Your face falls when your teacher announces that within the next few weeks, everyone will be expected to perform an oral presentation in front of the class. The thought of that sticks to the front of your brain for the remainder of the day. You overthink each word that you write onto your note card or type onto your slide. When you organize your words, you read them over until you can’t stand to look at them anymore. You lie awake in bed all night thinking about the presentation that you will have to do tomorrow. Then, it’s the next morning and you only got an hour or two of sleep if you weren’t up all night. You get to your class and spend the whole period fidgeting at your desk, waiting. Your name is called. You struggle to hold your cards with your shaking hands, and you clear your throat, hoping the words will find you before you have to find them.
If you’re lucky, you’ll make it through the whole presentation without many mistakes. If not, you may have had an anxiety attack in front of your whole English class like I did my freshman year of high school.
The thing is, students have anxiety, and students are introverted. The thing about teachers is that they are not acknowledging this issue nearly as much as they should.
If there’s anybody who can make a statement such as this, it’s someone whose hands couldn’t stop shaking as she was racking her brain to find the words that her partner had told her to say just a few minutes ago. It’s the girl who stood there, red-faced and shaking as her partner sighed and shared to the class the words that were not assigned to her. It’s myself, the girl who sat down after everything had gone down, my hands and breath unable to stop shaking as my English teacher moved right along as if one of his students hadn’t just had an anxiety attack in the front of his classroom. He didn’t ask if I was okay even after the bell rang. No one did.
So what can teachers do when they are unaware that a student has some form of anxiety or is introverted? Observe and look for signs. For example, if a student has been known to avoid participation in class discussions and seem uninterested in presentations, but continues to turn work in on time and keep good grades, you may have a student who has social anxiety. So here comes a follow-up question: What can a teacher do in order to better this student’s learning experience? To answer this, I have compiled a simple list of just a few strategies that could be useful and would have been useful if my teachers had used them with me.
- Have a one-on-one conversation when class is over. Discuss their feelings surrounding presentations; let them know that their feelings are valid and not ignored.
- Don’t scold them for not speaking their thoughts. Find an alternative route for them to share them instead, such as an email exchange outside of class.
- Respect their privacy. Never highlight their struggles in class so that everyone else can hear them.
- Understand that each student is different, so it will be harder for some to open up to you than it will be for others.
- Care. Do not treat them as a burden on your teaching experience.
Lastly, a piece of advice for students who have been through similar situations like I have: share this with your teachers, share this with a friend who has anxiety and share this with fellow students who may not understand what you are going through. Your feelings are valid, and you are not alone.