The teacher is the instructional leader of the classroom. He or she sets the tone for recovery, conveying concern and support for all recovery efforts, with an eye to reducing or eliminating stigma for students who seek additional services and care. The teacher gives consent for students to be excused from class for mental health services and refers students to school mental health professionals. As the person who interacts with the most students on a daily basis, the teacher is also in an important position to advocate for services and effective schoolwide responses to crises.
The classroom teacher is in a unique position to contribute to or complement student recovery following traumatic events at school. The impact of the events is likely to play out in the classroom. Student behaviors may change, and these behaviors are sometimes best acknowledged and addressed in the classroom when a teacher has an understanding of how the crisis can affect student's behaviors.
For example, a number of students may be anxious and, in turn, become less cooperative or less active in classroom discussions. There may be angry outbursts or questions about safety. In each case, teachers should become knowledgeable about how to respond.
- Re-establish classroom routine and maintain the teaching and learning environment of the classroom
- Help identify changes in student behavior that may indicate problems with health or mental health
- Help identify changes in life circumstances (family moving to a new home, job loss in the family, etc.) that are "secondary adversities" resulting from the traumatic event or that may place an additional burden on the student as he or she comes to grip with the event
- Keep open communication with students, staff, and administration
- Convey an open invitation for students to talk about how they are doing
- Expect regular updates from the administration describing school services
- Insist on question and answer time during staff meetings
Training in the intermediate and long-term recovery processes from crises will help teachers better understand the behavior of students. Intermediate and long-term mental health challenges may be unlike those of the immediate aftermath of a disaster or crisis. Each child and adult recovers at a different rate depending upon the level of his or her exposure to the event and other factors. Teachers may want to request additional training either as a way to prepare themselves for crises or to improve their effectiveness in the aftermath of an existing crisis. Staff development for teachers should include the following components:
- Honing observational skills
- Understanding symptoms
- Destigmatizing mental health referrals
- Recognizing students' sensitivity to changes
- Making student referrals
- Supporting and encouraging student self-care and stress reduction