It's no secret that teaching can cause a great deal of anxiety. I've survived riots, stampedes, and hurricanes—but I've never been as terrified as the first time I stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers hoping to teach my first lesson. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true strategies that can help lessen anxiety in the classroom.
Here are a few common stressful situations—and some strategies that can help.
Further Reading: 5 Things a Stressed Teacher Thinks About Before Bed
Teaching a Class for the First Time
Preparation is the best way to slay anxiety. To prepare for your very first class, revise your lesson plans ahead of time. Ask your professors or mentors to review them. Draw on the plans you piloted when you were a student teacher. Practice speaking out loud, and employ friends to help you refine your lessons.
Then apply that practice to the classroom. Start the class by conveying your high expectations, and make sure that your students recognize that you're there for them. Smile—genuinely. Maybe even laugh a little to diffuse any tension. Begin your lesson with a real-world connection to hook your students and to help them see its relevance.
Preparation and practice can help you anticipate roadblocks, too. If you're about to read a short story, for example, see if it has any difficult vocabulary, and review it ahead of time. Leave time at the end of the lesson to summarize and for students to ask questions.
Some lessons will bomb. That's just a fact of life. So always have a backup lesson prepared. Teaching gets easier with each lesson, and almost all students genuinely want to learn. By prioritizing practice and preparation, you'll set yourself up for success.
Dealing with Behavioral Issues
New teachers are often anxious about the possibility of dealing with classroom management issues, but every teacher has to tackle bad behavior at some point in their career. Being proactive can help reduce this anxiety. Review your classroom policies on the first day of school, and allow students to ask questions and contribute to the list. Address issues as soon as they happen, and be consistent in applying the consequences. When a behavioral problem occurs, stay calm, give the student space, and don't escalate the situation.
For small infractions, the broken record technique—repeating the instruction or desired behavior three times—is almost foolproof. But larger issues require more attention. Most students act out for a reason, and building a relationship with them can help show the student that you understand and care about them. A private, one-on-one conversation with the student during office hours can help you learn what those issues might be, and it can let the student know that you're on their side. Some issues are outside the scope of a classroom teacher. Discuss all difficult or extreme situations with your mentor, your principal, or a social worker.
Handling Angry Parents
Dealing with angry parents is one of the most stressful situations for a teacher. Luckily, there are a few strategies for defusing these challenging interactions—and the anxiety that comes with them.
Don't let issues with a student build up. Address them with the student's parents when they happen. Be prepared, and make sure that you have samples of student work or narratives or examples of their disruptive behavior so parents don't feel as though you're unfairly targeting their child. Having concrete evidence will also boost your confidence.
The silver bullet for dealing with parents is the compliment sandwich. First, highlight something positive about the student. Then, move on to the issue at hand and explain your action plan for improvement. The action plan should include what the student will do in order to reach success, as well as what the teacher and parent will do to support the student. Finish up with another positive statement about the student. Staying positive and showing support will help calm your nerves and reduce parents' frustration.
Presenting to Colleagues
Presenting at a conference or during your professional development can be a rewarding endeavor, but it's also one of the most frightening. Teachers are a tough audience, and speaking in front of colleagues can be intimidating. Preparation and practice are critical. Anticipating questions can also help you feel better prepared, and practicing in front of friends can help allay your fears.
If you're still nervous, review Amy Cuddy's power dynamics studies, which have shown that physical expressions of dominance and power can help you fake it till you make it.
Dealing with a Mistake
Every teacher makes mistakes, and there are a few important strategies we can keep in mind that can lessen the anxiety that comes with them. In Brilliant Mistakes, Paul J. H. Schoemaker notes that we tend to overreact to our mistakes. It's much better, he says, "to accept mistakes, learn from them, and move on."
The Harvard Business Review advises that if you make a mistake, acknowledge it—don't try to blame others. Issue apologies where necessary, be action-oriented, and focus on the future. It also advises reframing the mistake so that there's a better understanding of why it happened. Finally, make sure that administrators realize that you've learned from the mistake and will act differently going forward. Regaining the administration's trust is essential, as it will ease your anxiety and help you get your confidence back.
Further Reading: 3 Survival Tips for a New Special Education Teacher
Classroom teachers face anxiety every single day. But, armed with these strategies and techniques, you can lessen anxiety so that your teaching experience is happy, healthy, and meaningful.