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What Can Teachers Do To Combat Stress In The Classroom?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Created by Devina Singh

Do your teachers add to your stress levels?
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  1. boarding School India

    very nice article

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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