Our kiddos are in crisis.
Hey there folks. Happy Friday. How are you hanging in there? It's almost winter break! Are you all getting ready to (not) travel for the holidays? Are you wearing your masks? Good! I know this week has been crazy for everyone. It always is a crazy time the week before winter break. Like me, you may be telling yourself the same thing you do every. single. year. "Hang in there. This'll be okay. This week always sucks." TV talking heads, bloggers, vloggers ... they're all echoing the exact same thing. But folks, we need to have a chat. It's not the same. This is not normal. The kids are not alright, and treating this week (really, any week during this third wave) as a "normal" week is doing a huge disservice to our kiddos.
I found this note left for me this morning from one of my older students:
and here is the back:
Folks, no kiddo should be feeling this much shame or guilt ever about learning. Struggling, making mistakes, fixing them, and seeking help are all parts of being a learner. They're a part of school. Heck, they're a part of life! Those vital pieces of what education means are never meant as something to apologize for, and they are certainly never a waste of time. While I'm sure every adult has felt this way about their learning at one point or another, what is key here is the desperation in this note: the cry for help. The feeling of abject failure. And I'm not even this kiddo's teacher! I'm just the tutor helping out! If I am getting these notes, just imagine the amount of stress this particular kiddo is under. And this kiddo isn't alone. Another parent just last night mentioned:
"Yep, even our typically even-keeled-spreading-sunshine-and-glitter girl had a meltdown today. When she does, we all freak out because we know that it’s something serious."
Recent surveys have shown that as many as 38% of kiddos nationwide are failing at least one subject in school currently. The typical failure rate is between 5-8% at a given time). That's over a quarter of ALL students nationwide. When we dig deeper, we see that the culprit is more complex than "COVID" or "distance learning", although those are the overarching buzz-words we hear. We know that distance learning is not working for a majority of kiddos locally and nationwide. That's nothing new. We've been discussing it ad-nauseum for months.
We know that those farthest from educational equity (students of color and those with IEPs and 504s) are more at-risk. In "normal times'', those are the students most likely to fail, drop out, be cited for behavioral issues, and turn away from school as a safe space. Notice I said "be cited for behavioral issues" and not "have behavioral issues'' - that's a topic for another time. The common thread? These students are at a much higher risk of experiencing some form of trauma than their more privileged peers. Much higher. In fact, "individuals with disabilities are over four times as likely to be victims of crime as the non-disabled population...(Sobsey, 1996)" and "...sixty-four percent of the children who [are] maltreated [have] a disability. (Sullivan & Knutson, 1998)." During COVID? Those students began at a disadvantage. They began with trauma. Add on three waves of a pandemic, staggering anxiety, depression, loss, and uncertainty? We have a nation of kiddos in crisis.
Psychologists, teachers, and parents have been saying this for months in small doses: an article here, a Facebook post pleading for advice there, and a teacher doing backflips to accommodate their students to the best of their ability over there. And still, we keep plodding on. And on. Towards grading like this is any normal school year (yes, I'm calling that teacher at Seattle Central out). Towards planning and then rescinding standardized assessments tied to school performance (yes, I'm calling you out, Seattle Public Schools). Towards evaluating teachers who were all forced to throw their entire career-worth of knowledge out the window and start from scratch to teach online (every teacher, veteran or otherwise, that I have talked to - every. single. one). And we wonder why I am getting notes like the one above. Or another student is sending an email like the one below:
If you are in this email, you are either a teacher of a class I am failing, or you are my parents, and my tutor...As you probably know, I am failing your classes. I take full responsibility for not reaching out sooner and getting everything done when it was supposed to.
I know that realistically, I would not be able to get a C or higher in your classes before the end of the semester. I have accepted that fact, however I plan to work on schoolwork throughout winter break. My hope is to get a passing grade at the least in all of your classes.
Again, I apologize for not reaching out sooner, and I'm terribly sorry to inconvenience you all right before winter break. I would like to know what work in your classes that I should prioritize, and get done first. I would really appreciate some guidance.
Thank you, and apologies for the inconvenience,
If you're finding it hard to breathe after reading that, don't worry. You don't need a COVID test. That's just the second example this week of a student in crisis reaching out to anyone who will listen, laying all of the blame at their own feet, and begging for help. That shortness of breath you're feeling? That's the feeling you get when you're experiencing needless mounting anxiety and panic first-hand. Here's my response:
"Hi Student, Teachers, and Parents,
I'm really sorry to see Student struggling in so many classes, especially when they are so bright. I think it is imperative to remember that this current online modality is really a struggle for many kiddos, Student included. Student is by far not the only kiddo in this same boat right now, nor the only kiddo having a similar moment of crisis this week before winter break...
I am contracted by Student's family to work on (subjects), but right now, we're focused so much on keeping their head above water emotionally and attempting to whack - a - mole with the rest to keep up that we really can't even begin to work on anything other than social-emotional skills and study skills at this point. When a kiddo who already has experienced trauma in their life runs into something as huge as a pandemic and a dynamic shift in the way learning is presented and relationships are formed, it's unsurprising that they struggle with engagement and work production. It isn't laziness, I assure you. It is a real physical, mental, and emotional hurdle to overcome to just engage on a basic level before any learning can take place. I'm sure we all feel some measure of that, but for kiddos with trauma, it is magnified tenfold. Anything we can do to compensate for this huge disadvantage, or to increase understanding and awareness is paramount. If I can be helpful in providing trauma-informed teaching resources, please let me know.
Until then, hang in there Student and fam. We're on your team."
After I sent my reply, I was thinking: ALL of my students are trauma students. I'd argue that the majority of students in the nation are trauma students right now. While there are certainly some that are thriving with remote learning, the vast majority, and certainly the majority of students with special needs, are exhibiting trauma responses whether the learning is in-classroom or remote. It's more important than ever to approach all teaching and learning interactions with a trauma-informed lens. To continue to neglect to do so, and to continue on with business as normal is slowly driving our kiddos to ruin.
For More Resources...
Click below for a few excellent trauma-informed teaching and learning resources. I'll also add a resource page to the main website. This is just a start, and while I've had quite a bit of training as a trauma-informed educator both in my career as a teacher and working with non-profits, I am not an expert.
Introduction to Trauma-Informed Teaching
The How and Why of Trauma-Informed Teaching
Trauma-Informed Teaching During COVID
**Note that all identifying information about students and families has been changed or deleted to protect their identities. I thank them for their honesty and courage in sharing space, time, and vulnerability so that we all can learn and benefit.
Sarah Abshire (she/her) is a former Seattle Public Schools teacher and current advocate for the transgender and non-binary community in Seattle. Sarah is bisexual, has a nine year old daughter, and a beloved husband that works in tech. She enjoys playing Animal Crossing, creating art of all types, and doing anything in the Seattle rain/shine (which is totally a thing).