Teens under Stress
Few people are aware of many teachers’ little known secret: Sometimes, when teachers become so angry or frustrated, aggravated, or even bewildered by their hormonally-charged students, they would like nothing more than to act the age of their students.
In these moments, teachers are very tempted to yell at their students, respond with a sharp or sarcastic comment, or roll their eyes in dismay. The problem is that, when the teacher loses it, the stress level in the entire classroom will rise as a result.
The unfortunate reality is that chronically stressed teachers all but guarantee stressed kids as well. There are entire classrooms filled with children or teenagers stricken with higher levels of cortisol, the well-known stress hormone—according to one study. What’s more, there are significant numbers of teachers who experience secondary traumatic stress.
Secondary Traumatic Stress
It may seem hard to believe, but each year more than 10 million children in the United States are the victims of the trauma of adverse events, abuse, violence, or natural disasters. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can cause significant emotional and behavioral problems that can lead to a profound disruption in the children’s lives.
For online school psychologists and teachers who are charged with the care of traumatized children and their families, merely listening to the tales of trauma can exact an emotional toll that compromises the functioning of the online school psychologist or teachers and reduces their quality of life.
The emotional duress that results from listening to the first-hand trauma experience of someone else is known as secondary traumatic stress. Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress often mimic PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Individuals who are afflicted by secondary traumatic stress may re-experience their trauma or notice increased avoidance or arousal reactions in response to indirect trauma exposure. The symptoms may become even more severe to include changes in memory and perception, a reduced sense of self-efficacy, a depletion of personal resources, and disruption in their perceptions of safety or trust.
The Relentlessness of Teaching
Most teachers work between 60 and 80 hours a week. Teachers are ‘on’ from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave. It’s a non-stop occupation. This increased vulnerability to secondary traumatic stress, coupled with the relentless demands of teaching, is a potent cocktail that could potentially debilitate a teacher.
Aside from their increased vulnerability, many teachers are reluctant to seek help regarding the emotional challenges of their job. Teachers feel like they always need to “get it right” and be in control. They believe that any “crack in the armor” will be seen as a weakness and incur consequences from the administration or the parents.
Social-Emotional Learning for Teachers
Experimenting with building social and emotional skills has become quite common around the country. But what isn’t sufficiently recognized is that many teachers are being asked to impart these very helpful and essential curricula to the children, while lacking the ability to identify and manage their own emotions.
Teachers need to find ways to bring the language of emotions and feelings front and center into the classroom. And when teachers open up about how they are feeling in a dignified and respectful manner, the children are more likely to open up as well and lower those cortisol levels.
Equally important is building relationships with students, caring about them, and letting the children know that they are cared about. Many teachers have found that, once the children feel cared for by a teacher, they will do practically anything for the teacher.
Ultimately it’s about helping the children deal with their own emotions. And this can only begin in earnest when the teacher can find out what’s going on with the kids. There is too much guessing involved in trying to deal with children’s anxiety and depression. Instead of assuming what the problems are, teachers need to allow the children to express their concerns.
Another way for a teacher to be helpful is to apologize to the student when the teacher has wronged the child in some way. It is very powerful when an adult owns up to a mistake and apologizes to a kid. Aside from validating the child, it empowers the child to do the same when the child has committed a misdeed.
The Desired Flow
Ultimately, the emotional balance in the classroom is the responsibility of the teachers. But instead of merely teaching the children how to deal with their emotions, teachers need to deal with their feelings beforehand. Aside from modeling, teachers’ emotional balance will be “felt,” leading to more peace and harmony in the classroom and beyond.