Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kathy Escamilla

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Dutro

Third Advisor

Terrenda White

Fourth Advisor

Cindy White

Fifth Advisor

Lucinda Soltero-González


The purpose of this study was twofold. First, it was intended to capture how the phenomenon of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) affected a U.S. teaching population. Secondly, it sought to understand better how these teachers perceived and embodied their students’ traumas. Within the field of psychology, STS intends to capture the impact of witnessing clients’ traumas on the professionals who work with them closely. Recent work by Borntrager, Caringi, van den Pol, Crosby, O’Connell, Trautman, and McDonald (2012) has addressed the importance of considering the impact of STS on the teaching field. Though education differs significantly from other helping professions, they are similar in that schools provide an environment in which teachers are engaged on a daily basis with the lived experiences of many individuals.

This study employed a mixed methods design. In Phase I of the design, an attitudinal survey to measure levels of Secondary Traumatic Stress in Teachers was administered to one rural school district in the U.S. In Phase II, I conducted a qualitative, semi-structured interview to ten teachers who self-selected into the interview. The interview was used to explore what types of traumas teachers were witnessing and how they perceived to embody this kind of stress. A thematic analysis was conducted on the data.

Findings indicated that teachers all experienced varying levels of STS. Most teachers experienced moderate levels of the phenomenon, with smaller percentages being at either end of the spectrum. Further, White, working-class, elementary school teachers were more likely to experience higher levels of STS. Safety and Normal were two themes of the six themes that arose as teachers navigated their concerns for students. All teachers responded that they were stressed about the job and their competency. They used various types of emotions to discuss their perception both of student traumas and personal stressors. The findings support a need to continue research on how STS impacts the teaching profession. Further investigations would be beneficial in informing teacher preparation programs and teacher professional development.