Students of Trauma

A Handbook for Classroom Teaching in an Environment of Suffering

by Dan Shepherd (Author)
©2021 Textbook XII, 140 Pages


Students of Trauma: A Handbook for Classroom Teaching in an Environment of Suffering provides educators with real world strategies for working with students who have experienced trauma and who express that trauma through depression, aggression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and suspicion. This handbook, based on current educational research and on the experiences of actual teachers, provides practical guidance to individuals working in schools with hurting young people. What sets this handbook apart from other trauma-informed education texts is its emphasis on specific and direct actions and attitudes that teachers can take today to make a powerful difference in the lives of their most troubled students. Students of Trauma will be a helpful addition to the libraries of classroom teachers, their administrators, and those who train them.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Real World Examples of the Effect of Trauma on Individuals
  • The Importance of the Topic for Educators
  • How Trauma Affects Different Students Differently
  • Depression
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Suspicion
  • Unreality
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2 Depression
  • The Reality and Impact of Depression on Students
  • Identifying Students with Depression in the Classroom
  • Practical Identifiers of Depression in Children and Adolescents
  • Unrelenting Pessimism
  • Frequent Expressions of Inability or Confusion
  • Loss of Interest in Interests
  • Irritable, Restless, and Indecisive
  • Advice for Working with Students Who Exhibit Depression
  • What to Do for Depressed Students
  • Express Awareness of the Problem
  • Involve Depressed Students in Class Learning Activities
  • Provide Learning Options
  • Involve Other Professionals
  • What to Do When Encountering a Depressed Student
  • Don’t Ignore or Minimize Student Depression
  • Don’t Overwhelm Depressed Students with Care or with Assignments
  • Chapter 3 Aggression
  • Introduction
  • How to Identify the Aggressive Student
  • Perception of Threat or Loss
  • Posturing and Escalation
  • Verbal Aggression
  • Crisis
  • Fatigue and Guilt
  • What to Do When Encountering an Aggressive Student
  • Remain in Control
  • Speak Low and Assertively
  • Provide Clear Consequences
  • What Not to Do When Encountering an Aggressive Student
  • Gestures and Staring Down
  • Power Struggle
  • Do Not Seek Explanations
  • Chapter 4 Anxiety
  • Identifying the Anxious Student
  • Fear of Inadequacy
  • Always on Edge
  • Lack of Focus
  • What to Do
  • Provide Small Steps
  • Frequent, Positive Feedback
  • Be Clear and Immediately Directive
  • Safe, Quiet Environment
  • What Not to Do
  • Ignore or Minimize
  • Take Responsibility for Their Worry
  • Overwhelm Them with Fixes
  • Chapter 5 Hyperactivity
  • The Importance of ADHD to Educators
  • Identifying the Hyperactive Student
  • Falsely Grandiose Self-Concept
  • Overly Talkative
  • Racing Thoughts
  • Risk-Taking Behavior
  • What to Do
  • Lesson Start: Signal That the Lesson Is Beginning
  • List Activities on the Board
  • Expectations
  • Lesson Delivery
  • Simple Instructions
  • Vary the Pace/Breaks
  • Use Props
  • Unobtrusive Cue
  • Lesson End
  • Summarize Key Points
  • Mandate Take Homes
  • What Not to Do
  • Outtalk Them
  • Challenge Them
  • Ignore Them
  • Chapter 6 Suspicion
  • Identifying the Suspicious Student
  • Random Complaints and Too Many Questions
  • Hold You to an Impossible Standard
  • Find Meaning in Everything and Exaggerate Slights
  • Sees Self as Focus and Wants Perfect Fairness
  • What to Do
  • Clear Communication with Limits
  • Compassion without Excess Familiarity
  • Keep to Pre-stated Objectives
  • What Not to Do
  • Flattery or Individualized Humor
  • Provide Too Many Assurances
  • Give Evidence of Unfairness
  • Chapter 7 Unreality
  • Real World Examples of Students Disconnected from Reality in Schools
  • How to Spot It
  • What to Do
  • What Not to Do
  • Chapter 8 Conclusion
  • They Are Our Children
  • Differentiate More Than Your Instruction
  • The Final Word
  • About the Author

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Real World Examples of the Effect of Trauma on Individuals

When Thomas was twelve years old, his parents divorced. Yes, this is a pretty common, all too ordinary tragedy. Some children seem to easily recover and have lives comparable to students who did not experience this family trauma. Unfortunately, for reasons that even the best psychologists cannot fully explain, Thomas never did fully recover. Interestingly, though, he was able to “keep it together” for most of his life; staying married for decades, holding steady employment, raising a son to productive, independent adulthood. The trauma, though, was always there. The personal pain. The feelings of inadequacy, of loneliness, of meaninglessness. Hurt – unrelenting and severe – was always under the surface of Thomas’s life experience. His wife always knew that something was wrong, but Thomas never really spoke about it, never really let his pain out even to the person he loved most and had shared more than half his life with.

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Again for reasons that remain unclear, Thomas started to unravel. He started drinking more and more. Previously, he could not have been described as an alcoholic; he maybe had one beer a week, but now, alcoholic would be the only word to describe him. He drank constantly and heavily. He also started spending time with individuals who were likely a bad influence and who certainly were not helpful for his healing. His ownership of a low income rental property brought him into contact with individuals who themselves were trying to restart a burdened life – addicts, past criminals, people on the edge. Soon, he lost his job and was unable to find other employment. His wife took responsibility for meeting the family’s financial needs, and Thomas sunk deeper.

The police came one afternoon to ask questions. Their questions became accusations, and their accusations later became formal charges. Today, Thomas, a man who had no previous criminal record, sits behind bars, convicted and incarcerated, a first time felon at the age of forty-seven.

After his life was devastated and he hit “rock bottom,” Thomas opened up about his lifelong trauma. When he spoke, the incredibly hurt little twelve-year-old came out in his words. The divorce, for him, was impossible to recover from. He had previously been a good student, one with dreams of college and a business career, but when his parents separated, there was no one left in his life to foster those dreams, and they withered away. He served his country well in the navy, and he provided for his family in factory jobs, but Thomas always felt that the life he lived was never the life he was supposed to have, and as he aged, he realized that those dreams were assuredly and forever dead.

Marie’s father died in an unexpected car accident when she was just twelve years old. She never understood why – he certainly didn’t choose to leave her; he was a good father and loved her beyond words – she was so angry with him. Luckily, though, Marie’s mother became both loving parents rolled into one giant heart, and the hurt seemed to subside. Yes, Marie had tragedy, but her mother’s persistent love for her and her brothers was almost enough to overcome that loss. Their little family had so much love that the children were driven not to be a burden to their mother who was out daily giving all to provide for them. And they all excelled, excelled tremendously. Her brothers went to Ivy League schools and graduated to become leaders in industry. Marie, no less successful, pursued a different route, earning the highest degrees in her field and becoming a college professor. The pain of the past was seemingly forgotten, and Marie’s future seemed secure and wonderful. Now that her studies were over, she would get married, have children, and be for them what her mother had been for her, a solid foundation and a giant heart of love.

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Marie still remembers the phone call. She was in her early thirties, working in a great university outside Denver, feeling happy and free and excited about the future. Unexpectedly, her mother – who had given everything to help Marie and her brothers achieve the life that others only dream of and was now ready to relax and enjoy her family as recipient rather than as provider – had a heart attack. Marie flew to be with her but arrived just as doctors were removing her from life support. Abandoned again. Lost and alone and broken and sad, but this time, there was no one there to pick her up. The great heart that made it possible for her to recover from her father’s tragic death was not there to help her through the next tragedy.

Marie’s life never unraveled as dramatically as Thomas’s, but her pain manifested just as overpoweringly. Some evenings for years after, Marie would just go into her bedroom, turn on a fan to cover the sound, and sob uncontrollably. Sleep for her became a rare luxury. Insomnia overwhelmed her. Doctor after doctor failed to help her in anyway, and each night, she would stare through tear-clouded eyes at the ceiling, missing her mother, angry at her father, wondering what the purpose of it all was. Hurting. Alone – and without any reason to believe that tomorrow would be any different.

The Importance of the Topic for Educators

Thomas and Marie are real people. Real people wounded from their childhood. Real people living with the effects of trauma from decades ago. And they are not alone. There are millions of them, all around, all the time. Some keep it pretty well hidden; others not nearly as well. Some having external success to cover their internal loss; others having tumultuous lives to match the tumult in their hearts. For many, these life-altering, traumatic events occurred in childhood, when the individuals were attending elementary school.

I recently delivered a presentation on the topic of students in trauma to a large auditorium of educational professionals – teachers, administrators, and school counselors. After my presentation, a half dozen very excited school social workers ran up to me, exclaiming, “We’ve been waiting for this.” As we spoke, they insisted that fully one fourth – one in four – of the students in their large Midwestern school system were living with the effects of some trauma. These highly committed and passionate educators were so saddened that their teachers, all conscientious and well-meaning, had not been adequately trained in working with these troubled students. Thomas and Marie – and millions like them – would assuredly agree. The difficulties of their youth followed them well into adulthood, having tremendous impact on their lives and careers.

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The problem really is pervasive. The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention (NCMHP) sets the percentage even higher than the local school social workers I encountered. It reports that fully 60% of American adults report experiencing some form of trauma during their childhoods (National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, 2012). In the fall of 2017, about fifty-six million students attended public and private schools throughout the United States (National Center for Education Statistics). If the NCMHP is correct, an astounding 3.36 million students attend school with some traumatic experience in their background – a divorce, the loss of a loved one, economic challenges in the form of parental unemployment, etc. As might be expected, this trauma comes with a potentially damaging cost to the student. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 76% of students with traumatic backgrounds experience educational delays.

These traumatic experiences are varied, of course, but they all have a powerful impact on children. Consider the following:


XII, 140
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XII, 140 pp.

Biographical notes

Dan Shepherd (Author)

Dan Shepherd is an associate professor within the Department of Education at Missouri Western State University. Previously, Dr. Shepherd served as a public high school English teacher and as a public school administrator, both at the building and district levels.


Title: Students of Trauma
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154 pages