By Luke Grim, Guest Contributor
My students aren’t typically comfortable. At home, many experience true poverty, abuse and neglect. So if they can escape the cycle of trauma for a few hours a day, they come to school to be loved. They come to build relationships and make connections. Sure, some come just to escape, but others come just to get a solid lunch.
In my life as a teacher, it’s far too easy to allow a disconnect to rear its ugly head. Every day, I leave my comfortable life at home to go build relationships with students who are uncomfortable. Life throws me curveballs once in awhile, like everyone else, but as adults we have had opportunities to learn coping behaviors and build resilience. It’s simple for me to watch a child melt down over the “smallest” of issues and dig into the student as immature and childish. It’s also easy for me to isolate a student for queer behavior (Kumashiro, 2009), and not take the time to understand WHY the student is behaving outside the norms.
Without looking through a Trauma Informed Lens, we never fully see the child. We see a disruptive student, a belligerent student, and an aggressive student. From that lens, our discipline begins to flow, and sometimes it knows no bounds. Anyone able to relate?? Once we get upset and set discipline in motion on an “unruly child,” we are usually met with resistance and anger. This gets us going even more, and everything escalates to a point where another adult needs to step in and moderate the situation. When certain words get spoken, we may feel like “the bigger person” and forget what was said… but does the child? Can the student let bygones be bygones? Most likely not…
I vividly recall a student during my first year of teaching (ahem… still in my first year of teaching). His queer behavior caught the attention of the whole class, which distracted the whole class, and which earned my attention. The student was shredding pieces of paper (his own blank paper) inside his desk. Nothing more complicated, and nothing crazy. But because of a distraction, I felt I had to “deal with it” quickly. As I told him to stop, he said no. So we both took turns in the classroom, then later in the hallway, going down a spiral of raised voices and sour body language. It took another faculty member to walk by and assist.
When all was said and done, the child wasn’t fed breakfast that morning or dinner the night before. He was lucky to get 2 meals a day, but the norm was 1. I saw queer behavior and associated it with an out-of-line student. I felt I needed to discipline the student, instead of build a relationship with the student. I wonder… since this incident, have I learned anything about trauma? Have I looked at queer behavior through a new lens? Have I learned to take a step back and learn about the student before I “fix” the situation? I wonder.
Luke Grim is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.