This essay describes and takes up the task of what the authors call threading the needle—teaching difficult content with a critical lens while simultaneously teaching with a trauma-informed pedagogy. Drawing data from three qualitative studies, one focused on teachers teaching for social justice in unjust school spaces, another looking at how teachers teach war to the children of soldiers, and a third how teachers teach lynching in schools near historic lynching sites, this manuscript argues that threading the needle is made more difficult by a too generalized definition of trauma informed teaching, shortsighted professional development on the topic, and too little direction on pedagogy. This leaves teachers feeling adrift and subtly signaled to avoid teaching difficult content with a critical lens, confirming for some teachers the absence of teaching controversial topics of race, class, gender, sex, and resistance altogether while others teach critically, but quietly, outside the watchful eye of the school.

Author Biography

Brian Gibbs

Brian Gibbs taught social studies in East Los Angeles, California for 16 years. He is currently a faculty member in the department of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He studies the limits and possibilities of critical pedagogy in complex social contexts and its implications for teacher education.

Kristin Papoi

Kristin Papoi is a faculty member in the school of education and Program Director of the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research on teacher education and the impact of arts-based teaching methods on second language acquisition is grounded in her work as a grade 3-5 teacher in Southeast Los Angeles, California.



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