Trauma in the Classroom: How Teacher Self-care and Sustainability is a Solution

A friend of mine who works as a recently social worker reiterated how important adult consistency can be in children from unstable family backgrounds. In her work, she saw kids go through more than five different social workers in a row during a short period of time. She saw some kids even enter their emancipation hearings having only met their social worker once before. It’s no surprise that my friend heard kids say “I really wish the other worker was here. She really knows where I came from. She knows how much I’ve grown.”


In schools, I don’t doubt that students feel the same. Even if a student may not like a certain teacher, it’s healthy for them to know that certain adults will at the very least, always be there. It’s healthy for them to have adults who have stayed with them over time and made them feel like they have someone to rely on. And with so much change, we create a lack of institutional knowledge around each child which means kids have to constantly work to retell their story. When I went to visit my old school last year, many of my former students told me how they honestly perceived me originally leaving. One said, “I thought you were leaving because you didn’t like us.” Another told me, “I know why you left. We were really hard on you.”


Through teacher turnover, students internalize the idea that they are “too challenging” as people, and that they are not worth sticking around for. This is potentially harmful message to be giving students, particularly students from unstable backgrounds. I think I was too easily dismissive of the role my decision to leave played in their lives. With all the changing variables going on in their lives, I didn’t realize how a critical a stable school life could be towards their development.


Self-Care for teachers is not about us. It is about being the most effective care-givers and members of society we can possibly be. It is about celebrating the wins of our students and watching the whole family come through a school. It is about the joy working for youth buoying your efforts in spite of a low salary or challenges that many of our districts and schools face. It is about building the resilience to stay on the front line and make a difference.

That’s why when I left the classroom I went on a quest for practices that could allow a teacher to stay in the sweet spot. From dozens of interviews and work with over 200 educators, my partners and I built The Teaching Well.  Our goal is to provide school teams and educators with the tools and knowledge necessary to stay resilient and their best for kids in the classroom. In our next blog post, we’ll let you know a little bit more about what we offer and how it will change the landscape of public education.


Join Us at the Well!



Kelly Knoche