By Margot HERTOGHE
Fear. Think about the fact that these four letters create one simple word that can stop you from performing miracles! Think about the fact that this word is strong enough to prevent us from being ourselves. Why are we so afraid? More specifically, why can’t we rebel against this fear that is at the very source of our society. When I began to reflect on this question, my own reaction was a mix of sadness and incomprehension: I thought about the fact that we are alive, that we only live once and that we waste our precious time not being or doing what we are good at, just because of fear.
This was the avid reflection that kept me busy, just before I got the idea to write an editorial on anxiety at school. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Writing this editorial turned out to be more interesting than what I thought, because by observing and inquiring about anxiety in school, I discovered that the school environment is a microcosm of the world. It may be where we learn and become bright and good citizens, but school is also where we are molded and where we are confronted with our society’s ideals. Perhaps you have already given this some thought, but the motto of “our world” is similar to the Olympic Games’ motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger“. Adults expect us to behave in a certain way: to be bright, tough, the best. They tend to forget what is going on behind the scenes and to overlook the pressure the system can cause. Even at La Tour, though we might not be aware of it, students suffer from anxiety, which is sometimes transitory but can also turn into a real disorder.
To help illustrate this point, I interviewed the school nurse, Ms. Lamy and a history teacher, Ms. Guigui. Ms. Lamy explained that students come to her office with stomach aches, headaches, insomnia, eating disorders, and scapular pain. For some students, fear takes such a proportion that they have difficulties expressing themselves and start to close in on themselves. These symptoms can be generated by different feelings, like the fear of being invisible, of losing a friendship, or the fear of failure. The reactions depend on one’s environment, family and past history. Sometimes, anxiety can be transmitted to children by family members. Students then ignore their own identity and what they are good at, forgetting their abilities in an effort to become someone else.
Teachers also have those feelings and experience anxiety at school. In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers website confirmed that anxiety is higher among teachers than in most other professions. According to the survey, 61% of educators reported their work was “always” or “often” stressful, twice the rate as in other professions. Ms. Guigui explained that “The days when I am tired or preoccupied by personal matters, my teaching is less effective. If it is temporary, it is normal but if it stretches out, the relation with the class worsens and I begin feeling insecure and anxious teaching in front of the class.” The relationship a teacher builds with his/her class is very important in order to establish the best working conditions possible. This also plays a key role in the feelings that both teachers and students will experience in classroom. “A teacher has to accept being judged permanently by the students. It is difficult but being a teacher also means playing this game. Once we accept we will not be able to please every student and once we have built up a relationship of trust, we act as professionals and are self-confident. A teacher is not supposed to fear students’ judgments nor being afraid to be ridiculous,” confirms Ms. Guigui.
Both Ms. Lamy and Ms. Guigui emphasized the importance of dialogue when trying to solve the issue of anxiety in the classroom. Ms. Guigui says that when she experiences this situation, she talks to her colleagues. Some other solutions to anxiety are getting enough sleeping and enough exercise and finding extracurricular activities. What can also help is listening to our body, being fully aware of our emotions and the way we express them.
So what do you think? Can you imagine a school without anxiety? A school where we really develop our capacities and gifts to build our future?
If you have difficulties with this issue or if you would like to share your feelings or talk about it with someone, do not hesitate to make an appointment La Tour’s therapist Ms. de Chassey or the school nurses. Do not keep it to yourself!