More On Teacher Anxiety

Quick Quiz: Who is pictured?

Yesterday I shared an email about teacher dreams.

Today I want to pose a few questions about teacher anxiety. Do rookie teachers tend to be scared? If so, of what? And how does that anxiety affect their teaching?

Our answers thus far:

1. Based on years of talking to rookie teachers: yes, they often tend to be scared. Also, like all of us, they don't necessarily like to talk about fear very openly.

2. Those include: fear of holding kids accountable for misbehavior or low effort (i.e., that kids will respond with anger, outburst, sarcasm, sullenness, etc). Fear of asking kids questions that are "too hard" (which could lead to frustrated or embarrassed students, and kill the vibe of a class). Fear of not being liked by the students (so class feels unpleasant). Fear of "getting done with class too early" (which sometimes leads to teachers packing too much stuff into a class period, so they can never "run out" with 15 minutes left in the period). Fear of allowing kids to do lots of work independently (can lead to loss of control).

3. This anxiety affects rookie teachers in 2 ways.

a. Negatively affects quality of life. Don't sleep well, for example. Feel anxious on weekends when not at work. All of this can take a person with a fairly sunny personality and make him more gray. That, in turn, tends to reduce the kids' response in class, which just feeds the cycle.

b. Kids are challenged less. Aversion is a pretty normal response to fear. An anxious teacher might well allow more misbehavior, and allow kids to slide by with less genuine effort. Homework and tests may be (unconsciously) made easier to avoid groans (and worse) from kids.

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Laura, Veronica and I had lunch a few weeks ago with John Gabrieli and Stefan Hoffman. John is an MIT neuroscientist. Stefan directs the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University. It turns out that Stefan is a regular at Pru and my favorite joint: India Quality in Kenmore Square. He ordered for all of us and we shared. Avoided the goat. That was my call.

Stefan is an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy. What is CBT? Here is a thorough explanation. And here is Wiki: a "talk therapy"....primarily developed through a merging of behavior therapy with cognitive therapy. While rooted in rather different theories, these two traditions found common ground in focusing on the "here and now", and on alleviating symptoms.

What do you do to overcome an anxiety? Have 12 to 16 CBT sessions with a therapist. Who in turn might tell you to keep a diary. The diary allows the therapist to question your beliefs -- particularly those that might be unhelpful/unrealistic. Get you to "gradually" face the activities that have been avoided. Get you to try out new ways of reacting.

Stefan wondered if a form of CBT-like coaching might help teachers who feel anxiety to flip a switch and (to use a Doug Lemov phrase) demand 100% from their students.

John mused aloud whether an fMRI scan might identify teacher candidates (example: applicants to our program) who are more or less prone to teacher-related anxieties. All other things being equal, it may be that Candidate A is better able to become successful with kids than Candidate B, whose fMRI shows certain oversized reaction to kid-related stimuli. Or at least to help ask more questions of Candidate A, about their feelings on the issues pertaining to classroom management, for example, to see if teaching in a high-poverty school is a good fit.

These seem like good experiments to conduct if this Education DARPA thing is ever approved.

Answer: Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman in Mel Brooks' High Anxiety.