I’m sure I won’t surprise you if I tell you that returning military veteran students are struggling with PTSD. It’s the third-most prevalent disability veterans receive benefits for. And, anyone who knows someone who has deployed knows that there are experiences that soldiers, marines, whatever, just don’t share. I think for most of us, we’re okay with that. It isn’t really our place not to be, right?
But, what happens if sharing does take place in your classroom? Having taught in an urban school, I’ve read about my fair share of traumatic experiences—some that have left me physically shaken in a way I will never forget. I’ve also seen some teachers cringe when I tell them about the topics I’ve read about. It’s as if we expect writing class topics to be standard and boring, despite our encouragement to “dig deep”. Just not too deep.
But when I ask my students to write the “significant moment” paper, and I have a veteran who is comfortable sharing or looking for an outlet, what do I expect? If I’ve done what I’m supposed to do and created an environment where students feel comfortable, what do I think is going to happen? And, if I get such a paper, how do I write a comment like, “This idea isn’t developed enough” or “Add more detail here”? What if you’re an instructor who doesn’t want more detail? I’m not a therapist. I have no training in how to work students through emotional trauma. And, I don’t think as teachers we’re expected to be. But, that doesn’t change the fact that as responsible educators, we need to know what to do and where to send our students.
Here are some important questions to consider as we think about the emotional and mental trauma that students may disclose in their writing:
- Does your campus offer any training for faculty on addressing veterans’ needs?
- Does your campus have a veteran’s services center? Do you know where it is?
- Do you know what kinds of services your center offers to students?
- Do you know if there are mentor or support programs available?
I’ll admit I didn’t know the answers to many of these until I started digging into this topic. And, I started to wonder why not? My husband’s a veteran for crying out loud. As instructors, I understand we are buried in our classes, our research, our departments, our service. The list goes on. But, because these students are growing in number, it’s important to take the time to do our due diligence. Consider it professional development if you need an additional motivator.
Some of these students will struggle with the balance of returning to civilian life carrying the weight of their service on their shoulders. Why not help them out and be knowledgeable enough to offer some informed guidance?