Bouncin’ Back

The “Problem Child”Image result for empty hallway

We’ve all heard teachers describe their “problem” children. These are often the students that act out in class, don’t follow instructions, and often show they don’t care about the class. It’s easy to blame the student for their behavior if you don’t take into account why they may be acting this way. The “problem child” most likely is dealing with some pretty big problems of his or her own. We as teachers cannot ignore these. In fact, we should recognize these problems and do everything in our power to help the student.

These students most likely have a high “ACEs” score, which is defined as a quantified number of “adverse childhood experiences.” Just add to the score for every time a student experiences (17):

  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce
  • Death
  • Incarceration of a family member
  • The list goes on…

These students are greatly affected by the trauma from these types of events in their home lives

Image result for fostering resilient learners

Kristin Souers and Pete Hall describe this phenomenon in Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. The books includes many different strategies for fostering a safe classroom, as well as addressing students that have experiences high levels of trauma in their lifetimes. It is very likely that every little aspect of trauma will affect their performance in school; whether it is their motivation, awareness, or confidence.

The link below includes a short news article video that features teachers discussing how their outlook on the “problem children” changed once they took part in trauma training. Take a look! (I cannot imbed the video due to its format, but I promise it’s worth it!)

It’s our job to help students bounce back in the classroom and flourish.Image result for teacher clipart

What Can We Do to Help Students Bounce Back in the Science Classroom?Image result for bouncy ball

There are many different approaches to creating a trauma-sensitive classroom. These tips will help to create a classroom in which students can hopefully bounce back from their traumas and flourish in science. Let’s dive in!

Addressing Students One-On-One:

  • “Our reactions to students behaviors affect our relationships with those students. The more we are cognizant of our thoughts, emotions, and triggers, the better preparedImage result for deep breath we will be to understand our tendencies and patterns of actions” (36).
  • If a student lashes out, take a step back and breathe before reacting. They are used to being heavily disciplined. Instead, why not ask them what’s really going on, or if they need to talk.
  • Establish relationships with students as quickly as possible. You can only help a student if they feel they can trust you. Trust is key.
  • Provide students with resources if they do choose to talk about their situations. Let them know that they are not alone and have access to help. These resources could include:
    • Counselors
    • Social Workers
    • Nurses
    • Other students
    • Helplines
  • Do not treat the student as if he or she is damaged. Souers and Hall write, “forever changed, not forever damaged” (137). Remember that your students are entirely capable of learning no matter what they have experienced.

Setting Up the ClassroomImage result for classroom

  • Provide spaces for students to be alone, whether it is in the back of the room or a storage room. If a student needs some space, provide that space. This also allows you to talk to the student in a more private area.
  • One the first day of school, express your acceptance for all types of students. Let your students know you are there if anyone needs to just talk.
  • Do not tolerate any bullying or violence in the classroom. When it starts, it ends.

Teaching for Trauma 101:Image result for engage

  • Keep students heavily engaged: when students’ minds are busy, they are less likely to think about the traumas they have experienced. Engage using:
    • Hands-on labs to teach difficult chemistry concepts
    • Group work to encourage socialization and teamwork
    • Inquiry-based assignments in which students are the leaders of their learning
    • Research projects in which students can choose things of their interests
  • Be flexible with lessons. Not all students are going to be on the same page, and you may need to take a step back to reach your students with high ACEs scores. It’s worth it.
  • Be open to questions. Use students’ natural curiosities to their benefit and allow for them to explore things that make them light up inside.




  1. Chris, thank you for the response. I believe that students who are older may put their guards up a lot more. If students have been experiencing things their whole lives, they may be less vulnerable and trusting of others, therefore it may be more difficult to discuss ACEs with adolescents. Now, this is just my opinion. I really don’t have any evidence to back this up; I am sure there are young children who are not trusting of others and have their guards up.

  2. Thanks for responding, Michael! That’s a very important question you ask. I think the key to having students communicate with us is to establish a sense of trust very early on. I want to build personal relationships within the first couple weeks of the school year so that students know they can trust me with information, as well as feel I am a good listener. If students do not want to talk with me about their situations, I want to refer them to other resources who they may feel more trust in. Lastly, I need to be aware of changes in my students’ behaviors. If a student who is typically happy and motivated begins to put his or her head down in class, I will know that something is happening and simply ask if he or she would like to talk with me. Thanks again!

  3. Kate,

    Wonderful post! Thinking about the WHY for our “problem” students is always important. So many of our students might have high ACEs scores and we are not aware of it. And I really think being aware of our student’s home lives and backgrounds is always vital to us as teachers. We never know who we are teaching. I also loved that you provided a variety of resources for our students to go to because I definitely think we are not fully aware of these resources. My question for you is how will you approach a student who will not recognize or talk about their personal issues with you?


  4. Hey Kate,

    I really found that video interesting! I’m curious what differences you think can arise when implementing these strategies for approaching “problem students” at different age levels, if any at all. I hadn’t really thought about it while going through the book and writing this blog, but after seeing that all of the students in that video were really young, it made me wonder if it would be more difficult or easier with age. Great post!


  5. Thanks for responding, Delaina! I think that there are many different items that I could have to sooth students in my classroom. Some may be more pricey than others, but who says I can’t save up! I think noise cancelling headphones would be a great item to have in the classroom for any students that just really need quiet time, but can’t actually be in a quiet space. I also think stress balls can do a ton for students. In regards to your question about students with suicidal thoughts, I think that being in contact with other resources is incredibly important. I am not going to pretend that I am a therapist; I don’t have any of that expertise. As soon as I know a student has thoughts of harming himself or herself, I want to get in contact with other resources with expertise as soon as possible.

  6. Hello Kate,
    Awesome blog post! From my work with IEP kids, I can say that trust is key as well as being for them and showing that you care. I worked in an IEP classroom and this was the best couple hours of my life…maybe. I had so much fun with the students and formed a solid relationship with them. They respected me and enjoyed when I talked to them. One thing I love is working with these students because I struggled in school, as well. You could say this is a disadvantage to me being a teacher, but it can actually be a really big advantage! I know how students feel. I have been there. I love your suggestions, especially the “safe space” that you are thinking about creating in the back of the room. I am thinking about the same thing. Would you have relaxing activities in the back of the room? These can be like pillows, silly putty, etc. That might help. I am thinking about going into special education after my bachelor’s degree and these things definately help those kids. I like how you talk about accommodations for students. It is a good idea to change your lesson plans to accommodate for these students. It helps out a ton! I agree with your statemement. I usually find that the problem students are the ones who need you the most! My question for you is, do you have any ideas of soothing items to have in your safe space? My other question is how do you deal with a student who struggles with suicidal ideation? This is a big problem in our society today and we have the responsibility to help any way we can. I ask because I have dealt with this as a student teacher and it breaks my heart.

    Delaina 🙂

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