Tuesday, December 6, 2022

It’s Simple Math: Student Trauma Equals Teacher Stress

I love being an educator and a mentor to other teachers, but it is not for the faint of heart, because being a teacher is one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Sometimes it seems as if what you are doing is not making as big of an impact as you had hoped. It can be overwhelmingly stressful and rewarding at the same time. Yet, the stress you feel isn’t all because of what you would think. The stress is often related to the trauma your students have experienced.

According to Eyal, M., Bauer, T., Playfair, E., & McCarthy, C. J. (2019),

One recently articulated source for teacher stress is trauma-related stress, defined as adverse behaviors and emotions resulting from continued interaction with victims of traumatic experiences. Teachers spend much of their professional lives in classrooms full of students, a significant percentage of whom can have trauma histories.

The greatest part of being an educator has nothing to do with teaching, but everything to do with building relationships and helping a child to be his/ her unapologetic self. Many students face various traumas in life, and it’s teachers who spend the majority of days with them, helping them to navigate life.

We cannot forget that many teachers, while trying to deal with such traumatic behaviors, are themselves, right in the middle of their own boiling tragedies; concurrently, others are in the midst of dealing with their own past traumas.

Life doesn’t stop to coincide with our profession. I have taught through times when I lost my parents and siblings, yet I had to push forward. Even as I deal with my life’s traumas, students enter my classroom bringing their own past traumas which often show up in the classroom as unwanted behaviors. Many teachers have no idea how to handle such behaviors and not only that, they do not have the knowledge and skills to know that these behaviors are not simply willful defiant behaviors but they are behaviors stemming from traumatic events.

Ball, A., & Anderson-Butcher, D. (2014) writes:

Roeser and Midgley (1997) found that one source of teacher stress can be the perceived “burden” of mental health needs among students. This is not surprising because traditional teacher education often lacks emphasis on responding to student mental health needs . Consequently, teachers may feel unprepared, ill-informed, and overwhelmed by their students’ mental health needs.

How can we learn to deal with traumatic student behaviors in a positive manner instead of dealing with students as just another bad apple? And while doing so, how can we ensure that their trauma does not become our trauma? The answer isn’t easy, but there is hope. To begin the process, we must first begin with the educational system. They must focus on increasing the capacity of educators to understand mental health and trauma and use it to serve students.

Because teachers must understand how to deal with mental health challenges in their classrooms, Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) must be mandated in every school system in America and to parents and stakeholders. YMHFA is the help given to a young person who is experiencing crisis or noncrisis situations. It provides support for teachers so that they know how to handle students who may be living with undiagnosed mental illness or who may be contimplating suicide. “Youth Mental Health First Aid is an internationally recognized, evidence-based program that has been shown to save lives, expand knowledge of mental health and treatments, increase services provided, and reduce stigma associated with mental health challenges.” (Sandy Hook Faculty Receives Special Training in Youth Mental Health First Aid, 2014).

School officials must also recognize that all teachers must be well versed in Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD).

The first is the need to embrace the best information available concerning emotional and behavioral disorders. Teachers will need to learn the extent of the need, the range of disorders that affect these children, and the resources required to meet their diverse needs effectively. Second, the entire child-serving community needs to fully grasp the findings that students who have EBD and who are served in a special education setting have serious mental health problems and are not simply bad or undersocialized. Their problems are complex and often cut across the traditional agency boundaries of education, mental health, and child welfare systems. Third, in spite of a wealth of evidence-based interventions, the outcomes for students identified as having EBD are not satisfactory. Fourth, effective school-based mental health programs need to be universal in scope and part of the total school culture and value system. Finally, if schools are going to be effective at promoting the mental health needs of youth, they need to be more effective in supporting and engaging families as partners in promoting positive emotional development and academic success for their children (Kutash, K., Duchnowski, A. J., & Green, A. L. (2015).

EBD is one of the most prevalent disorders in schools which add to teacher stress and burnout. This mental health disorder alone often causes teachers to rethink their choice in careers. If teachers are well versed and are more comfortable with understanding the underlying causes and how to deal with these students without taking their behaviors personally, many teachers may avoid the stressful pitfall of burnout.


Ball, A., & Anderson-Butcher, D. (2014).Understanding teachers’ perceptions of student support systems in relation to teachers’ stress. Children & Schools, 36 (4), 221 – 229. doi: 10.1093/cs/cdu017

Eyal, M., Bauer, T., Playfair, E., & McCarthy, C. J. (2019). Mind-Body Group for Teacher Stress: A Trauma-Informed Intervention Program. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 44(3), 204-221. https://doi.org/10.1080/01933922.2019.1634779

Kutash, K., Duchnowski, A. J., & Green, A. L. (2015). Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Youth With Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Beyond Behavior, 24(2), 4–13. https://doi.org/10.1177/107429561502400202

Sandy Hook Faculty Receives Special Training in Youth Mental Health First Aid (2014). Curriculum Review, 54(2), 6.