As any parent or teacher knows, exams can create crippling anxiety in students. With anxiety, learning takes a backseat to the perceived “disaster” in front and students end up failing.
What’s worse, this anxiety can expand over time into a situation in which a student is eternally conscious of being evaluated — from a class presentation to a job interview, leading to diminished self-esteem, reduced motivation and disengagement from anything evaluative.
Ironically though, parents and teachers are not doing much to ease this anxiety, rather the opposite. All the same, playing blame games at this time would be a colossal waste of time. Instead, we should explore solutions that are reasonably simple, inexpensive and effective.
Firstly, teachers must work on their own exam fever. A relaxed teacher makes for a relaxed classroom. You need to do what you can to alleviate your own stress – be it through meditation, organization, or time of silent reading. We all need to recharge and you as the teacher set the whole tone of the classroom. If you aren’t stressed about tests or final scores; your students will pick up on that vibe too.
Secondly, teachers should be at the forefront in helping students to see “the bigger picture”. It’s so easy to get pulled into the present so intensely that you forget the bigger picture. Kids who get stressed out easily forget that the assignment/test/exam they are pulling their hair out about is really quite small in the grand scheme of things. This might sound ridiculous to any academically obsessed parent or teacher but let’s face it: it is your exaggerated definition of excellence that got them there in the first place. Offer a lighthearted tale about your failures as a student and help them see the bigger picture.
Similarly, teachers and parents should teach about failure. Disappointment is inevitable. One of the most crucial moments in a student’s career is what they do after they’ve failed an exam. Don’t just hand out a pep talk about success and move on. Use the opportunity to teach how to face disappointment head on, and most importantly, how to not let it cripple your future work.
Also, teachers should avoid nitpicking. Obviously rules are important, but first try to examine if any of your rules are actually just pet peeves in disguise. When you overstress the rules, kids who are prone to stress will feel the effects of this type of environment and it will negatively affect their work. Do not go on and on about how to use a blue pen, not black; how one couldn’t sit a certain way, eat during class, use the bathroom, or dress a given way. It is just exam not heaven!
Even more importantly, keep communication open. Your students just need someone to talk to. Communication is the single most important thing you can do for your students. Create open channels for them to come to you for support, advice, counsel. In both group and individual settings, you can offer your wisdom and experience in dealing with daily stress in your own life. This mentorship approach will build safety in the classroom and help the students to feel like you are on their side.
We all get stressed at some point in life; yet this is beside the point. The real tragedy is failure to help someone of stress. If parents and teachers lowered their larger-than-life expectations that inflict pressure, all would be evaded.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa