Students can experience classroom stress and anxiety

Calling on students in class or asking them to read aloud may cause anxious feelings.

A girl in class with her hands on her face.
Photo from iStock.

One day in conversation, I asked a 12-year-old student what information about stress he would like to share with teachers, parents and other adults who work with youth. He thought about it for a while and responded that he feels stressed when teachers call on him to answer questions or to read out loud. I asked him to elaborate a little and he explained that sometimes he doesn’t feel comfortable reading amongst groups or answering questions unless he’s sure of the correct answer or has time to prepare.  He went on to say that he experiences stress and anxious feelings when the teacher goes around the classroom and randomly calls on students without having time to read ahead or search for the answers. 

Many students have these experiences but do not know how to articulate them or how to address them. Stress and anxious feelings are more prevalent in today’s students and starting at younger ages. Navigate 360 reports that 58% of students are concerned about their mental health. With drastic changes to their educational, social and home lives, children are struggling with stressors they’ve never faced before, and it’s impacting their mental health.

Adults who support youth do not set out to negatively impact students’ mental health but unfortunately this can happen without intent. So now that we have this information, what can adults do to be more conscious of not causing further harm to the students with whom they work? Michigan State University Extension provides adults with tips to consider to avoid causing more stress or anxiety for youth in a school or meeting setting:

  • Provide an agenda or outline ahead of time of topics to be covered in a class or meeting and a list of names of students to read out aloud or answer a question.
  • Allow students to volunteer to answer questions or read as they feel comfortable doing so.
  • Provide a script or reading section to practice ahead of time just in case they need to know how to pronounce certain words or become comfortable with the material.
  • Ask yourself why you implement various lessons or activities and how can they be adjusted to make more students feel comfortable. Sometimes we do things because that is the way we learned or the way someone modeled them to us, but it doesn't mean that we can’t adjust them to make youth less stressed or anxious.
  • Notice body language and non-verbal cues of students who may not feel comfortable reading out loud or answering questions. Then take it a step further to see if there are other ways to access their understanding of the lesson or skill.
  • Refer a student to a mental health professional if you believe you notice signs of major stress and or anxiety. Remember, you don’t have to diagnosis them. Leave that to the professionals.

We all experience stress and anxiety at some point in our lives. Typical examples include stress or anxious feelings before a speech or on the first day of class at a new school. Students need support through these experiences so that they learn how to successfully navigate them and become more resilient. The more adults can support youth development, including mental and emotional health, the more equipped students will be for their futures.   

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