One of the greatest challenges faced in today’s classroom is how to deal with stress. Most course work is geared toward the basics and does not provide for varying learning levels, and must be approached as such: it also does not provide for the emotional well being of the student or teacher. Dealing with stress in the classroom is very important for the teacher and student. Stress level is a major factor in a student’s cognitive learning ability. It also can be the cause of a student being a discipline problem that disrupts an entire class. The emotional well being of the student is directly intertwined with stress levels. So, students’ learning potential and manageability are often correlated with a student’s stress level. How can a teacher help, or even find, a student’s emotions? The obvious solution is to spend time with each individual student, and the teacher who might like to cry, “There isn’t enough time.” How can a teacher find a way to zero in on problems that are generating stress and, without prying, help the student within the time frame of school?
Problems may be easily detected or they may be well hidden. Let’s face it, all adolescents have a certain amount of stress simply because of basic changes taking place physically and mentally. Even the adolescent who is not emotionally in grave distress needs attention. During the adjustment years, adolescents (ages 11-16) seem to suffer an extreme surfeit of emotionalism. This may be solely due to physical and sexual maturation changes taking place
. Unfortunately, adolescents face many other invading factors in their lives: drugs, sex, AIDS, social acceptance, divorce, abuse, parental conflicts and death being just a few. These are the larger, more apparent stressors for adolescents, but unending self discovery often makes daily life very stressful for most adolescents.
Obviously, students’ life stressors and their abilities to cope with them will vary from time to time and from one student to another. The problem of stress must be dealt with if students/teachers are to begin to learn/teach more successfully. The stress that adolescents experience can cause a great emotional block and resistance to the learning process. It is impossible to feed new information into an already fully logged computer disc and a student cannot be fed information if he/she is fully logged with life stress.
For simplicity, a universal approach must be taken in designing an educational structure to help this situation. This unit will provide an easy way to begin to deal with some of the stress that occupies the adolescent’s mind.
First, let’s be clear about what stress is and what recent research offers to deal with this problem. Stress is a created state or tension occurring in response to demands and pressures that come from the outside and the inside. It causes bodily as well as mental changes. Some bodily responses in dealing with stress pertain to hormone levels, high blood pressure and the lymphatic system. Stress has also been correlated with poor sleep patterns; either not being able to sleep restfully or the manifestation of increased sleep time. Most of these changes would not be readily visible to the teacher. Stress is usually most apparent during major life events. How might a teacher recognize stress? Early signs can vary and sometimes no signs are apparent.
Some of the mental signs of personal stress are:
Lack of ability to think rationally. (A student is bumped accidently by another student and a fight ensues)
Aggression and irritability that is manifested in a displaced manner. (Uncontrollable profanity directed at authority)
Drawing away from a relationship. Isolation.
An all around inability to relax.
There are, of course, many other identifying factors but these factors are extremely noticeable in the adolescents of today, and lead us to the conclusion that almost all of our adolescents suffer from early signs of personal stress. If stress of this sort is not dealt with, depression, mental confusion and irrational behavior may ensue. Some of the adolescents in today’s classrooms have already reached a level of extreme stress. While the aforementioned signs of excess stress are more visible, other pertinent reactions such as low job/school interest, unwillingness to accept responsibility and failure at ordinary daily tasks also exact a toll.
The result of adolescent stress is a classroom full of students unable to focus on anything. The teacher teaches to a room of chaos or a room of zombies. Listening and daily tasks suddenly become foreign to the students. The teacher begins to feel as though he/she is beating his/her head against a brick wall. The teacher becomes stressful because he/she can’t get enough work don in a classroom full of stressed students.
What do experts say will help? The most current answers deal with behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavior therapy, distraction, physical activity, imagery, humor, escape time and relaxation techniques. Most of these are complicated and not readily available to all teachers, many of whom are already feeling an overload in the classroom.
This unit will borrow from all the current findings, combine them with drama, and take a form that can be easily used in the classroom to help students cope with stress. It will supply a light in the darkest part of the tunnel. It will produce laughter, tears, and hope. The unit will only need one hour of classroom time a week.
The unit borders on dramatic therapy with the difference being in its exclusively creative approach. Dramatic therapy would be presented as a definite tool to identify a problem and work it through. It would demand a willing participant, one who would agree that help and therapy is needed. The student in trouble may not realize that the need for help exists or might refuse it. The teacher will need to recognize the troubled student and provide as much help as possible.
The basic requirements for the teacher are not difficult, as they primarily consist of common sense tempered with compassion and warmth. The most important things to remember while using the unit are to remain calm and to be supportive through the initial phases of the unit. Students should be encouraged to decide for themselves what is safe to reveal under the tent of performing and should be offered other areas for possible stress release, if indicated, through teacher guidance. The unit is constructed in three phases.