Take charge of anxiety and you’ll take charge of the learning
Anxiety demands action, just look around the room at the beginning of a lesson…
Pupils come into the room. They know they have to be there for the best part of an hour if not more. They don’t know what will happen in the lesson, they don’t yet know the task you will set or what mood you might be in. They may have come from a lesson which was boring or one where they had a load of fun or one where the teacher blew her top at someone in the room. They may be headed towards break or lunchtime or a lesson that they hate or love after your lesson. The may be having a ‘good’ day or a ‘bad’ day – and this is all before you even begin to think about any anxieties associated with their life at home.
Look closely and you will see how each student is dealing with their current anxious state. Some will file in and get their books out and arrange their equipment. They will write down the learning objective and sit ‘ready’, perhaps having a quiet conversation with their friend. Others will bang and clatter about, shrieking across to someone the other side of the room. They will talk loudly about something other than the lesson they are in and maybe they won’t even look at you when they enter (You are, after all, about to make them sit quietly or at least in the way that you dictate, for the next hour or more). Then you get pupils who will run in just before the lesson is set to begin, chasing each other – maybe bringing the outside world of ‘play’ into your room before they have to be compliant. Others still will be somewhere in the middle and others, often the same pupils, will often be late.
And there you are…at the front. What are you doing? Perhaps you are barking at them to ‘sit down’ or pacing up and down or frantically writing on the board or maybe passively smiling at them all. There might be a Learning Support Professional in the room with you, another adult who you don’t know or have never worked with before. You may secretly be looking forward to the class after this class who you ‘like’, or you might be looking forward to lunch or your break so you might just want to get this lesson over with. Whatever the anxiety, the actions you and your pupils take are driven by the often unconscious desire to be deal with it and each of us have different ways of doing that.
Humans are anxious creatures AND anxiety is like fuel…it gets things done!
It’s important for you to remember that all of these anxieties are ‘normal’, they are being felt by all teachers all over the world all the time and that they are, to a greater or lesser extent, always present.
However, it is as important to realise, particularly for us as teachers, that anxiety is the root of why we are driven to learn and produce and grow and flourish.
The aim of thinking about behaviour from a psychodynamic perspective is to enable the teacher to
- notice the anxieties that are present,
- be able to make them ‘available for thought’
- to respond to them (rather than being overwhelmed and so act “mindlessly” to get rid of them).ad