Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Moral Injury and Teaching

I originally wrote this as a message for an amazing school I work with and was asked to put it into a shareable format. 

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Yesterday, in a lecture on resiliency during this COVID-19 time, I heard the term “moral injury” used to describe what teachers are currently going through. This is usually a term applied to soldiers at war who are forced to do something they don’t believe in, and I was struck in hearing it used in reference to us. 

The Wikipedia definition is:
Moral injury refers to an injury to an individual's moral conscience and values resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression,[1] which produces profound emotional guilt and shame,[2] and in some cases also a sense of betrayal,[1] anger and profound "moral disorientation".[3]

The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma.[1] Distinct from psychopathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event.[1][4] According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the concept is used in literature with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.[5]

“Moral injury is the normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event” when we are unable to complete work that we believe in.

Teaching is what drives each of us. Each of us wakes up every day ready to make the world better because of the work we do at Carlin Springs. We see the faces of our students when we go to bed at night, and if we wake up at 2am are filled with worry about what is happening to our students. Normally, all we need to do is get back to school to see them. Hug them, listen to them, teach them, support them.

Right now, we can’t. And frankly, that sucks. (excuse my language. In my house we’ve recognized that while we don’t usually use words like that, sometimes we need to have language that matches the situation.)

Something about naming the term helped me understand the deep helplessness we are each going through as we fight to match our beliefs in helping our students with the current situation.

I have no great advice here other than to be kind to yourself. Sit with this feeling of moral injury, now that we have a name for it, and consider what it means for you. Realizing that we may not be able to do what we believe in now is hard, and facing that we cannot do what we are trained to do is perhaps the worst part. No one got into teaching to sit on the sidelines. We won’t be here forever, and we will be back with our students and able to do what we love. Meanwhile, be kind to yourself, take deep breaths, long walks, and find ways to show your students your smiling face. 

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