Practicing Trauma-Responsive Teaching
Research has shown that over 80 percent of inner city youth experience one or more traumatic events in their lives, and neurobiological research tells us that such repeated stress causes brain and hormonal changes: it puts students in fight-or-flight states that can impede interpersonal relations, concentration, and learning. The UChicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP) has begun to work with the University of Chicago’s Dr. Micere Keels to integrate trauma-responsive practices into its curriculum. Research shows that exposure to trauma often manifests in the form of aggressive behavior in the classroom, and that teachers can help prevent aggressive behavior by being aware of students’ emotional states and responding with proactive de-escalation techniques. Actions as simple as greeting students at the door and asking them to complete a daily mood chart can help teachers understand and more productively respond to students’ behavior. UChicago UTEP is utilizing this research to introduce new human development coursework for beginning teachers and training workshops for alumni. UTEP students are also designing trauma-informed schools as part of their coursework to prepare for serving youth in high-trauma contexts.
Why It Matters
The current model of addressing trauma is incident-specific—school counselors are only called in after particular, often highly publicized disasters occur. This model fundamentally misunderstands the chronic trauma that children growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods experience. For example, the Chicago neighborhood in which 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was slain in 2015 had already experienced 838 violent crimes in the 365 days leading up to his death. Too many children who are coping with this kind of trauma, and thus struggling in school, are suspended or expelled and get caught in the school-to-prison-pipeline. It is imperative that educational practices in high crime communities reflect the neurobiological research on the effects of chronic trauma. Making trauma-responsive practice integral to teacher preparation prepares educators with the science and skills to make the school and classroom a space that is both educative and therapeutic—one that meets students where they are instead of punishing them for struggling with traumatic stress, and helps them work through that stress to arrive at a place where they are ready to learn.