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Teachers at Risk for PTSD?

A Chicago Tribune piece tells the story of one teacher's battle with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from abuse she endured from a group of students at a Chicago public school.

Norma Brown, who was diagnosed six years ago with the affliction that is commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, still has nightmares recalling the day when she was punched and kicked by middle school students in the lunchroom after she asked one of them to remove his baseball hat. Even a few months after the attack, Brown was told by her doctors that she couldn't return to school because she needed further counseling and rehabilitation. She went on anti-anxiety medication and was placed on "assault leave," an option in the teachers contract that allowed her to continue to receive full pay and benefits.

Eventually, Brown returned to teaching, working as a substitute at lower-grade levels in schools that were in neighborhoods where she felt comfortable. But when the school system began assigning her to schools in tougher areas, the anxiety was too much for her. She recently decided to retire.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I'm not reminded about what happened, and all that came after," says Brown.

Dr. Gerald Juhnke, a PTSD expert and professor in the department of counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Tribune that teachers may be more susceptible to PTSD than is commonly assumed. This is especially true of those who work in tough urban schools where violence is more common. "Teachers don't carry guns or badges. They're not going into the profession ever believing they're going to be injured or attacked by students," said Juhnke. "Teachers are very vulnerable. Their personality is such that they don't forget easily."

Chicago school officials told the Tribune that there have been over 800 attacks against teachers and school employees by students in the last school year, and 20 teachers who have been granted assault leave in the past five years.

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