The Trauma-Informed Classroom: Six Years After The Sandy Hook Massacre

Yesterday in one of my classes, an announcement came over the loudspeaker informing students that the bathrooms were closed and that they needed to remain in their classrooms. Upon hearing that, I locked the front classroom door. It was an instinctual response to the directive given. As I locked the door, my students asked me if we were having a soft lockdown. I told them that I didn’t think so. (Sometimes the teaching staff is informed of drills and sometimes we are not.) My response was very matter-of-fact, but their response to my actions was quite telling.

A barrage of questions ensued. “Is the back door locked?”  “Are there any students outside in the hallway?” “Where should we sit in the room if a gun man really is here?” “Ms. Dukes, will you protect us?” There was concern in their voices and terror in their eyes. I answered their questions calmly, but could not help but address the trauma they obviously displayed. The lesson shifted and we had an honest open discussion about school shootings and how these have changed them as students and as people.

Then Friday on the news I was reminded that today marks the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT. Suddenly,  so much of what transpired last week between my class and me made sense.

I recognized that my students are still and possibly forever traumatized by the culture of school shootings in which they’ve grown up.

According to the Washington Post,

“Mass shootings at predominantly white schools draw the most attention from journalists and lawmakers, but The Post has found that children of color are far more likely to experience campus gun violence — nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times as much for black students…Schools in at least 36 states and the District have experienced a shooting, according to The Post’s count. They happen in big cities and small towns, in affluent suburbs and rural communities. The precise circumstances in each incident differed, but what all of them had in common was the profound damage they left behind….In some ways, the distress caused, especially when the victim is a child or other close family member, might even be worse,” said Sherry Hamby, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the study. “We don’t do enough to acknowledge the collateral damage of gun violence. We are asking too many to carry this burden.”

Wow, right? I know! That was my reaction. All these school shootings, yet what protocols have been put into place to not only protect us when they are happening but, even better, to mitigate them all together? The Town of Hempstead is promoting a toy gun exchange where child residents hand in their play guns and receive another gift instead. Violent video games with excessive gun shooting are labeled for Mature audiences, but I teach middle school and the truth is most students are up late playing violent video games that glorify and normalize gun violence.

Are we really so shocked that the U.S. leads the pack in school shootings worldwide?

I don’t want my students and me to have to worry about hiding from a school shooter. Period.

But is that a realistic expectation? Lots of questions, I know, but I am seeking answers in this post, on behalf of my students. You didn’t see their dear faces. They were scared. I’m scared too. When they are at school, I’m their parent and I am responsible. Teachers take that oath, yet we have not been properly trained to handle this threat. The last I heard, the solution was to arm teachers with guns, install more metal detectors, and hire more police as school safety agents. Those responses are reactive, not proactive. Furthermore, those reactions imprison students when school should be a safe space where children are free to grow, learn, explore, and be empowered.

Children are our most precious commodity, literal gifts from God. We need to keep our children safe.

What do you think?

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