Let us start by saying that we acknowledge that the price we are paying for social distancing is, in our opinion, worth it. Lives are the most important and irreplaceable commodity. That’s not the issue we are dealing with in this article.
With that being said, we must acknowledge as a society what we and our students are paying emotionally for that.
In the beginning, as the pandemic was just reaching the American shores, many of us were focused on not creating more trauma for our students than was absolutely necessary.
It’s safe to say that we had no idea what that would really mean until the tidal wave of the pandemic swept over us.
First and foremost, let’s recognize and deal with our own trauma: the loss of physical classroom space, the invasion of personal and private physical space, the hours and days and weeks and months of feeling inadequate and ill-equipped to do our jobs, and the loss of physical contact with our students. We have to deal with our own trauma before we can help students with theirs.
However, there are so many layers and types of trauma that our students may be experiencing that we must move forward with a cautious and careful eye toward the future in order to help them gain the skills they need to healthily deal with and close the chapter on this trauma later.
Here are some of the areas where students may be experiencing trauma.
Lack of Physical Safety
We know abuse, homelessness, and food supply is a constant threat for some students. Adding the pressure of a pandemic and economic crisis to the already serious conditions some experience during their childhood can push families past the brink.
Either now or as we begin to gather in classrooms and schools again, teachers will have to be very aware of the number of children without physical safety and begin the process of reporting. However, as the system has always been inundated, there may be necessary steps teachers have to take to aid students in their emotional progress before they have the opportunity to seek outside intervention.
In order to do this, teachers desperately need quick, thorough training on helping students with trauma stemming from lack of physical safety.
Schools are more than likely going to become triage zones for the foreseeable future.
Lack of Emotional Safety
Although many adults would never physically injure a child, emotional safety may be tenuous at best in many homes. So many adults are struggling that children may be having a difficult time developing the skills they need for good emotional hygiene.
Again, teachers and staff must be granted the training necessary to prepare for dealing with the trauma and after-effects.
Family members are dying or are very ill. Many cases of Covid-19 cause damage that doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate death but can cause lasting damage to organs and essential bodily functions.
In addition, students are dealing with the loss of their class, classroom, friends, school if they are at the age where they are transitioning to a new level, and a general loss of normalcy. It will take a long time - if ever- for students to feel secure in routine and normalcy again. We have to be prepared for that.
FearHave you felt yourself watching a television show and thought, “Oh, that’s not an appropriate social distance,” or “Why is no one wearing their masks?” It’s kind of funny now as that seemed so foreign to us just eight weeks ago.
But humans are amazingly adaptable. We’ve started to become ingrained already that some of these things are now “normal”.
In the same way, children, who may be the most flexible and resilient of us all, are gaining lots of skills for distancing. They may be doing such a great job at accomodating, in fact, that they are forgetting how to socialize.
It will take some time to reintegrate when this is done. We will have to help children become appropriately accepting of strangers and others outside of their families again. This may mean that you will have heightened anxiety among students, see many more cases of severe separation anxiety among kids of every age, and much more fear of illness.
Students (and really, all of us) will have to get used to being around people again. Crowded places may be especially difficult, so full classrooms may be very challenging initially.
Trauma is difficult to deal with, and it will definitely change education in many ways on its own, but the good news is that trauma is not terminal. It doesn’t have to end one’s life, or even make it difficult forever. Trauma can be dealt with.
It is vital that administrators and educators know that they will be dealing with it, though, and prepare for facing it well.