Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Kenneth Tobin

Committee Members

David Forbes

Gillian Bayne

Subject Categories

Other Education


authentic inquiry, mindfulness, traumatized youth, hermeneutic phenomenology, integral theory, polyvagal theory


Teaching is inextricably linked to teachers’ personal lives; teachers invest their selves and their sense of identity and self-esteem in their work” (Rinchen, Ritchie, & Bellocchi, 2016, p. 604).

The teaching profession in the United States of America can be a highly stressful one, especially in America’s largest urban centers, due to the high incidences of violence, lack of resources and insufficient funding (Tobin, Roth & Zimmermann, 2001). The situation is even worse for teachers teaching in juvenile detention centers with traumatized youth and many teachers may internalize this trauma. Teachers may experience tremendous emotional tensions, such as high blood pressure, and on some days, extreme fear of being around these adolescents.

Recent research has shown that teachers, and other service providers who work closely with traumatized youth, may be exposed to a symptom known as Secondary Trauma Stress - STS (Hatcher, Bride, Oh, King, Catrett & James, 2011) and where this occurs, little or no teaching and learning can take place. Both new and veteran teachers are faced with similar disturbing events and are sometimes not able to do their job effectively or enthusiastically. As a teacher, my understanding of how the autonomic nervous system operates has guided my behavior during the teaching and learning process. By implementing mindfulness practices, I can regulate my body language, to ensure that my teaching practices are more effective in the classroom. This awareness of the Autonomic Nervous System has enabled me to maintain a holistic lifestyle outside of the classroom.

I used Authentic Inquiry to capture teachers’ experiences in juvenile detention centers, with the intention of helping the teachers improve their teaching skills, and limit stress. As part of the process of authentic inquiry, cogenerative dialogue is one of the methods used as an inclusive tool that enhances the quality of teaching and learning, and can provide insights into the culture of other teachers in the classroom (Tobin, 2017).

The purpose of this study was to frame teachers’ experiences, in an intensive educational, treatment facility for juvenile delinquents. For this research, the interpretive frameworks of hermeneutic phenomenology/ethnomethodology (ontological authenticity), are employed to communicate stories of working in high stress, and potentially toxic environments. I have demonstrated how different mindfulness techniques and theoretical frames such as Polyvagal Theory (Porges & Buczynski, 2011) – fight, flee or freeze, emotion regulation, meditation, and awareness of the Integral Theory, can assist teachers to cope in the volatile place called work. Incorporating mindfulness activities in the teaching experience has helped me develop positive survival mechanisms to maintain a healthy and stress-free lifestyle, while achieving my professional goals.

Keywords - teachers, mindfulness, detention centers, traumatized youth, secondary trauma stress, hermeneutic phenomenology, integral theory, polyvagal theory