- Though some educators use trigger warnings to alert students to content that may generate an adverse emotional reaction, research suggests doing so may prime students and create a response on its own. This has led to concern among some teachers that these warnings may cause harm rather than prevent it.
- That's one reason Adam Wolfsdorf, Humanities Department chair at Bay Ridge Prep in New York and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education, suggests that educators focus more on how to help students who may be experiencing a traumatic reaction, as a response can happen no matter the material.
- “It's very likely that whatever is going on with the student, in a moment of being triggered, has no direct connection to the educator or anybody else in the room,” said Wolfsdorf. “The trauma likely originated long before the student even entered the room, so knowing that, doing what we can as educators is very important, and also recognizing our limitations.”
Wolfsdorf acknowledges that trigger warnings are a complicated subject. He suggests teachers should consider how they will assist students if something in the classroom occurs that proves to be triggering — whether there were warnings or not.
He encourages teachers to have tools ready to help their classes. For example, he said educators can allow students to leave a classroom whenever they want if they feel they need a break or have become triggered.
Mindfulness techniques can also be helpful skills to teach to students “who may become activated,” he said.
Offering alternative assignments to students is another option to consider, he said, especially for students who may not want to engage with a triggering text or experience.
However, Wolfsdorf does not advise that educators should offer counseling to students — though they should know how to connect students to help.
“We are not mental health professionals,” he said. “The classroom should be a therapeutic space but should not be mistaken for therapy, and educators should know when the moment is out of our bounds and should be elevated to a school guidance counselor.”