- PTSD in Teachers: Yes, It's Real! - August 19, 2018
- Teacher Anxiety: How to Cope With Anxiety Under Stress - July 29, 2018
- Depression Kills Teachers if Left Untreated: It Should Not Kill Their Careers - July 23, 2018
- Amidst Declining Mental Health in Teachers, What Can Administrators Do? - June 30, 2018
- 5 Things I'd Tell Myself in My Earlier Teaching Years - October 15, 2017
- How Class Dojo Saves My Sanity Daily - October 1, 2017
- Surviving the School Year: Game of Thrones Style - August 27, 2017
- What to Change Behavior? Start With Class Meetings in Special Education - August 20, 2017
- When Your Administrator Doesn't Like You - July 3, 2017
- Conquering Teacher Biases Against Disabilities: Important Strategies - May 8, 2017
When you think about PTSD, what normally comes to mind? To most people, what comes to mind is war veterans, because of course, they go through some truly traumatic experiences that most of us can't even imagine. Their experiences are real and we should acknowledge them. At the same time, we also need to acknowledge that many other professionals experience PTSD. In fact, the unfortunate truth is that, in today's world, teachers experience more and more trauma in the classroom, whether it is first-hand or secondary trauma. There is not a large body of research about PTSD in educators, but it does exist, and the readers of The Educator's Room supplied many examples of their traumatic experiences on our Facebook page. So, yes, PTSD in teachers is real and we need to talk about it.PTSD in teachers. Yes, it's real! #PTSD #teacherselfcare Click To Tweet
The Reality of PTSD in Teachers
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), "PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event" and people with this disorder may feel like they're in danger even when they aren't. The NIMH state that a person with this disorder may experience several symptoms, including (but not limited to): having flashbacks or bad dreams about the event, avoidance of things that remind the person of the event, feelings of being "on edge," and distorted feelings like guilt or self-blame. For teachers today, unfortunately, many opportunities present themselves that are shocking, scary, or even dangerous. In fact, many of the teachers who responded to the question of whether they experienced PTSD speak to the events and symptoms of this disorder talk about situations in which they felt traumatized.
For one teacher, dealing with "some very difficult students" led to her resignation from teaching due to the traumatic experiences and she now works as a library assistant.
Another teacher speaks to how teachers are expected to return to their classrooms without time to recover from trauma. After experiencing first-hand seeing a co-worker fall during a school meeting and then die right in front of her, but her principal had her back in the classroom teaching the same day. Now, 16 years later, she still has "anxiety around [her] own death happening" inside a classroom.
One teacher experienced PTSD after a parent came to the school to try and kill her for failing a child while the students "seemed to take joy in watching [her] lockdown [her] classroom."
For special education teachers, sometimes there can be more opportunities for traumatic experiences due to dealing with students with emotional disturbances. For one such teacher, the experience of watching a child become erratic and angry and wanting to kill someone who had been "texting him, pretending to be a girl," has made her feel "freaked out" about being alone with students.
Bullying from administrators can also cause PTSD in teachers. One teacher knows "of administrators [who] publicly and privately bullied teachers so bad that they" caused trauma and it "completely destroyed the careers of these teachers not to mention their dignity." She states that hundreds of teachers have reported this same experience.
Violence in the classroom is another issue that teachers often deal with that creates traumatic experiences. A teacher worked in a charter school "with very little administrative support" and experienced things like kids "spitting in [her] coffee, screaming and banging heads on walls, smearing feces on the walls in the bathroom and so much more." She even had a "parent come into [her] room and beat her child with a leather belt in front of the room while verbally threatening him." Unfortunately, her principal's response to her report was that she was "being too sensitive and hadn't been in education long enough." While she prayed to make it through the year, she wound up being "tackled on the playground by older kids" and went out on disability. Her counselor later diagnosed her with PTSD. Another teacher who worked "at an alternative school for 4 years with highly violent and abusive students" where both staff and students "were constantly getting injured due to [student] aggression," including herself wound up needing to switch to a regular school. Despite this, she is "still hyper-vigilant in the classroom" and she has health issues as a result.
These examples just name a few of the issues teachers face in the classroom that can cause PTSD. But how does one deal with PTSD once they experience trauma in the classroom (or anywhere else)?
Dealing With PTSD
The Hope Line offers six suggestions for coping with PTSD, which I will list below. For elaboration on the techniques themselves, please visit their website. Here are their six self-help skills, listed below:
- Take some deep breaths
- Relax the muscles in your body
- Get back to doing the things you love
- Take good care of yourself
- Ground yourself during a flashback
- Know when to ask for help
If you've experienced trauma in the classroom and need help beyond these tips, finding a good counselor/therapist to help you work through it can really help.
Let's Be Real
While we know that PTSD is real with educators, the matters are increasingly worse if they suffer from mental health issues. We know that teachers suffer from mental health issues that they do not feel comfortable disclosing to their employers for fear of termination. If you work somewhere that you feel is unsupportive of your emotional needs, either find someone outside of work to talk to (like a therapist or a really good friend) or find a more supportive place to work. Life is too short to feel miserable at work. If you need someone to talk to, I am always open to talking to people about their experiences. Feel free to DM me up on Twitter (@embracespectrum) if you need a support person. Note: I am not a medical professional or therapist. I'm just someone who's willing to listen to someone who needs to vent.
I'm a 5th year special education teacher with a master's in educational psychology and a BS in special education. My third year of teaching was at a school where I was bullied so badly by administration and co-workers that I have PTSD. (Not that having PTSD means that one is weak by any means, but I would like to mention that I'm a cancer survivor, my mother died of breast cancer, I lived out of my car when I was 17 so that I could finish high school and graduate as valedictorian and qualify for a 4 year scholarship---I'm a survivor. I work a nights at a restaurant, am a single foster mom to a special needs teenager, and lead a girl scout troop. I fully believe that I am a strong person and have overcome many obstacles in my life.)
However, the symptoms of my PTSD can be debilitating sometimes. I live in fear that my current administration (different school, same district) will do the same types of things that my past principal did. I constantly question whether my co-workers, whom I am very friendly with and work very well with, are talking about me behind my back, or that every conversation that they have on the side is about me. Now, the rational part of me knows that this is ridiculous, but I can't help it.
I see a therapist weekly and am on a daily medication. I still have panic attacks almost once a month. Things have gotten better with time but I definitely wouldn't say I'm back to "normal".
Paulina Cachero says
My name is Paulina Cachero and I'm a reporter for Yahoo. I'm working on a feature story on the mental health of public school teachers in America. Specifically, I'm looking into a trend of teachers turning to prescription medications to deal with the stresses and pressure of the profession. (Anxiety medication, antidepressants, sleeping aids, etc.)
I’m reaching out because I am hoping to speak to teachers that are willing to share their experience having to turn to medication to cope with the stresses of their job. I'm speaking with teachers under pseudonyms to protect their privacy and livelihood. If you're willing to share your experience you can email me at email@example.com
Polka Dot Lady says
I realize this article is dated a couple of years, but I’d love to share my story with you
Hajj Womack says
Some self-medicate with frequent happy hours. The daily stress also affects the body and mind. Some gain weight, others drink, and still others use healthier options to cope. But they/we are coping nevertheless. We really need to deal with the issue itself.
As a sub in the public schools, I've been in some pretty rough classrooms with some pretty rough students, and, I extend my sincerest support to teachers (and subs) suffering from ptsd. I've seen a variety of classroom & school admin situations, and I've concluded that firm, fair, consistent classroom management--combined with an admin with backbone that supports the teacher (and the sub)-- is the foundation for success and for reducing the potential for teacher (and sub) ptsd. I've noticed that some (many?...most?) teachers (and subs) are hesitant to implement good classroom management (no cell phones for personal use, enforcement of seating charts, etc), because they are wary of not being supported by admin., because admin is "afraid" of the reaction from either the students, the parents, or the student-entitlement-encouraging school district. And, I've noticed that the most successful schools (with the least apparent teacher (and sub) ptsd?) are those with admins that support the teachers and that have a working zero-tolerance policy for bad student behavior. To all teachers: you have the best, "coolest", most important job in the world. Get all the support and help you need from each other and friends. Hang in!
Bless you as a sub - you endure much worse, no matter how much we provide for you to keep them busy. I've been there and know how awful that existence can be. On our worst days, you provide a break, and it can be ruthless.
Ungrateful and Rude parents only add to the problem! (Parents... kind words of support for your child's teacher can always make things better for your child and their teacher. Please don't backstab your child's teacher! Especially when they are caring for and about your child. Always talk to the teacher about any problems you are having with her instead of talking about her behind her back to her co-workers or people in the community.) Also being in this situation and no one having your back and even hiding so they don't have to help you when a child is throwing furniture and threatening to hurt others in your classroom, is tragic ! As a retired, special education teacher, I thank God every day that I could retire and escape!!!!
These complaints seem unwarranted in light of the very real PTSD of soldiers and also in the workplace of nurses, doctors and EMT's who daily deal with violent patients, bleeding and near death of patients, physically attacking patients and families, and dealing with death daily. Compare the physical threat of a child or teen with a full grown drug fueled lunatic. Imagine the PTSD of that which seems comparable only to the teachers of teens who certainly present their own far too often drug fueled aggression.
However, just being in a healthcare facility where living, dying and being born are daily occurrences produces fear, aggression and ultimately PTSD for all involved.
Techers may feel betrayed by non-supportive administration in the same way that nurses and doctors are compelled to work double and triple shifts then when off,unable to sleep for wondering if they did all they could to save every patient.
I'm sorry, but having taught in various stressful positions and having been in healthcare positions of responsibility, I can sympathize, but trauma is common in many positions and teaching is stressful, but real trauma seems rare.
PTSD is one of the most misunderstood ailments. We all know people who have endured horrendous events and seem unaffected, while others experience trauma and struggle to recover. If you have worked with teachers and health care providers, you know that PTSD has no standard description. It doesn't require a specific amount or kind of trauma; it doesn't have an amount of time or exposure. PTSD is truly an individually exhibited ailment. To negate another's struggle because you don't think it is true is unkind.
Anna Gee says
I agree that PTSD extends into the health care industry. As the demand for mental health care skyrockets, it won't be long before those mental health care workers will experience PTSD from their patients' stories. Having seen this article before, and as a teacher who's experienced bullying, the piece is meant to (finally!) expose the cruelty that teachers have experienced for decades. Hopefully, articles and research will finally convince the naysayers that PTSD in the battlefield of the classroom is too real to be ignored.
Such an ignorant comment when you get stabbed and have a desk thrown at your hrad wr can chat. And I have worked in both professions and volunteer with soldiers.
Jeanie Turner says
Just last month a troubled young girl in my high school slit her wrist in the middle of geography class. The girl stumbled towards the teacher as he tried to grab her. She made it to the door and collapsed. Both student and teacher were covered in blood as this teacher desperately tried to stop the bleeding and call for help. Our principal sent that teacher home and he returned the following week, shaken but not broken. I’m fairly sure that qualifies as real trauma.
Sue Anne Smith says
You know not of what you speak about education. You haven’t lived it. I have and PTSD is real. I haven’t been in military or worked in medical and wouldn’t dare to assume I know how those people feel. Shame on you!
This is ignorant. "Real" trauma is within a person's perspective. If it's real for them, then it's real. As a teacher, you develop deep connections with students and relationships. The emotional trauma is just as real as physical.
I had a student attempt suicide 3 times during the school day and threaten many times more. This occurred in the wake of another student who had hung himself. I lived in fear that the first student would be successful in his attempts. He clung to me by visiting my classroom at every opportunity and sending me multiple emails a day. I asked him why he did this and he told me, “you listen to me.” The pressure to support him was crushing and I felt completely abandoned by my administration. I can’t stop thinking about various events associated with that time and it’s been 4 years. The student is still alive and still contacts me but it cost me the job I loved for 21 years. I am so filled with regret and desperately wish I could go back and handle it in a better way. But I’ve played endless scenarios in my head and I still can’t work it out.
Long-term stress can have the same effect on the nervous system as a single (or multiple) traumatic event.
I'm not surprised teachers have ptsd as many of them work in stressful conditions, even those who don't experience specific traumatic events.
Definitely having problems. About to totally lose it.
K. Rod says
Being bullied by co-workers is also a big issue. A co-worker had the boss yell at me in front of our entire teaching team and tried to get me fired. I fear even being in the same room with this person thinking she will do it again. I was off the team, but the boss put me back on the same team with this person. I have had an upset stomach all year due to having to deal with this person. The rest of the team from last year requested to be moved to another grade level and got to stay together. I am alone and have no one I can trust or no one to vent to this year. I pray the last 5 months go by quickly and I can find somewhere else and that the boss will let me leave.
I was teaching at a primary school and I felt worthless most of the time because my principal mistreated me and gave me the worst evaluation a teacher can possible get. The principal keep yelling at me and keep on logging me for things that was out of my control. As I step into the compound the principal would watch the time I came to work . I even got logged because children did no lined up fast enough when break time was over. If I needed to use the rest room , she would be watching me or if a parent came to talk to me she would utter comments like " you are courting parent," If I was to use the color red it would be a big issue because she hates the color red and says only evil person and the devils uses red. I almost ran out of school because she made me believe that whatever I did was no good and I am worthlessness.
Fortunate I was moved to another school where I presently felt love and work in a stress free. environment. I love my work but still have flash back whenever I see the principal or pass by that particular school .
Thanks to God and the the people I am working with I am much happier.
PTSD is real because when the flash back come around it changes the way I feel and makes me feel sad and melancholic. I am afraid to be in the same situation and pray to God that I never work with such person again. I hope this feeling goes away because three years have past and the bad feeling still comes around now again .
Thank you .for this information! I thought I was going crazy. My administrator has been after me for almost 3 years now and I am ready to give up. He's looking for any reason to write me up. I even got written up because it took my class 1/2 to use the restroom! We have to take our class as a whole to the restroom , have certain times to use it and should only take 15 minutes.. When you have 26 kids it takes a while. My co-workers can even see how rude he is to me (and some others).
I am to the point of thinking about leaving teaching due to this stress. Even sitting here now I get sick to my stomach just thinking about going into work on Monday. Yes, the kids are awful but that doesn't bother me as much as dealing with Admin.! I've been hit, spit on, choked, called foul names and nothing is ever done to the students. No consequences!
I feel like I am walking on eggshells every day!
Again, thank you for your support!
Andrea, I hope things have improved for you in the past year or so. I can definitely empathize with your situation. Principals being given such absolute power is very frightening when you see that power being wielded unfairly. The last two principals I have had have been incredibly unsupportive, to say the least. I know administrators also face a lot of scrutiny and stress, but far too many of them seem to take it out on their teachers. I wonder if there are schools that have been able to run successfully that do not operate from such a top-down approach? If we as teachers are meant to empower our students, how can we truly do that when we ourselves are powerless and constrained in our roles?
Catherine Carlson says
How sad that this is so common. My kids dad and I are both educators and we are not surprised that neither would ever think to become a teacher. Administrative abuse is so common.
Jason Lamberson says
Omg seriously, you teachers have your own lounge to eat your meals in, you have a Christmas break, a Spring break (what grown adult gets a spring break lol), and your summers off...cry me a f’ing river, PTSD my ass! People have defended your freedoms in combat and actually suffer from PTSD. No wonder young people these days are a bunch of whiny snowflakes, they apparently learned it in school...
Jason, let me know when you go to work every day knowing you will be punched, kicked, spit on, have your head beaten in to the floor and bitten.
Linda Fields says
Obviously, you, Jason, have never spent any time in a classroom! I Taught for 31 years at every grade level. What these teachers say is true. Most teachers do not eat lunch in a lounge-they are required to escort 30 children to lunch and supervise them. They are lucky if they have 15 minutes to wolf down a sandwich. Furthermore, there are few, if any, “lounges” anymore-they have all been turned into workrooms. As far as breaks and “ summers off,” there is no such thing. Teachers are either in grad school, renewing certificates, taking workshops so they can implement the latest innovation, and/or for many, working a second job to survive. Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not get paid vacation in the summers. They must stretch a 10 month salary into 12 months. In the span of my career, I have had a student flip a table towards me, threaten to throw a chair at me, threaten me with sexual assault and throw a punch toward me.
As far as “whiny snowflakes,” they didn’t learn it in school. They learned it from helicopter parents who have convinced them that they are entitled to whatever they want, without working for it, and who have instilled no sense of personal responsibility. Schools simply reflect what the parents demand.
I am 73 years old. I had a good career, but have seen many things change since I started in 1967. You, sir, have no clue!
Jason needs attention, folks. It's quite clear that he didn't use his time in school very productively.
Kathy Johnson says
I see a lot of denials in the comments from people who aren't teachers or people who like to compare traumas . My first year I had children throwing computers at windows, beating each other bloody, and physically trying to go through me to get to other students. I had one student who informed a classroom full of students that he was "going to bring a gun to school and kill (insert my name here)". This same child wrote me increasingly violent letters as the year progressed (because of course admin wouldn't switch him to another teacher). I've had parents ambush me in my classroom (as in blew past security and office staff). It gave me panic attacks. I switched schools and then within 4 months I was so anxious that I sought mental health services. My therapist called it PTSD-light. She also made it clear that a majority of teachers are seeking mental health services. She said that because I spent that year hyper vigilant that something was going to happen my body and mind was stuck in that mode even when everything was just fine. Thank you for this article Teresa.
KT Wolf says
I entered teaching with so many ideals and so much strength. I left the profession five years later, totally broken down and exhausted at a level that is nearly impossible to explain to someone who hasn't been there. I left because I realized that I would die, soon, if I didn't quit teaching. Two years after I left I started being able to do some of the things I'd enjoyed before I became a teacher, and that's when I realized that I'd been so affected that it took two years to get over the exhaustion and mental pain of having been a teacher. I still have aversion reactions to kids the age of the ones I taught.
Among other things was pure endless exhaustion. I ran the math later and figured out that if you took all the hours I worked in a year and redistributed it into 40-hour work weeks, it was the equivalent of working 55 weeks a year. That myth that teachers have all this time off is so absurd--we work more in 10 months than other professionals work in a year. The exhaustion is something that you don't recover from. I look at teaching as something that took away my relationship with my daughter, because when I got home from work I had nothing left to give to her--I just went through the motions and then went to bed, always too tired to function.
I spent the whole time I was teaching becoming more and more and more afraid, every day. Emotional injuries that occur in a climate of no recovery-time begin to accumulate until they become a mental health issue, even if they would seem to be minor issues to someone who had more time to work it out.
People who haven't been there can't understand. There are teachers who can handle the environment, but look at the turnover rate in teachers and it becomes obvious that those are the exception rather than the rule.
Anna Gee says
You are absolutely right. Recovery time is a big factor in the equation.
Darren G. Miller says
I left teaching in 2007 after 14 years as a high school music teacher. There was a student I taught for four years who was on the autism spectrum. He played clarinet and his father, a football coach, constantly ridiculed him for it. His senior year, we performed at Carnegie Hall. A few months after graduating, he found his father’s gun and took his own life. The suicide note he left had a quote from Peter Pan and basically said that my classroom was the only place in life he ever felt accepted, and if he couldn’t be there anymore, he didn’t want to live. Band was his whole life, and his funeral reflected that.
I experienced dissociation, hypervigilance, exaggerated guilt response, extreme risk taking behaviors, and many other symptoms. On my finally field trip, there was a bus accident. I realized that 90+ people almost died (thankfully, nobody did) on my watch. I had to resign from teaching. I was diagnosed with PTSD a few months later.
To be fair, I probably had PTSD already and didn’t realize it. I grew up with an older brother who was schizophrenic and repeatedly attempted suicide. He tried to kill our parents. At 13, I had to sleep in a safe room some nights. At 14, my parents bought a travel trailer for me to live in and parked it in the back yard. The stigma of mental illness was too strong for me to realize I needed help. It took those additional events for the PTSD to really get out of control.
Shyla Middleton says
Yes, it’s true. I was diagnosed with PTSD this past year after a frightening 45 minute parent teacher conference in which I was certain, had there been no witnesses, I would have been killed. The heartbreak was that it made me understand why the student behaved the way he did in my class (which often triggered several other students). This was after a year in which I had students yelling every kind of abusive or racist words in class, and I had to step in between physical fights and get beaten myself in order to make them stop. My admin is blessedly supportive, as they have been at the brunt of this behavior too. No classroom in my school is free from this kind of behavior, and we are given yearly trauma informed practices training. Slamming doors make me jump, even after 5 years of hearing it in the hallways, along with the screams from children who are frustrated and have no way to express it beyond what they have heard their caregivers say. I have witnessed a 2nd grader yelling obscenities and beating on colleagues, repeatedly over a year. I work in a regular public school, and serve students who are at the bottom of the socio-economic level, so they have seen shootings, been homeless, have parents who are incarcerated, been parted from their families.... but this is not only for kids at the bottom of the rung... this is becoming an epidemic. Yes, I know that health care workers and obviously soldiers are experiencing PTSD too, and in no way does a teacher suffering from it take away from the life or death experiences that a soldier might experience. Acknowledging the issue is the first step in resolving it.
Marque Diamondcrest says
I worked in a school system my first year if teaching. I was bullied by the principal and director of special education because I wouldn't take part in their deceptive practices.I now have a difficult time trusting any of my co-workers or administration. I also have Social Anxiety disorder, and it causes me to freeze up, shut down and isolate myself from other people. What really hurts is that I am suffering everyday because of the bullying, yet the administrators are enjoying life. They still have people fooled into thinking they are wonderful people. I had to make my comment short because just thinking about it causes me to want to shutdown.
First, I agree we should think about PTSD when it relates to teachers. What this article misses is that you should get counseling--PTSD specific counseling.
You don't want to continue to re-traumatize yourself.
I worked 29 years in an inner city school system that I personally saw chew up up, spit out, a basically suck the life out of most people. Those of us that did make it through certainly paid a price for our efforts. I am now 2 years retired from this miserable job and still suffer from the effects of my time I need this job. I now see a a therapist weekly, up I will say that this job will almost always change the nicest human being into a hyper-viligent nasty mean person. It is truly about survival and nothing more. I laugh whenI read that people wonder why police act the way they do. They too, have been brutalized by the very people they protect; and by a system that couldn't care less about them. WhatIdid observe in my time working there was teachers dearth with the stress in different ways. Drugs, illegal or legal was number one. Two,excercise or meditation. Three, drink and drink alot, or four when all else failed more drugs!!!