Violence is Traumatic for Teachers, Too

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. What she writes about does not reflect the view of any group.

You may have caught the recent news about street violence near New Highland Academy. On January 10th, teachers and children were preparing to leave on their regular visit to the nearby 81st Avenue Public Library branch when gunfire broke out and about sixty shots were fired. After this traumatic incident, visits to the library ended completely because it was considered too dangerous. The Oakland Tribune’s Tammerlin Drummond wrote a column about the incident and the police-escorted “peace march” to the library a couple of weeks ago that the teachers and the Lincoln Child Center helped organize to create some closure for the second- and third-graders. The march was widely covered and news reports focused on violence the children experience daily both in and near school and at home. Many touched on the trauma counseling the students received and teachers spoke of the great need to support the children. But something seemed missing to me.

Who is helping the teachers and school site staff with their own trauma?

I tracked down Susan Andrien, MFT, who is a Program Manager at the Lincoln Child Center. She told me that her organization has both full-time and part-time staff working on-site at both New Highland Academy and RISE. Both school communities experience high levels of violence including while at school. Last year there were nineteen lockdowns at RISE and as one New Highland Academy teacher mentions in Drummond’s column, the school actually has color codes that indicate the severity of the frequent lockdowns. One teacher shared how the staff was “profoundly impacted” by their situation. The need for student mental health services in these schools is well beyond the available capacity. And for teachers, there is even less support.

“They’re holding so much,” Ms. Andrien says of the teachers. “They’re doing the best they can to manage it and many of them are traumatized themselves, from what they see or hear from the students and from experiencing the violence themselves. They’re doing a great job but they need more support.”

Ms. Andrien discussed the very real consequences of the trauma for adults, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And a quick internet search confirmed there are many other effects: greater risk for depression, substance abuse, general anxiety, and stress that gets in the way of healthy living. I wonder how many teachers and site staff are affected to the point that work and home life are impacted. My heart goes out to these folks, people who have taken on the difficult job of teaching plus the added challenge of navigating dangerous workplace environments to do their jobs.

The good news is that there is some recognition that the adults need mental health support too. Ms. Andrien told me that in addition to the work Lincoln Child Center is doing to provide some coaching and support to teachers and principals, the Oakland Unified School District is looking at a mental health support model that grew out of 9/11 and the lessons learned from treating the mental health needs of responders in New York City. I’m going to look into this and hope I have something to report on in the near future.

The bad news is that it sounds like any substantial plan to provide support for school staff who experience violence is still only in the planning stages. In the meantime, we have a lot of teachers and other site staff out there who continue to be exposed to violence every day and who may not be getting the support they need to cope with the issue. As one teacher confessed, “I worry that the District will lose many great educators if their fears aren’t addressed.”

Of course, violence and its related trauma are not limited to these two schools. Are you a teacher or staff member facing this problem at New Highland Academy, RISE or another site? How does the violence affect you and your colleagues? Are you getting the support you need and, if not, what do you think would help?

Serena Valdez

  • livegreen

    Good to see another post Serena. Another way to reduce the trauma resulting from exposure to violence (to both teachers & students) is to stop the violence that leads to it.

    Yet the OEA, experts in Community Policing, regularly blames and undercuts the solutions that have led to safer neighborhoods in NY and LA: a) More police officers; b) Improved management of them, namely the Compstat system instituted by William Bratton.

    The OEA backed solution, namely demonstrations originating in the 60’s, has not been working to combat violence lately.

  • Juanster

    “…what do you think would help?”

    (a) District issue teacher bullet proof vests & pants.
    (b) Gun carry permits for all staff and district issue Glock pistols.
    (c)District provided bullet proof teacher carpooling vans.
    (c) Designated staff person to call in drone strikes.
    (d) Stand by medical evacuation helicopter.
    (e) Generous teacher life insurance fringe benefit.
    (f) Highland neighborhood staff marches for OEA/CTA administrative staff (only!), with casualty related exhorbitant salary savings dedicated to the reduction or elimination of teacher union dues.

  • Oakland Admin

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful posting. I worked in East Oakland middle schools for many years, and you are right…the violence is taxing on the adults in ways that make the work ultimately unsustainable. PTSD is alive and well in the teachers and administrators and classified staff who work in such high-violence areas like East Oakland. It’s the part of the work that I feel (and fear) that those who have been out of the classroom and out of schools for a long time (like those who work at the District Office), while well intended, do not understand…at all. Losing students to violence, gang fights and threats, weapons on campus, gun shots, lockdowns…all of these are a real and frequent part life on East Oakland (and other) campuses…we need to find ways to take care of our teachers and administrators who work in these conditions day in and day out. I know…our students live in these spaces all day every day…that’s not ok either. I just wanted to applaud the writer for thinking about the missins piece. Thank you.

  • Stacey Smith

    Thank you, Oakland Admin. The title of the piece says “teachers” but as you point out, administrators and classified staff are also deeply affected. As are the other adults who are on-site providers staffed through community partnerships. It’s such a big issue I hesitated to try to capture it at all in such a brief post. I appreciate your comment.

  • J.R.

    What do I think would help?

    Both the problem and the solutions to violence begin with the family unit or lack of same. The traditional family has been under sustained attack since the sixties, from the idea that “all types of families are valid and healthy ” to “who needs men”?

    We are reaping what we have sown.






    We need to pay attention and treat the root cause of this (lack of education-broken home-violence) problem instead of just dealing with symptoms.

  • David Laub

    Stacey, thanks for the long overdue piece on the impact of violence on school personnel. I have seen hundreds of funerals in Oakland in the past 30 years of employment in OUSD. Funerals of students, friends and relatives of students-from violence-and also staff; staff who collapsed from heart attack, stroke, succumbed to cancer-stress related diseases-during employment, or shortly after retiring.

    I know many staff who have been injured, as well as myself, from breaking up student fights, or dealing with outsiders trying to get to a student in a classroom. I myself have back, hip and knee injuries that are sometimes very uncomfortable, and are constant reminders of traumatic events related to the job. I have, along with my colleagues at work, have had to process the loss of students. I have had to deal with PTSD related to what I have seen and what I have been through, and I anticipate that it’s not a rarity for OUSD school site personnel.

    The amount of emotional and physical trauma our students carry, whether from home, the streets, the school to prison/military pipeline, the few rotten apple cops who get away with murder when they shoot to kill students and youth without legal motive-whatever difficulty a students is going through emotionally will show itself in the classroom. School site personnel are the front line in the OUSD for being confronted by and addressing issues with our students.

    I urge all readers with conscience to disregard the few insensitive, provocative, and ultimately spiritually stupid posts that may accompany this article on the impact of violence on school personnel, such as #1 and #2.

  • livegreen

    David, You mean anybody who disagrees with the OEA or that Police r the biggest problem in this city.

    Point of fact: most murders and crime do not come from Officers. Yet the OEA and your comments above focus on the Police as the ones creating the problem.

    Yes, some Officers are bad. But that does not mean all Officers are. Also police are not part of the prison industrial complex. As point of fact they are often a deterrent to it…

    Yes we need to decrease the trauma on students and teachers associated with crime and violence. We need to help with mental health services when it has happened and we need to do what we can to prevent it from happening to begin with.

  • J.R.

    Why is the violence happening?

    Let’s see if we can develop a theory based on factual evidence. Lets start with what we know to be true:

    1. Oakland is one of the most violent and dangerous cities in America.



    2. Oakland has one of the highest per capita rates of broken families,homes/public assistance statewide.

    snippet taken from following link:


    AFDC Child Population Description

    Ages of Children on AFDC: 45,518 children between the ages of birth to 12 years old received AFDC.

    10,649 children were between the ages of birth to 3 years old.
    8,725 children were between the ages of 3.1 to 5 years old.
    26,144 children were between the ages of 5 – 12 years old.

    Family Income on AFDC:

    In Alameda County the average family size on AFDC is three.
    The monthly grant for a family of three is $565 per month ($6,780 annually).
    The overall average AFDC grant in Alameda County is $485 per month ($5,820 annually).

    Geographic Distribution: Of all the children in Alameda County on AFDC:

    63% resided in Oakland
    12% resided in Hayward
    5% resided in Fremont
    4% were in Berkeley Alameda and Union City each had 3%
    2 % or less resided, respectively, in the towns of Livermore, Newark, Castro Valley, Albany, Dublin, Pleasanton and Sunol.


    quote from following link:


    “Youth in Oakland are affected directly by child abuse and indirectly through witnessing domestic violence.
    Over 3000 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the Oakland police in the 2010

    2011 fiscal year. Of the 10 police beats with the most reported incidences of domestic violence,
    eight were in East Oakland. Nearly one-third of all reported child abuse involves children 0-5 years of age.Rates of alleged and substantiated child abuse are three times lower than the state average for Alameda County. However,African Americans had rates of allegations of child maltreatment that were three times higher than the county average (93.4 per 1000)
    and substantiations of child abuse that were almost four times higher than the county average (16.3 per 1000)”.

    There is so much more data and evidence out there. One thing is sure, the violence exists and is perpetuated by a public assistance system that aids and abets(for decades now) people who cannot even take care of themselves to procreate generation after generation(democratic voters all) of directionless,ill-fed ill-taught children who are raised in mostly fatherless broken homes. Can anyone hazard a guess as to what the probable outcomes might be? that’s right, exactly what we have now!

  • livegreen

    How sad…

  • Marcia

    J.R., AFDC hasn’t existed since 1997. Your points would have more credibility if your sources were a little more up to date.

  • Jean C. White

    I agree we are reaping what we have sown. Highland and RISE have improved vastly since I first taught there 15 years ago. Better trained teachers, much more support for the kids, vastly more supplies, lovely play equipment– there wasn’t any before.

    However the kids that were yelled at, neglected, (at school! when I was at Webster years ago two classes ran on subs for virtually a year– those kids went literally crazy) whose play needs were ignored,, whose emotional needs were ignored, who were stuffed into large classes with extremely over-burdened teachers and stressed out classmates pushing every possible boundary are now out on the streets, broken people who are dangerous.

    I don’t think we want to carry around heavy weaponry, and I don’t think it would help a bit.
    WE NEED:
    Small classes for these kids who are often ignored at home and have seen awful things, and there’s a lot of them. In fact, have you ever met a teacher who did not agree that small classes are good for any kids?

    More police for prevention. SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES. Whatever it takes.
    It’s stressful having kids even if you don’t have to worry about food and housing. JOBS– what is more distressing than not being able to work and make a living wage. TRAINING. COUNSELING.
    CHILD-CARE. PRE-SCHOOL education as a matter of course.

  • J.R.

    The damage has been done as I have said “over decades with generation after generation”. If you are unclear about the context(such as in California we have one third of all public assistance recipient in the US). just search all my previous posts.


    Just so you know, the recent numbers have not changed much. The data is here(although not compiled together):


    Broken people from broken homes are a big part of the problem just as is denial(of same)and people waking up are realizing that things are just as bad or worse than they ever have been(this is the new normal).

  • Nextset

    The first question I ask so called victims of crime is “why were you there”.

  • http://www.ousdstaffwellness.org Lisa Ahn

    Thank you for this article. I think it’s imperative that we support our our teachers and staff who are experiencing the trauma of violence in their school communities. We are rolling out our first district wide self-care workshops for staff. In partnership with several mindfulness and yoga organizations, we are hoping to start addressing the consequences of vicarious trauma and stress. For any OUSD employees, check out http://www.ousdstaffwellness.org and click on “Events and trainings” to see what we have to offer.

  • Luis Mota

    Talking of trauma and given the little information we seem to be getting lately… are we to survive on Tony and Troy’s new fantastic propaganda tool? It was in the making…


    What a wonderful world!

  • hannahlucy07