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The Impact of Secondary Traumatic Stress on Urban Educators in Schools with High at Risk Student Populations

Joany Santa, Johnson & Wales University


Educators who choose to educate students in schools with high at risk populations risk exposure to secondary traumatic stress (STS) through the disclosure of a student’s experiences with trauma (Jensen, 2009). The purpose of this study was to research the impact of STS on the quality of life for educators in high risk settings and identify resources to mitigating any negative impact. A mixed method approach using a convergent parallel design was employed through a three-part survey. The research questions were: What has been the impact of STS on teachers working with at risk students and families? What do educators identify as helpful to minimize the impact of being exposed to the students’ first hand traumatic experiences? How is STS perceived by educators in under-performing schools in a Massachusetts urban district? What type of student trauma experienced by the students do the educators describe as producing STS? The study was conducted in four schools classified as chronically under-performing on statewide assessments in a Massachusetts urban school district. The participants were educators (N=160) in the schools from November 2013-November 2015. Demographic data were collected in Part I. Quantitative data were collected in Part II using the 30 item Professional Quality of Life Scale (Stamm, 2010). Educators provided data through two dimensions- Compassion Satisfaction and Compassion Fatigue with two sub sections identified as Burnout and STS. Using a qualitative design, open-ended questions embedded in Part III were used to collect data on trauma and stress in students’ lives. A focus group Interview collected qualitative data on student trauma and supports. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and text analysis to determine themes. The quantitative issues identified were; frustration, anger/depression, fear and work related stress contributing to STS. Qualitative themes leading to STS included; frustration, emotional impact, violence, assaults, and trauma history. Educators shared themes as supportive in mitigating the impact of STS: family/friends, physical activity, therapy and peer support. Potential actions suggested included; providing the employee information to better understand STS, opportunities for physical activity and wellness, access to therapists, and opportunities for developing and strengthening collegial relationships.

Subject Area

School administration|Education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Santa, Joany, "The Impact of Secondary Traumatic Stress on Urban Educators in Schools with High at Risk Student Populations" (2016). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10106159.