Teaching with Awareness: The Hidden Effects of Trauma on Learning

  • Sitler H
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ew educators would disagree with this statement: " Trauma has always been part of learning and teaching " (Borrowman and White 2006, 182). Yet most teachers, K–college, know little about how to manage the classroom effects of trauma. In this essay, readers meet two students, Laurie and Will. Their experiences teach educators much about the intersections between trauma and learning. Laurie and Will speak to the need for a pedagogy that can be called teaching with aware-ness. Throughout the years, some more successful than others, I have learned that teaching with awareness benefits not only students like Laurie and Will, but also all learners. Laurie is a fifth grader who almost never has her homework done, although her teacher has talked with her about it. She is also having trouble with reading. Will, a first-year college student, wears a hooded sweat-shirt pulled down shading his eyes and spends class time in a sleep-like posture—head sunk on his arm, which is flung across the surface of his desk. One's first impressions of these students are reveal-ing. The teacher who told me about Laurie said, " I've thought she was lazy, careless. I've thought she just wasn't trying very hard. " As I began to work with Will, a student in my classroom, my first descriptors of him included resistant to authority, not ready to be in col-lege, and weak student. On the surface, both students appeared unmotivated and disengaged. Yet, although their behaviors suggested one thing, the reality of their lives revealed another. Each of these students is living with or recovering from psychological trauma. Laurie and Will are learners whose concerns outside the classroom overwhelmed them. We have all taught students like Laurie and Will. We may well have tagged them with the same kinds of negative descriptors. Developing a pedagogy of aware-ness can help a teacher to reframe perceptions and con-sequently, help disengaged or difficult students reinvest in their learning.

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  • Helen Collins Sitler

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