The stress response in trauma-exposed students may be hypersensitive. When we don’t recognize race-based traumas in schools, we may be mislabeling students of color as defiant, difficult, or unteachable.
As a teacher, you can push back against mislabeling children who are experiencing race-based trauma. It starts with recognizing it. Keep reading to learn more!
The stress response in students who’ve experienced trauma may be hyper sensitive. They may be more easily set off and their reactions may not match what the teacher sees. On the other end of the spectrum, some children who have experienced ongoing traumas may shut down and being unresponsive. Their bodies have entered a dissociative state, in which they are essentially leaving their body to escape a perceived imminent threat.
Commonly thought to be the result of more recognizable trauma, race-based trauma can also lead students to seem “cold, disconnected, or uncaring” (Alvarez et al., 2016, p. 35), when in reality, they are protecting themselves. Students may be hyper-focused on perceived threats, which may interfere with their ability to attend to school expectations. These responses are all normal, yet if teachers are unaware of the roots of them in race-based traumas, they can mislabel them and perpetuate the notion that students of color are defiant, difficult, and unteachable.
Recognize Race-Based Traumas
Take a look at the table from Alvarez et al. (2016) that shows some common and "recognizable" traumas alongside similarly common yet "unrecognizable" race-based traumas. What do you notice? What I notice is that these are all things that I, as a white person, may be a) uncomfortable speaking out against and b) completely unaware of. Just because bringing up these traumas, recognizing them, and confronting them is uncomfortable doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't do something. In my next blog post, I'll discuss a great starting place for teachers in looking in the mirror to start the change to eradicate race-based traumas from schools. For now, start to notice when race-based traumas show up in schools and do your part to stop them.
Alvarez, A., Milner, H. R., Delale-O-Connor, L. (2016). Race, trauma, and education: What educators need to know. In T. Husband (Ed.) But I don't see color (pp. 27-40). Sense Publishers.
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My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.