The enormity of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School has barely begun to sink into the collective consciousness of our country. As a mother of an elementary school child, I was apprehensive as I dropped her off at school this week. I noticed the extra staff members in attendance in the car line, but also noticed their nervous smiles as they waved good morning to me and I bid my daughter goodbye.
It was hard not to think of those parents who said goodbye to their children the morning of December 14, totally unaware that their parting words would be forever. I am an emotional person, so I have found it very difficult to hear any mention of this massacre. I have purposefully avoided news channels blanketed with coverage of the grief and loss. I have focused on family, friends, and feeling the spirit of the season. I know too well that if I begin watching the events unfold in that quaint New England town, I will not be able to keep it together. But I am also aware that I must address this issue with my daughter. She will continue to hear about it from friends, classmates, and perhaps even staff members at her school. I struggle with how to broach this subject, how to answer her questions, how to make her feel safe. I fear I will fail miserably.
Millions of children’s lives will be forever changed as a result of this tragedy. And millions of our nation’s elementary school children will go about their daily routines today. They will see their classmates. They will see their friends. They will see their teachers. And their teachers, the majority of whom are probably also traumatized, will be charged with the awesome responsibility of helping our children feel secure, all while dealing with their own shock, grief, and fear. They will have to prepare our children for tests, homework, and even the holidays while calming and comforting them.
Given the immense task that lies ahead for this indispensable group of people, it is important that society recognizes the challenges teachers face so they can be supported in every way possible. Eva Alisic of the Psychotrauma Center for Children and Youth at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands recently led a study that examined the perceptions of teachers dealing with traumatized children.
She interviewed 21 teachers from 13 schools and evaluated their level of perceived competence, secondary stress, and posttraumatic stress. She asked them about the support they felt they had or lacked and how they thought they could best serve the needs of traumatized elementary school students. Alisic found that although most of the teachers felt comfortable helping traumatized children overcome challenges in the classroom, emotionally and academically, they also felt they were probably not giving the best support possible. “Even though teachers identified helpful factors such as support by colleagues, the main finding was that they struggled with providing support to children after traumatic exposure,” Alisic said.
In general, they were unsure that they were meeting the children’s needs and felt overburdened by the emotional task they faced. The teachers also expressed a desire to have more information and knowledge about trauma exposure, its effects, and how to handle those challenges. Although this study focused on children with various types of trauma exposure, it underscores the needs that the country’s teachers will face in the coming weeks and months. Teachers, staff members, and parents should be supported in every way possible and provided with every resource available to help our children cope with the devastating emotional blow that our country was dealt in Newtown, Connecticut.
Alisic, Eva. Teachers’ perspectives on providing support to children after trauma: A qualitative study. School Psychology Quarterly 27.1 (2012): 51-59. Print.
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