"Anxiety results when you are required to stay in an uncomfortable situation where you believe you have no control," according to Cheryl Ooten (2003) in Managing the Mean Math Blues. How can an instructor help a student take control? See Chapter 7 of this manual, and, in the meantime, since we are talking about emotions, there are some things you can do.
First, acknowledge the anxiety. Talk about the anxieties you have about your own performance in class, for example, first day jitters, worries that you will
forget people's names, or that you will run out of material before you run out of time-whatever they are. When you acknowledge your own anxieties, you disrupt
the power imbalance; you become more human. The students have a chance to be generous with you, to give you something rather than always being on the receiving
end. They can offer to help you remember names, or cut you some slack if your worries come true. (I'm not suggesting that you rely on students to meet your
needs for reassurance and support, just saying that an acknowledgement of your own humanity builds a relationship of mutual respect.) Admitting your own
anxiety starts the modeling of what you would like the students to do-if the teacher can admit she is anxious about goofing up, then maybe the anxious student
can do so, too. If that happens, you have some information about your students and their areas of need.
Talk about the way stress shows itself in the body. Strategize with the students some ways to deal with stress. They will have some good suggestions,
especially if they have had experience in life skills, anger management, or Alcoholics Anonymous. Ask someone to come into the class to teach a few methods
of dealing with stress so that students can choose something that works for them; learn them yourself, and model them by using them with the students.
Share your own methods. (Mine is square breathing.)
Get ready to start square breathing by taking a deep breath and releasing it. There are four steps in each set: inhale, hold, exhale, and hold. Give an
equal length of time to each step. Concentrate on counting and breathing. Count four for each step:
- Breathe in, two, three, four
- Hold, two, three, four
- Breathe out, two, three, four
- Hold, two three, four
Repeat several times.
Above all, make it clear that you expect, welcome, and allow students to use these methods in class. For example, if one strategy is to walk around the block,
you will not call attention to someone who gets up in the middle of class to do that—and you will be happy to see him return to class 10 minutes later.
Such stress-reducing activities as leaving the room or walking over to the window to look at the trees or the sky are not customary in classrooms, and students
will need to be reassured that you mean it when you ask them to use some strategies for relieving stress, strategies which often require movement of some kind.