Coping With Compassion Fatigue Through Self-Care

Coping With Compassion Fatigue Through Self-Care

Trudi Pinnick Wolfe
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2334-9.ch007
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This chapter focuses on how the stress of teaching can lead to compassion fatigue. It will examine the general stressors of teaching which have led to the current teacher shortage with a special focus on the unique stress of teaching students who have experienced trauma. In addition, it will offer a snapshot of how trauma presents itself in the classroom and some of the challenges that educators experience. This chapter will share one school's experience with helping their teachers cope with compassion fatigue through a professional development series covering these topics: defining compassion fatigue and its impact, coping strategies, and the importance of self-care. Data will be presented to show the effectiveness of this intervention at this author's school.
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At this time, there is a critical shortage of qualified teachers in public K-12 schools. This chapter will explore some of the reasons for the shortage, especially the issues related to teaching students with significant trauma and the cost of caring for them, which often results in compassion fatigue. This chapter will chronicle the journey of this author’s school in helping teachers cope with compassion fatigue in the following ways: understanding the syndrome, helping teachers to reconnect with their mission as educators, and providing information on self-care strategies and practices. Information will be provided for the readers to create a professional development (PD) series to deliver to their teachers and other staff. Personal accounts from two teachers at the author’s school as well as a principal are also included in this chapter. From these personal accounts, the reader will learn from the teachers’ perspectives what it is like to teach children with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the personal toll it takes, and how this PD series helped them cope. The objectives are:

  • To understand compassion fatigue and its impact

  • To understand how working with students who have experienced trauma contributes to compassion fatigue, and

  • To know how to create a professional development program to help teachers cope.



There have been reported teacher shortages in certain subject areas and some school districts since 2008. In recent years, this shortage has increased to a nation-wide teacher shortage, which has been exacerbated by the conditions that the pandemic has brought to the world of education. The demand for teachers has exceeded the supply of teachers for all grades K-12 since 2019 (Edelman, 2021). There are fewer young people enrolling in teacher education programs. From 2009 to 2014, there was a 35% decline in enrollment in teacher preparation programs (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).

The pandemic is also a significant contributor to the shortage of teachers. The National Education Association (NEA) found in their survey of educators in May 2021 that 33% of the respondents said that the pandemic has led them to plan on leaving the profession earlier than expected. (Walker, 2021) The percentage of Black teachers anticipating early retirement is even higher with 43% reporting that they plan to leave the field earlier than expected (Flannery, 2020). Other contributors are fewer young people entering the field, salary and benefits not being competitive with other professions, and unprecedented teacher workload and burnout (Learning Policy Institute, 2021).

Other factors are also cited in the literature as the reason for teacher shortages. Lever et al. (2017) in their article “School Mental Health Is Not Just for Students: Why Teacher and School Staff Wellness Matters,” cite the following reasons for teacher shortages:

  • “High-stakes tests

  • Large class sizes

  • Student behavioral challenges

  • Inadequate resources

  • Poor physical space

  • Bureaucracy

  • Workload

  • High responsibility for others

  • Perceived inadequate recognition or advancement

  • The gap between preservice training expectations and actual work experience, and

  • Lack of autonomy.” (Lever, et al. 2017, para. 3).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Trauma-Informed School Approach: A systemic approach to working with students that focuses on safety, relationships, and emotional regulation.

Teacher Shortage: The state of not having enough teachers to fill open positions.

Adverse Childhood Experience: A traumatic event that occurred before the age of 18. Major categories of trauma studied were abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

ACE Study: A longitudinal study by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda in which the long-term effects of trauma in three major categories were documented.

ACEs: Adverse Child Experiences, a study done by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC. Principal authors were Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda. Documented the long-term effects of trauma in three major categories.

Educator: A person who educates.

Trauma: An event that is overwhelming to an individual, leading to a sense of being unable to cope and/or being fearful of his/her life. Trauma encompasses a variety of experiences and is perceived as being traumatic on an individual basis.

Education: The act of teaching.

Teacher: One who teaches.

Principal: The leader of a school.

Professional Development: Providing information to professionals about issues related to their field of work.

Stress: Feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope.

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