I am not a fan of the dentist. I’m sure most people aren’t, but for me, the dentist equals pain. Trauma.
Today, when I had to get a cavity filled, I was scared. Shaking-in-my-seat scared. So when I saw the dentist bring the needle of novocaine to my mouth, I immediately ventured back to a dental surgery where I needed 8-10 shots. Tears ran down my face then, and they were starting again. What could have helped was a calm, soothing bit of reassurance from the assistant, or the dentist, that everything would be okay. Maybe just a little bit of explanation about what they were about to do and why. That didn’t happen though.
Right before that needle, there was the first opportunity for explanation. I was given a numbing agent, so why not explain the procedure I was about to have? Nope. Instead I was left there, alone, with various frightening scenarios playing through my mind.
When the assistant and dentist returned five minutes later, it was with the shot. Without a word, I received two of them. Then those tears began to flow again. No one noticed though, for they were gone again. I was by myself for another five minutes, trying to stop my hands from shaking. This time I texted my husband. I looked for meaningless distractions online. None of it helped. My mind ventured back to two years ago. I was reliving my trauma all over again.
When the dentist returned, he did what he had to do to replace my filling. It took less than five minutes. He then got up, took off his headlamp, and told me to have a nice day. He didn’t even wait for me to respond. The assistant handed me my purse, and told me to come up to the front to pay. When I handed the secretary my credit card, I was still shaking. By the time I got to my car, all that was left was a numbness in the upper left corner of my mouth that I thought would never go away.
Trauma is like that. It’s always hidden there, and can come back at random times when triggered. Flashbacks may start, as well as an influx of strong emotions. I know these feelings are normal, but what I also know is that my trauma didn’t have to be triggered today. I’ve been to the dentist many times since my accident. If one person–the assistant, dentist, or secretary–would have simply asked how I was, I would have mentioned I was a bit nervous and would have asked what I was in for. I could have prepared myself. No one said anything though. They weren’t thinking about me. I was just another case to them. On my drive home, I couldn’t help but think about how this–reliving a trauma–happens in schools all the time.
There are teachers who don’t think about their students as they prepare their curriculum or instruction. They do what they’ve always done, what they’re told to do, what’s easiest, or what they’re interested in. It’s about them, not their students. Recently, an ignorant Texas high school teacher made her students watch Derek Chauvin’s trial, asking them to pretend to be a member of the jury. Parents immediately complained and the assignment was cancelled, but what kind of trauma did that inflict on those students? A few days earlier, a teacher, who thought she had closed out her virtual class, went on a racist rant about a Black student and his parent. How do you think that child feels about his teacher now, and school in general? Teachers need to consider how their students’ lives are often unlike their own. We won’t all know what they go through, but we can learn how to help. We can get to know our students as human beings, and show them we care. One of the best ways to do that is through the workshop model.
I am currently reading The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop by Felicia Rose Chavez, and I can’t help but think that this model is what’s needed in every classroom. Students need to know that they have a teacher who listens to their words, as well as their body language. A teacher who asks questions not just to assess a child’s understanding of a text, but to also understand the child. A teacher who adheres to the student writer’s agenda, not their own, to improve a piece of writing.
I never want my students relive a trauma because of an instructional decision that I made. When we don’t put in the effort to create inclusive classrooms, we aren’t protecting our students of color. School should not be feared or hated, but the reality is that it is by some. Teachers, we must work to change this. School can be a well-loved home for all of our children.