3 Ways Teachers Can Address Their Students’ Trauma When School Is Virtual

ByCrystal Peralta
KIPP Philly Teacher Crystal Peralta

In classrooms across the U.S. — virtual or in-person — teachers are faced with an enormous challenge: foster the academic learning process while also addressing the social-emotional needs of students during a highly traumatic period in history. With the continued pandemic and racial tensions, students are experiencing higher levels of stress than in previous years, and their emotional well-being undoubtedly influences their ability to focus and engage in their learning. As a longtime educator, I have realized that effective teaching relies on my knowledge of how to address the many forms of trauma my students experience outside of the classroom as much as within the school.

In Camden, where I have the privilege of teaching, nearly 37% of residents live below the poverty level, and the pandemic has exacerbated the area’s food insecurity, leaving more than 60,000 local residents without a stable source for nourishment — more than 17,200 of those being children. How are students supposed to focus on learning when their stomachs are grumbling for a meal?

Become an expert on the community where you teach

Other trauma barriers exist, such as language and family experiences. Half of the area’s population is Hispanic/Latinx, and many of them have experienced hardships in immigrating to the U.S. Many of my students struggle being distanced from their extended family and friends, adjusting to a new culture and a completely different educational system than they had in their native countries. My students are smart and incredibly strong, and they often do not get enough credit for their resilience. Nonetheless, these experiences do take a toll on their ability to thrive in their learning environment, and, as their teacher, it is my responsibility to ensure these traumas do not become long-term barriers to learning.

Embed real talk into all professional development and meetings

Trauma-informed teaching is at the heart of what my colleagues and I do each day as we work with our students. In our professional development, we discuss candidly and respectfully the challenges our students face and our own limitations in understanding what our students experience. Our conversations dive into sensitive topics like examining the influence of racism, poverty, peer victimization, violence, and bullying on students in our schools. We know that serving our students means we have to constantly strive for greater empathy in our views and practices as educators.

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