Recent discussion and research have focused on the impact of the pandemic on students, but only recently have the media and general public focused on its impact on teachers. While many parents are eager for kids to get back to school, the mental health and vulnerability of teachers is only now getting attention.

In a recent podcast, Raise Your Hand Texas talks about teachers and the impact of the pandemic on the classroom. The conversation includes doctoral student Travis Bauer, who explains the transactional theory of stress and how it applies to teachers, especially in the era of COVID-19.

“People are at higher risk for stress when the demands they have are outweighing the resources they have to meet them. A lot of the data that we’ve seen on a big level have shown that teachers lack specific resources to get support. If they don’t have resources to meet them, it makes sense that they are at high risk for stress.” Bauer is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

The podcast was the first in a series, Intersect Ed, produced by the nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on strengthening public schools for every Texas child. 

In the podcast, Bauer explains how the loss of day-to-day student connections is one of the resources teachers miss the most. “Teachers draw a lot of energy from their students. It’s the reason they’re in the classroom,” he says.

In addition to studying teacher stress, Bauer’s research examines trauma-informed learning.

Trauma, which Bauer defines as “a profound sense of disconnection,” is ubiquitous in the classroom, as documented by the landmark Adverse Child Experience (ACE) study. In the era of COVID-19, educating new teachers about ways to connect with students experiencing trauma is more important than ever.

“My goal is to inform and educate new teachers about trauma before they even step foot into a classroom and to help them understand that trauma is normal and experienced in many different ways. I also give them simple tools to help them work better with their students.” 

Although trauma-informed learning is the focus of Bauer’s dissertation, his research interests are varied, which he largely credits to his time in the college. “My experiences at UT have been marked by exploration,” Bauer says.

Bauer has explored other areas of interest such as teacher wellness, a topic that is especially timely now. He is working with Vida Clinic founder and College of Education alumna, Elizabeth Minne, Ph.D. ‘06,[bg to link to previous stories about Minne] to create a “holistic system of care for teachers,” called the Teacher Wellness Institute. The program, which is still in development, can be embedded into local school systems, offering support such as group therapy, drop-in clinics, and training sessions. Vida Clinic currently operates at Austin Independent School District campuses across the district offering virtual counseling throughout the COVID-10 pandemic.

Bauer has also worked closely with  Chris J. McCarthy, interim chair of the Department of Educational Psychology and a national authority on stress and coping research for teachers. “The goal of this work is to support teachers in a lasting way that prioritizes their wellness,” Bauer says. “We want to help teachers stay in the workforce, improve their job satisfaction, and prevent compassion fatigue and burnout.”

With the ongoing uncertainty about how Texas schools will operate this fall, topics like trauma in the classroom and teacher wellness will continue to be front and center. 

Bauer says, “What I’m thinking about with teachers in this time is just how much they really need to take of themselves. They need to extend compassion to themselves for what’s going on and give themselves room to feel the collective grief that we’re experiencing because we probably won’t return to the same world that we left.”