As a kid, I didn’t look forward to the holidays as much as my classmates did because it meant more time in a home that was filled with trauma and inequities. My anxiety increased before breaks and I was probably much more difficult for my teachers to manage. School was my refuge and I didn’t want to be away from it.
I had similar feelings as a teacher, because I had recreated my childhood trauma in some of my adult relationships and was anxious to have extra time with those romantic partners.
As we approach this holiday season, I hope we can hold space for the folks who might not be looking forward to the breaks. This means we might need to provide even more emotional support than usual. And this year, it might be especially difficult because so many educators and students are near or at the point of burn out.
I acknowledge that this is a big ask, but I promise you, it can make a significant difference. And if something has to go, I suggest throwing some of your lesson plans out the window in order to provide extra emotional support. And administrators, please provide this same emotional support for your staff.
As educators, many of us are trying to enact Equity 2.0 (“Ensuring that every individual can access whatever they need to thrive”) in everything we do. And we often have to fill in the gaps for those who are not getting their needs met at home. This is a daunting task, but perhaps one of our most important jobs. People can not get into their learning brains and be productive if their needs are not being met.
So, sometimes, we have to work extra hard to:
- Create a space that shows people that their needs matter;
- Model for folks how to identify their needs;
- And patiently and compassionately coach people how to communicate their needs (if this is a new skill).
The impact of trauma on students can be devastating. Not only is there a direct correlation between the effects of being harmed and feeling that your agency has been compromised, but some people who have been harmed can reproduce similar dynamics of power and control when they feel scared. When those folks are triggered, they might take their unresolved pain out onto the people around them. Other people who have been harmed might shut down and withdraw when they perceive conflict. All of these fear-based approaches will directly suffocate Equity 2.0. And it is in these moments when everyone involved can feel isolated, lonely, sad, and like they don’t matter.
Thus, the cycle of trauma and inequity continues. I believe that putting the extra effort into helping ourselves and others heal from trauma can break the pattern of continued inequities.
I am not blaming victims for being harmed; however, I do care about how people who have been harmed process their pain and how their unresolved anger might come out sideways onto the people around them. If we have any hope of breaking the trauma cycle, then everyone who has ever been harmed deserves support and directly benefits from compassionate accountability.
White supremacy can also be a major factor in cases of trauma. Tema Okun, a scholar who leads the Teaching for Equity Fellows at Duke University, describes the fifteen characteristics of white supremacy culture that can just as easily show up in our school systems as in our interpersonal relationships. Being aware of these characteristics and doing the necessary work to eradicate them from our interactions is crucial in our work as educators.
Educators see the effects of all of these dynamics in classrooms and schools every day. ESPECIALLY when a break is looming.
People in our communities who have identities that have been historically oppressed and marginalized are punished at an even higher rate by inequities.
On top of all of this, the holidays themselves can cause trauma. Especially if we are consciously or unconsciously celebrating holidays that were created to celebrate harm that was done to others.
So when you are planning your lesson plans and activities for this week, please consider holding space for the role of trauma in the lives of yourself and the people around you. Making this kind of space is a concrete, practical way to enact Equity 2.0: helping people to feel seen, reducing the harm caused from trauma, and breaking the cycle of abuse in your communities.