The Burnout Express: Secondary Traumatic Stress in Teachers

Compassion fatigue, AKA Secondary Traumatic Stress or vicarious trauma, is a real problem for teachers. ⁠

Aren’t we supposed to love our students? And if we love all of them, we take on their stress. We sometimes absorb their trauma. It weighs on our hearts to care so much for so many people who have so many of their own traumas. ⁠

If this resonates with you, first know that you are not alone. You aren’t doing anything wrong. ⁠It is extremely common for teachers to feel the burden of having to “love” every single student. As arts teachers, that can mean dozens or hundreds of students at a time! It is not wise, nor even possible, to really love that many people at the same time.

You will need some help to work through this in order to avoid burning out, or other long-term effects of carrying unaddressed trauma. ⁠

First, a mindset shift: There is a difference between caring about your students and loving them. You don’t need to give them your heart. This stress doesn’t have to be a part of the teaching profession. ⁠

Allison Russo, The Critical Good

Sometimes also called “compassion fatigue”, this trauma that seeps into your bones can be the result of being constantly exposed to your students’ trauma: poverty, violence, racism, etc. It frequently leads to burn-out and ultimately leaving the profession. I personally believe I was suffering from some of this as a public school teacher, and it contributed to me leaving the classroom. Therapy helps, and so can advocating for yourself and your coworkers for more school/organizational support. Here are a few articles if you want to read more (all about a 5-10min read each):

‘I Didn’t Know It Had a Name’ (NEA.org)

When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too (Edutopia)

Secondary Traumatic Stress (Trauma Aware Schools)

Diversity & Inclusion Arts Audit

You’re just a few clicks away from talking to an expert who was trained to help people just like you to stop questioning your methods and start inspiring your students. If you are a frustrated teacher or administrator who wants to help your arts students thrive, then click below so we can create a plan to create meaningful connections with your arts students. You’ll get the exact guidance you need to stop the rotating door of methods or strategies in the classroom and finally conquer your students’ “I don’t care” attitude.

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