervision. No one needs 30 minutes to eat."
"Yes, I would love to take a second job because although I work 60+ hours a week as a teacher, the salary for this one is so meager, I can't afford my car insurance. "
Chicago teachers have been working in an underfunded system for years. Their class size is out of control, despite the ratio of teachers to students. Looking at that ratio, I am reminded of Mark Twain's observation about numbers - "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." Teachers are not just fighting for salary and school funding- they are striking for support for special education students, and for having librarians in schools with a large minority population. They want equity for immigrant students who need IEPs, but the parents cannot understand English, so none is available. Teachers want restorative justice coordinators, so students can be coached on how to deal with conflict, not just be penalized for being involved in a conflict. Indeed, these teachers are striking for for their students!
The teachers MUST stand up for themselves and their students. They can no longer go along to get along in a namby-pamby fashion. A strike is the only way to get the attention they need and deserve, in their attempt to resolve so many important issues.
I hope the Chicago teachers and their students are big winners with their strike. They are standing up to make conditions better for their students, as well as themselves. I like their message.
To learn more about Dede Fallot Rittman click here!
Why are so many special education kids being suspended?
And what can we do about it?
Writing for you on this drizzly day here in Eugene. It’s been such a busy time for me, probably you, too. But here and there things have managed to creep in, catch my eyes and tell me I need to reflect and write. A couple weeks ago I started to write about special education kiddos and the high number of suspensions.
As I am definitely ADD, ADHD and highly distractible, instead I read an article in US magazine about the college admission mom cheaters and ended up reading more stuff about the scandal and writing my last blog about that.
However, I have been haunted by recent personal events and national news items urging me to write to you today.
I believe in full inclusion. I believe every child deserves to be in the least restrictive environment possible to learn from others, and share their unique capabilities. All kids learn best, differently and at different rates. While I recognize why kids have labels, which in many cases, serve them well, often I would prefer not.
Although I am not a special education expert or credentialed so, as a reading researcher and teacher there was generally a connection between reading overlapping with speech and language and more unique needs. A number of the kids I worked with along the way were designated Title I, my specialty, with other stuff in the mix. My forte was kiddos in the bottom test-labeled tenth percentile, the only way is up. I was fortunate to ‘train’ and practice transformative reading strategies with Program Specialists and California Selpa (special education groups) and classrooms.
When I was Principal awhile ago now, I arrived at school to find double retainees with hair growth, the district LH (learning handicapped class) out in the boonies, in a trailer, no yard, no water, no bathroom, no hope. Immediately we moved the class into the main part of the campus, did a bit of community shuffling. I am ever grateful to the teachers for accommodating this mega move, in the name of equity.
What proved interesting was referrals to me pretty much stopped. Most other Principal referrals were for resource labeled kids and Title I, and mainly boys. There were some really violent, acting out students and way behind kids, some living in infested homes and cars. Previously the Principal paddled, as did teachers in their classrooms, boxing gloves in the Principal’s office, no kidding.
At that time, our extraordinary LH teacher focused on student success, but with some hard core behavior, could restrain in the dire times it was needed. I never did it, but I was there and it wasn’t pretty. I suspended a few kids, but other things were better. We didn’t know about the word mindfulness yet, but we lived it, I guess. Here are some of the things Bell Ave School did which curbed a myriad of inappropriate behaviors for special education, all campus kids, really.
Alternatives to suspension: what worked for us
So, experience tells me alternatives to suspension may consist of people and programs uniting in one seamless effort to help children feel successful. I agree kids are resilient, not so sure about grit for students living in cars with lack of food (except school), clothes (school), internet access (in trouble here).
I tell you when I am hungry and tired I am really cranky and I don’t know how some of our children cope and manage to be in school, let alone sit there and be compliant. So, suspension may not be surprising. Frustrated kids, hungry kids, non-compliant kids, are they the ones who are being suspended? I think yes.
Full inclusion is the right thing to do, in my opinion, as the greatness shines grace on all, however sometimes these kids also test our patience to the limits. With the high surge in ADD and ADHD labeled kids, consistently I read thirty percent uptick in last years, wonder why, screen time too much, maybe, and other factors? Anyway, these kids are bouncing all over, distracting themselves, other kids and their patient teachers.
Do whatever works for you, but start now
So put a couple way behind skills acquisition kids in any classroom, any level, adding to the mix distractibility, can’t sit still or ‘participate’ children and it does test a teacher’s soul. “It’s not like they are being intentionally mean or cruel. It’s just we ask our teachers to do a lot.” (Brent McKintosh, U of O, College of Education).
The bottom line is kids who qualify for special education “can have a variety of learning barriers from speech impairment to developmental delays. The children who are suspended the most are children with special education (SPED) classifications of Emotional Disturbances, and other health impaired….”
This may mean PTSD, phobias, depression. Attention deficits to diabetes and health concerns to monitor. Likely no school nurse, either. And sensory needs. This is a lot for a teacher in the ‘regular’ education class as well as a self-contained class to handle. Our teachers wear capes with halos above.
I’m sure you agree with me that classrooms are increasingly disrupted by inappropriate student behaviors. Is the problem simply a lack of funding? Is there a simple fix? In a recent Eugene Weekly newspaper article about local district suspensions, it states that suspensions rose greatly in the last couple years, from two to nearly three times as many special education participants, but I can’t support that with actual data. Not available. In fact, several districts say they are “working on it”, the discipline “problem”.
In some parts of the United States paddling is still the preferred choice of discipline. Imagine a traumatized child being paddled or locked in a classroom box for extended periods. How barbaric.
I feel we must definitely explore any and all alternatives to suspension for all children, notably special education. There is obviously such a discrepancy in suspension rates, our local districts won’t even disclose numbers.
About those suspensions, what kinds now?
Kids may be given in-house or out of school suspensions. That certainly doesn’t help a kid. But it does give a teacher breathing room, I admit, and the class too, from that kid poking others with a pencil. Running down the hall, or even running away from school. Climbing over or under bathroom stalls with kids in them, how gross, but who supervises bathrooms?
And what about the number of kids acting out so intensely in front of other students, maybe kicking the teacher, knocking over furniture, pretty obnoxious stuff. Oh boy, I could go on and on, maybe you, too. Thus, suspensions and expulsions? Is this consistent across our country? What are the criteria for suspending and expelling regular and special education students? Why the discrepancy? Are rates for minority children being suspended, higher?
What’s the Federal Law Say?
Did you know under federal law a special education designated child may not be suspended or expelled for more than ten days, if the behavior was because of disability?
And what about the ‘un-suspensions’? How many hours of lost instructional time for kids repeatedly just sent home from school for behavior problems? This is not on any suspension tally and I’m sure it happens all over the place. But is there a way we can get an accurate tally? Special education kids need to be at school. “You Miss School, You Miss Out.”
What about those children sent home on any given day, with no accounting. That gives even more of the scope. Kids just sent home routinely, off the record. “Come get….” This frustrates parents and guardians, and really isn’t fair in regard to us having access to consistently reliable and valid data. How can we understand reasons for suspensions and needed alternatives if we don’t have a grasp of the entire situation? Are there patterns teachers and schools can learn from which assist in alternative program development?
No wonder tired teachers and staff!
With so many kids coming to school with unique needs, knowing each one is a scholar in waiting, our teachers manage and excel in tough circumstances every day. No wonder burn-out is prevalent. A couple things need to happen right away. Besides the obvious small class sizes and full funding, we need to provide one on one teacher’s aides for highly demanding students, so the teacher can teach and kids can learn without interference or loss of instructional time due to behaviors.
Moreover, there has to be more supervision on campuses, in particular playgrounds, hallways, bathrooms. Some children need constant supervision and chaperones. Getting on and off a school bus may also be problematic and lines, forget it, a recipe for poking, pushing and obnoxious behaviors.
What’s next. You tell me. Surely we can do better.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita
I recently moved to a larger home. Yuck, I know, no one likes moving. I was, however, very excited about the move because my vision of living in an open, uncluttered home propelled me to embrace the move and all it required. I packed with gusto and was immensely proud of every box that I hauled off to donate to someone who had less clutter than I (and there are plenty of those folks out there, trust me).
However, I sit here now in my new home surrounded by my boxes, knowing that I have more boxes yet to move, and I wonder what happened to my vision of clear spaces and everything neatly stored out of sight.
It occurs to me that a bright, clear vision only stays bright and clear if it remains uncluttered. Bringing along all the old boxes that don’t really align with the new direction only impedes the progress that you seek. In the field of education, we change our vision to adapt to the demands of the changing world, the new skills our students will need and the new requirements instituted by our governments. It isn’t a drastic overhaul, generally, but it’s a fine-tuning of the vision that keeps people focused on how we can achieve our most important goal of providing exceptional educational programs.
But, I think, as I stare at my boxes, that, too often, we bring along all the old programs, the old supports, the old ways of thinking and try to stuff them into what we are creating with our new vision. The problem with that, is that you and I are not at our best when we are surrounded by clutter. When we talk about our vision for making our campuses and districts great, we need to plan on allowing dedicated time to declutter.
It’s painful to let go of what we have purchased, learned and even enjoyed, even if we now look at it and think how ugly it is and how it won’t fit into the new vision of the coming school year. As you begin the new school year, think about the vision of your district, your campus, or your classroom and start getting rid of anything you have that doesn’t align.
The reality that we all know (despite what we tell ourselves when we start saving things we no longer use) is that we will NEVER, NEVER use these things again. Times are changing and how we educate our students is changing as well. We need to be open to new ideas, new programs and new ways of producing that much-hailed 21 century student. Is there room in your district, your campus or your classroom for new ways of achieving the current vision?
Do you want to live, surrounded by clutter that impedes your ability to realize the vision? Or do you want to take time to purge and allow the strength of the vision and your openness to improvement to guide you in only allowing necessary and results-producing “boxes” in your school?
As for me, I am setting up donation boxes for another round of purging as I unpack. The vision is too powerful for me to accept anything less.
This post was first published on LinkedIn
Sara Baker, Ed.D.Founder of the Leadership Reformation | We Can Change the World, Let's Make It Happen See Less
Education The Ericka Way (Ericka W. Ways, Ph.D. @WMMSAVID): Answers the Question: Is there any value in Back To School Nights for students, parents, and educators?
Michael A. Robinson, Ed.D.: Is there any value in Back To School Nights for students, parents, and educators?
Ericka W. Ways, Ph.D.: It depends on the interest. Administration should give a survey to see how many parents are interested in attending. In addition, the survey should also ask if parents are interested in attending an alternative information session. In other words, instead of the traditional on-site school location, social media could be used as an educational platform. For example, teacher's profile pictures, biographies, classroom photos and syllabuses can be posted on an Instagram (comments should be turned OFF) school page. If parents wish to communicate with teachers, they should follow the schools procedure (This could also be posted on the school Instagram page) on requesting parent-teacher conferences. I believe that schools could use both the traditional and non- traditional platforms. However, integrating social media as form of communication may be more beneficial in saving time and communicating effectively, especially for Back to School Nights.