I still remember my math teacher from fifth grade giving me a bar of chocolate because I did well and my class teacher in third grade drawing a pizza on my work as a sign it was good. Such simple gestures got me excited about submitting my work. But, not everyone is so lucky. I’ve heard many people tell me that their teachers actually upped their stress levels.
When a friend of mine confessed how stressed she was by her strained relationship with her teacher, which led her to believe would impact her grades, I felt concerned, unsure of how to help. Another friend told me that he had started to get progressively more anxious because his teacher would ask him to read aloud in class, despite knowing that this made him, uncomfortable.
Yet another friend explained how she had confided in her teachers about being bullied, but they refused to help, which increased her stress levels. In India, stories of students being made to quack like ‘chickens’ by teachers, and other humiliating forms of punishment, abound.
While teachers may not understand, their behaviour does impact student’s stress levels.
It is high time the government and schools address this by training teachers. The curriculum of B.Ed. and M.Ed. programs need to include student anxiety. And, for qualified teachers, schools need to recruit educational psychologists and school counsellors who can help guide qualified teacher on how to mentor students and deal with anxiety in the classroom.
Firstly, we need to train teachers on how to identify symptoms of anxiety and then help students accordingly. I have often felt my mind go blank when my teacher asks me a question. Speaking in front of 38 other students triggers my anxiety. But my teachers assumed I didn’t know the answer or was just painfully shy.
In fact, many symptoms of anxiety are physically identifiable, but they are symptoms that may be mistaken for being a troublesome student and not an anxious one. For example, an anxious student might start drawing on his or her desk, fidget with stationary or rhythmically bounce their legs or hands. Other possible determiners are lack of attendance, inattention, and acting out in class.
Once the teacher identifies anxiety, there are several methods a teacher can use to not trigger it further.
For example, they can avoid calling out such students and instead give them the opportunity to volunteer to answer a question.
Having certain prerequisites in every classroom, which includes tools that can help ease anxiety, can help significantly. Fidget toys and rubber bands are a good example.
In fact, a professor from the University of Illinois found that fidgeting with objects — squeezing a stress ball or twirling a pen, for instance — can help boost productivity by giving the mind a break, making it easier to pay attention to the task upon returning to it. And in 2006, in their Journal of At-Risk Issues, researchers, Sheryl Stalvey and Heather Brasell, found that stress balls can improve the focus and attention spans of sixth-graders.
Another intervention to consider is implementing mindfulness into the classroom, just like it has been done in government schools of Delhi. The Happiness Curriculum launched in 2018, aims to develop future citizens of the county who are “mindful, aware, awakened, empathetic, and firmly rooted in their identity.”
Students between Nursery and Class 8, have to attend a happiness period of 45 minutes every day, undergoing meditation, value education and mental exercises. The impact has been visible, with the head of Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya School reporting that attendance had increased and student-teacher relationships have strengthened. Similar efforts in other countries have shown similar, positive results.
Given these results, I feel mindful school be implemented pan-India, across all age groups and all types of educational institutions. As a part of teacher-training, teachers should be guided on how to include mindfulness into their classroom, which can be as simple as breathing in and out for 2 minutes before starting the class or even dedicating half an hour to it thrice a week.
Since peer pressure and bullying is a significant cause of stress, and there is insufficient reporting on this matter it’s an area that needs to be addressed. Schools to organise seminars and encouraging children to report bullies to teachers.
According to a 2018 study for Int J Environ Res Public Health, anti-bullying programs can reduce bullying activity by 19 to 20% and reduce victimisation by 15 to 16%. Teachers then to be trained as to how to respond to such reports and a system needs to be put it ensures that reports are properly attended to.
And finally, we’ve all experienced the time when we get a bad grade even when we tried our best. At that moment, it hurts that we weren’t graded for our effort but only for the answers we failed to write when we may have had a bout of anxiety.
As practised at Fay School, Southborough, MA, I feel grading consistent effort rather than just the product can significantly help reduce academic stress. Grades can cause tremendous stress, anxiety and even depression.
At the beginning of ninth grade, I remember my math teacher recognising my strengths and efforts in my test even though my final answer was wrong. Since math is not my strength, I get discouraged looking at red crosses on my answer sheet.
But, by recognising my efforts and strengths, I feel empowered to do better the next time. Hence, adopting methods like weekly reports for grading effort can help a child recognise their consistent efforts rather than just a grade or a score.
An anxiety-ridden classroom is undesirable for students and teachers and if we want teachers to play an active role, we need to train them, give them the tools and the support they need to rid our schools of this issue.