Take a Breath
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Take a Breath

The trauma from spring lingers

The other night on social media one of my friends from work posted about a student who is going through hard times.

The student’s mom has COVID-19 and is on a ventilator and is declining in health. The student contacted the teacher about it letting the teacher know that she may need extension on assignments in case her mother passes and has to do funeral.

My friend wrote about the extreme times as teachers having to see students at their worst of times.

I know that feeling all too well. In fact as she brought it up I realize that I have trauma from the spring semester.

Nothing directly happening to me, but to my students who I have a special connection to now because of COVID-19.

Them nor I have never been through what we all have been doing through these last few months. The whole pandemic is traumatizing.

When I began teaching college almost 7 years ago I knew I had a job to teach them what I had been hired to do but I also knew that my students have their own stories.

Ones of defeat, tragedy, difficulty but also of hope, victories and accomplishments.

Covid-19 made my students personal stories that much more personal.

At the end of February some of my students and another instructor took a trip to San Francisco for a journalism conference. We had all been looking forward to it but had become very aware right before the trip that Covid-19 was about to change our lives.

From day one at the conference to the last day the hotel had already started to implement changes. It was this weird and uneasy thing. We all began to realize that this thing called Covid-19 was about to change a lot of things except we didn’t know what.

As we came home we began to hear news about early cases in San Francisco. We were just there and with a bunch of people from everywhere.

That Monday we came back to school so pumped to share all we learned and improve what we do. We didn’t get that chance in the way we thought we would.

The following week it was clear. We will be taking a two week spring break and return to campus. Except two days before we left we were given direction that the college would be going remote.

I had class that day and it was the day of midterm. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to see my students the rest of the semester.

I remember toward the end of class there was lots of questions and I tried my best to answer them. Students had a lot of fear, uncertainty and worry about all of it school, work, home life and social life.

When class was over I remember it feeling so surreal. Did I just say goodbye to my class is March and not May? I remember thinking man my students are going to need support and I think I will need it too.

During those two weeks it was very clear we would not be returning and each week it got extended longer except after the two weeks of spring break we were to return to teaching in the remote setting.

Now I have two degrees which I did solely online and I have taught classes online but did not have this class set up for that. Both of the classes I taught were hands on with labs.

The first day back to classes I scheduled Zoom calls with my students.

My first class a small tight group mostly student editors from the student newspaper got on the call.

The entire call had nothing to do with class and everything to do with them from school to personal. In that two week period their lives were flipped upside down from being sick, to jobs changing and home life being overwhelming.

Two days later I met with them again and we spent even more time in personal stuff and their fears became very apparent. Mine became apparent too.

My other class with 25 students were another story in itself. Definitely not a class that had been set up with skill sets in online learning let alone using online tools.

We met on Zoom but not everyone showed. I remember instant worry setting in. Where were my students? Are they ok?

In that Zoom meeting life changed, we changed. We talked about break, home, work, school and anything else. I asked each one to tell us how they are doing and what they think they will need to succeed in the class with being remote.

They answered with “I’m fine” which I think by now we all know when someone says that to us they are not fine.

This class just started to gel in the classroom and now it was ripped away from them. However what we didn’t know was that quarantine was about to bring us even closer.

I remember getting off the first call with them and being in tears. Here is a group of 18–45 year olds who come from ALL walks of life and their fear and concern is so overwhelming.

As I write this the trauma from that first week back is so clear it fills me with sadness.

I sat there thinking how am I going to get through this. Their instructor who has anxiety issues already, how will I be able to teach them and deal with not only my own but theirs. It was clear to me on that day that many of my students were not going to have support structure at home that I think way too many instructors assume is there.

The one thing I knew that anxiety has taught me was to be truthful with people about how I was feeling because more than likely they might feel the same way. That is how I would cope with living through a pandemic in quarantine teaching and working from my home while homeschooling my child.

Yup. That’s a lot just by itself. Now I needed to support students like never before.

Each week added more trauma as things in the United States began to look very grim.

Each week I would start class with a check in of each student in Zoom. As days turned into weeks those fines became a series of truth that never ended and made us all feel as one body working collectively to keep each other accountable and supported.

Check ins on Zoom we’re now honest and open.

I’m not ok.

I need help.

My family has Covid-19.

My essential job is terrifying me.

I am the only one in my house working.

We don’t have money for essentials at home.

We have no food or money.

I don’t know if I can be in school and get through this semester.

I am anxious and terrified to leave my home.

I feel like this will never end.

My parents are frontline workers.

I can’t do my work because now I am taking care of siblings and homeschooling.

I lost my job or got furloughed.

Every class meeting my heart hurt and sank. Many would say instructors are just there to teach and that we have no place in students personal lives.

I’m not one of those instructors. Period. Their heart hurts mine hurts. They are overwhelmed and I am right there too.

Covid-19 caused and is still causing trauma to my students.

Those three full months of quarantine plus school, work, home life, social life you name it and it took from them things that only they could feel.

It stole graduation day for my first generation students who are the ONLY ones in their families to get a college degree. At the college I teach at that is a huge amount of students that were not able to walk for their families and have that moment to shine.

I didn’t get to walk with them and cheer them on as their names were called or take photos.

But mine is nothing compared to theirs but we all have lost something.

During spring semester we grew into much more than I ever thought in both my classes.

With all the constant trauma happening every day I vowed to my students that we would be flexible. Make adjustments as needed. Be honest and open with me if I was giving too much work. Find hope in the darkest times and not add to their trauma by making them watch the news.

See I teach journalism and broadcasting. Having students engage in what I would usually do as daily readings and watching broadcast just could not happen.

I don’t believe news networks add to fear but I do believe that when anyone sees bad news constantly it can really take a toll on mental health.

The pandemic alone without news channels caused its own issues but add on story after story of death and scary close calls and your brain wants to shut down.

I told my students I will not make you watch a single thing. If you can watch and comment that is OK but if you can’t that is also OK.

Everyone’s trauma and experiences with pandemic are different but what we do have that is all the same is we have trauma no matter how small or how big.

When Some Good News became a thing on YouTube I knew that world found HOPE. As I shared with students each episode we began to share stories of hope in our lives. From the littlest “we found toilet paper this week” to “I got a scholarship.”

Hope was being found in the midst of darkness.

By our last day of class we had now formed a support group that would carry on. Would check in with one another. Now be friends because we made it through class.

I remember one student telling me at the end that he didn’t think he would survive spring semester but that he was able to look forward to our class meeting to be able to grieve and confide in people his most difficult times. The support he felt and worthiness made him realize he is stronger when he shares himself because we all could feel what he was feeling.

My friend’s post brought trauma up for me. I was able to share what I went through and not feel alone.

I think of going into fall semester and that will be different because while our state has kind of reopened there is the sense of unrest and freedoms being taken away.

Now we have been in pandemic for almost 6 months by the time school restarts. The trauma isn’t over but now we have had to endure it longer which only begs the question more.

Are schools going to step up resources for mental health and student support? For staff and faculty as well?

I have heard it said that this pandemic is a marathon and not a sprint. The same goes for trauma. We don’t just move on and get over it.

It’s going to have lasting impact and we need to be much more aware of taking care of people and each other. Need to help people get the resources they need. That may look like you making a call for them or picking up food.

Don’t stay silent. Help others process through their trauma and share what you are going through.

Remember we are human beings first above all else.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it has to be community. We as human beings need connection. Check in with someone today.

The trauma from 2020 will stick with me but I am so thankful that I can share my story to help others share theirs. We don’t have to do this alone.

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Alicia Edquist

Alicia Edquist

Daughter. Wife. Mom. Friend. Journalist. Journalism Instructor. STORYTELLER. Beach Lover.