PTSD in Teachers: Yes, It’s Real!

About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something wife, mom and teacher from Havelock, North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism and has been writing for Embracing the Spectrum since 2011. She also writes for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and The Educator’s Room.

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.

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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.

Teacher Experiences

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:

  1. Take some deep breaths
  2. Relax the muscles in your body
  3. Get back to doing the things you love
  4. Take good care of yourself
  5. Ground yourself during a flashback
  6. 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. 

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By |2018-08-19T23:04:09+00:00August 19th, 2018|Teacher Self Care|3 Comments

About the Author:

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something wife, mom and teacher from Havelock, North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism and has been writing for Embracing the Spectrum since 2011. She also writes for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and The Educator’s Room.

3 Comments

  1. Lindsey August 21, 2018 at 12:20 am - Reply

    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”.

  2. Hajj Womack September 5, 2018 at 12:12 am - Reply

    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.

    #SoTeachersCanTeach

  3. David September 7, 2018 at 9:36 am - Reply

    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!

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