The slipshod back-to-school attitude and the usual holiday hangover aside, the students you are receiving from this break are also affected by the general remorse and melancholy of the mourning period, something likely to impact their functioning in school. This then calls for special care and sensitivity as we receive them in class.
First off, prepare to handle some unbecoming behaviour like rudeness, talking out of turn, withdrawal, silent treatment or evasion. This is not, in any way, to mean that you should prepare for doom; actually you may have students who do not educe any such tendencies, but you are better primed. The point here is that sometimes children’s reactions to trauma can be misunderstood as ‘difficult’ or naughty’ behaviour and it’s normal to find this frustrating, but expressing anger, or blaming the child for such behaviour might only make things worse.
That being said, the first thing to do is for the teacher to be in the right state of mind. The mourning period affected everybody, might have even affected teachers more. You will not be of any help to your students if you are stressed out and depressed. The metaphor of putting on your own oxygen mask first before putting it on the child is very true in this situation. It takes a calm person to introduce calmness to other people, otherwise your students may be scared off their skin by your unintended blunt comments or panic attacks.
Once that is done, respond to the students needs in a kind, compassionate way. When you notice that a child might be having a difficult time, start by asking yourself, “What’s happening here?” rather than “What’s wrong with this child?” This simple mental switch can help you realise that the student has been triggered. Once you recognise the trigger, kindly and compassionately handle the issue. This will help the child gain a sense of control and help him or her to feel safe once more.
It might also suffice to reduce heavy demands on students. Avoid initial testing or insistence on assignment completion on the first week, much less the first day. In as much as we want to get back into the term and we have a number of activities scheduled, a smooth transition is crucial here. So, consider going slow on the learners but at the same time using strategies that promote collaborative learning and creating comfortable and courteous classroom environment.
Finally, at all costs, avoid careless utterances like: “I hope you had a happy holiday!” or your mum, grandma, dad examples because if they lost any of them during the traumatic time, you will have inadvertently opened up fresh wounds. More critically, discourage mean comments from students towards other students. Even the scenarios and examples you use in class shouldn’t be too sad because any small thing can be a trigger.
Conclusively, in addition to impacting behaviour, trauma can wreak havoc on a student’s ability to learn, even if they didn’t experience it firsthand. Teachers should always be sensitive in the healing process. This, when done well, can facilitate developmentally appropriate movement toward self-expression, stress management, problem solving, and recovery.
The writer is a Language Consultant