Trauma is estimated to affect the lives of one half to three fourths of all young people in America. The impact trauma places on a student's ability to function can be debilitating and impact the learning environment for not just himself but for others as well.
Being a trauma-informed educator is being a better educator. Every community has students dealing with trauma as well as students impacted by short-term and long-term stress and anxiety. Students can feel stress from peers, home (or lack thereof), classrooms, social/learning expectations, a lack of the necessary skills to manage daily situations, and more. According to the American Psychological Association, "Many of the reactions displayed by children and adolescents who have been exposed to traumatic events are similar or identical to behaviors that mental health professionals see on a daily basis.…These include: the development of new fears, separation anxiety,...sleep disturbance, nightmares, sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, reduced concentration, decline in schoolwork, anger, somatic complaints, [and] irritability" (Children and Trauma Update 2008).
Teacher stress also has unintended consequences for students. We might talk about having a bad day, but what happens when it bleeds over into the learning environment? Research shows that a teacher unable to check personal stress at the classroom door affects students. For example, I still remember sitting in chemistry class in high school and being unable to concentrate because I could hear my English teacher screaming at his class. All I could think about was my terror for the bell because I had his class next. I very much enjoyed the teacher, but I also feared him and the humiliation I'd feel if I was the focus of his rage. The time in which I grew up had the suck-it-up or "walk it off" philosophy. I would have been laughed at or ridiculed if I'd verbalized my fears to my coach, parents, or other trusted adult. Thankfully, today we have research about childhood trauma and know more about real or perceived fear and stress. We would not laugh or ignore a student's plea for help processing a situation. It was not until I received trauma informed/stress management classroom training that I connected the dots to my own experience and realized my poor participation and grade in chemistry was partially due to my inability to focus due to that upcoming English class. Educators dealing with their own stress or trauma have an impact on classroom management, effective teaching, safe classroom climate, and "students with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol…suggesting classroom tensions could be 'contagious'" (Sparks 2017).
It is imperative to embrace the critical role our libraries play as in loco parentis caregiver, safe space/place, community hub, judgement free zone, and much more. In order to do right by our students, families, and coworkers, we must come to work every day consciously considering how to mentally care for ourselves and leave personal problems at the door. We must also treat students with compassion and engage them with rational calm to ensure we maintain the best library environment possible.
The resources within this issue will be invaluable as it transforms or reminds us of best practice. Whether new to incorporating the emotional impact of trauma, stress, and anxiety on learning and environment in the library and school; refreshing your knowledge; or an advanced trainer yourself, there is a nugget to take away from every page. You will be empowered by your engagement with our authors in this issue and through their experience and guidance find yourself building better relationships.
Children and Trauma Update for Mental Health Professionals. American Psychological Association, 2008. https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/update.pdf
Sparks, Sarah D. "How Teachers' Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup." Education Week Teacher (June 7, 2017). https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/06/07/how-teachers-stress-affects-students-a-research.html