It is hard to seek out the positives of anxiety, but through looking at my life I have been able to see that I have learned many wonderful life lessons BECAUSE of my anxiety. I have talked about how my anxiety taught me a tremendous amount about unconditional love. In this post, I want to share another positive that came out of my having anxiety. My anxiety has made me a better teacher. Yep, you heard me right. This blaring problem and constant battle of mine has made me a better teacher. Anxiety has made me better at my job, and I am thankful.
Over the years my anxiety has shaped me into a person that is now full of concern and empathy. I am hyper aware and sensitive to the needs of others. Now, I’m not saying I was a person incapable of concern and empathy before my anxiety. However, I will say that my perspective of having experienced anxiety first hand has made me into this person that now cares about the needs and worries of others more fiercely than I ever could have without having hit the lows that I have hit.
I am not perfect. I have faults. I still have a lot to learn about teaching. I have a lot of room for growth as a person. Nonetheless, I am proud to admit that I have grown in a truly positive way every day, because of the experiences I have had with my anxiety.
As a result of my anxiety, I want to understand what someone needs when they are hurting. I do not want this just because I was raised to do the right thing, but because my heart literally hurts when I see others going through what I went through. My experiences make me desperately want to help others. I want to help people who feel misunderstood and alone. I want others to know that what they are going through is something others have gone through as well.
So, how does my anxiety make me a better teacher to my sweet little sixth grade students you might ask?
1. As a result of my anxiety, I am extra sensitive to the moods of those around me. I am able to figure out my students’ moods and emotional needs pretty easily. This means that I can help them feel more understood, content, safe, and cared about by being aware of their emotional needs. A student that feels understood, content, safe, and cared about will be ABLE to work on their academics.
Prior to my anxiety, I thought kids just needed to pay attention and do what the teachers asked them to do without excuse. End of story. That’s what I was expected to do in school, and I did. The only reason we had school was because we needed to learn, right? I still think kids need to pay attention and do what the teacher has asked them to do. However, I am more understanding that a kid who is more emotionally secure is a kid that CAN focus and complete their school work.
Think about this for a minute. If a student isn’t made me to feel secure, safe, and understood while they are at school they will not be able to focus 100% on their school work. My anxiety has given me an extra sensitive tool to use at school to help my students feel secure, safe, and understood, which in turn helps them enjoy coming to school. As a result, they typically work harder and learn more.
2. I can understand the constant fight to turn off their little minds when streams of thoughts are distracting them from what they should be doing. Let me say here that Middle Schoolers always have “other” things on their minds. However, I feel that I am more understanding when they aren’t able to turn off other thoughts, because I have been there. I am understanding when they are not able to focus, because they have a million things running through their minds.
Are they worried about practice later? Are they concerned about going home and needing to get chores done? Do they have to babysit their siblings later on? Are they traveling? Is money tight and mom and dad have been fighting? Did their friends say something bad about them? The list of questions that might be running through my students minds goes on-on-on. I still expect them to learn when they come to school. However, I recognize they may need to be given a chance to calm their mind and cut out the extra thoughts, so that they can still get the assignment done.
I help them WANT to pay attention and learn what I am teaching. I try even harder to help them see value in what we are doing, because I know how easily distracted they can be with various worries and thoughts. I try to help keep their minds from wandering by helping them see that what we are doing needs their undivided attention. I have had to get VERY creative and VERY hands-on with my lessons to do this, and this has made me a better teacher.
3. My anxiety helps me understand their worries and the millions of what-if scenarios that run through their little minds, because they have run through my mind too. I understand their sensitive insecure natures and their need to feel accepted, understood, and not alone. How do I understand? Because I have been there and felt those things myself.
4. For my anxious students, of which there are many, I can truly relate to them. I remember how hard it was for me to work when my anxiety was at its peak. How can I ever expect a ten or eleven year old child to complete their work when they are not mentally in a place that will let them do their academics? I work hard to create a space catered to helping students enjoy learning while being prompted to stay calm and relaxed. In a lot of instances, not all, I understand what they need to hear and how to present things to elicit the least amount of stress. I know what would have helped me, and I want to do that for my students.
5. I have learned from my anxiety and with being a teacher that while I have a curriculum to teach, I also have little hearts to look after. Both are extremely important and both directly relate to one another. I take these jobs seriously.
6. I have learned to slow down and take the time to invest in my students, because I want my students to invest in ME and my CLASS. Oftentimes, my students need to be reassured about their what-if’s, worries, fears, and anxieties. I can see the same stress in my students that I have lived with.I want to share an example of how my anxiety has helped my students by sharing the below conversation that I had with one of my students two weeks ago. No, I do not always respond correctly and I am not a perfect teacher. However, I do feel like I am in a position to be better for my students because of my understanding of my anxiety.
“I get it kiddo, I promise I really do. Tests are hard and stressful, but you will do great I just know it,” was my reply to a Sixth grade student of mine who was talking to me nervously about their upcoming test in Science.
“Mrs. Scerri you don’t understand. My mom will be so upset with me if I don’t do well. I mean what-if my teacher thinks I’m dumb because I end up failing the test, what-if I don’t remember what I studied and my teacher doesn’t think I really did study…and I did I really did! What will happen if I do badly on the test and it makes my entire grade go down? I thought I was ready, but there are 40 questions on this test. What-if I don’t get done and have to turn it in incomplete.”
I was ready to respond routinely by saying, “If you do your best and try your hardest you won’t let anyone down. You will do great.” While this is TRUE, it was not what my student needed to hear. My student needed to be reassured about her what-if’s, worries, fears, and anxieties. I saw the same stress in her that I had surrounding tests when I was a child.
My sweet eleven year old student had come to me with the same worries for each test this year, and she came to me with the same level of stress no matter the subject or length of test. Instead of responding quickly when she came to me again like I sometimes want to do in order to save time, I decided to take a few minutes and really talk to her.
In that moment, I decided to invest in her. I will be the first to admit it is hard to find a balance between prioritizing the long to-do lists and having these conversations. Teaching four classes a day and trying to stay on top of all my darling sixth grade students in no easy task, and doesn’t leave me much time for extra conversations.
In that moment I thought to myself, Ginger, you dealt with test anxiety from Elementary School all the way through College and you can help her feel better if you just take a minute. Take that extra minute and talk with her, she needs it and will do better academically once she has talked it through.
I thought about what I would have wanted my teachers to tell me. I thought on this for a minute and told my student the truth. I would have wanted a teacher to take the time to talk me through my anxiety, and I would have wanted my teacher to talk to me truthfully about what outcomes could come from whatever I was worried about. I would want to look at the outcome, and realize that it was going to be okay no matter how it turned out. I would have wanted to be reassured.
I told my student, “You know what kiddo, it probably is going to disappoint you mom if you don’t do well on the test, but that will be a disappointment that passes quickly. Your mom will love you regardless of a Science test. Have you talked to your mom about how stressed you get about taking tests? Maybe talking with her with help her understand you better, and she might even be able to help you figure out some tricks on how to take the next test without so much worry.”
“I just don’t think she will understand,” she said.
“Would you just try talking to her, for me?” I said.
“Maybe, but Mrs. Scerri what if my teacher thinks I’m dumb? What-if I don’t remember what I studied? What if I run out of time?”
I was glad that my sweet sixth grader was going to maybe talk with her mom, but she had already moved on to going through the rest of her list of worries related to her upcoming test.
Trying to head off her other worries I said, “Well I don’t think your teacher will think you are dumb just because of a test. Your teacher will know how hard you work during class every day and think that maybe you just don’t do well on tests. I know all your teachers know you are hard working and that you understand most of what you learn, so they won’t ever look down on you just because of this one test. I know it’s super hard to think positive when you are worried, but instead of worrying about the what-if of not remembering what you studied try to say to yourself that there is no way for you to forget it since you did such a good job preparing last night. Try to believe in yourself, kid, and don’t talk yourself out of knowing things that you know. You’ve got this.”
“What-if I run out of time, and then I’m late for my break or my exploratory class? “She asked.
“Have you ever run out of time before, and not been given the chance to finish your assignment during the next class period?” I asked.
She thought about my question for a minute and said, “Well, no.”
“Look, kiddo, if you work hard and your teacher sees you are using all the time to do a good job, and you just don’t get done with the test she is going to give you time to finish your test at a different time. Don’t stress about something that hasn’t happened yet, especially now that you know your teacher won’t ever put you into the position of not having time to finish tests. You’re always going to be given the chance to finish your tests and assignments, and your teachers aren’t ever going to have you turn it in incomplete. Take your time and use as much of it as you need.”
This whole conversation took a whopping three minutes, and in those three minutes I saw that her what-if’s had been played out and addressed, and her worry seemed to be going away by the minute. In that moment, I felt proud that I had been able to help by investing in her the emotional support she needed. I feel that prior to my anxiety I would not have been as patient at walking through each of her concerns, however, because I have walked that anxious path I wanted to help her feel better. I wanted her to understand she was going to be okay. I wanted her to know that she could do amazing, because she was! My anxiety has allowed me to WANT to be this way with my students, and that folks has made me a better teacher.
I challenge you to look at your job, relationships, hobbies, etc. this week. What do you do? Is there a silver lining to your anxiety that helps you be better at your job, in your relationship, in your hobby? I want to ask you to do something very hard this week. Find a positive aspect or outcome of your anxiety instead of a negative.
Until next week,
Hey all you awesome people reading my blog. I'm Ginger and this blog chronicles how I live my life fabulously with anxiety.