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Many kids today experience lots of stress due to things in their home environment like poor child-parent relationships, absent parents, emotionally unavailable parents, alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of extended family support and/or poverty. Students will often transfer the stress they experience at home due to these factors onto their teachers at school to create another kind of stress- student-teacher stress. Needless to say, student-teacher stress affects a student’s learning negatively.
Kids deal with student-teacher stress in different ways. Sometimes they act out; sometimes they withdraw. They do this “in an unconscious effort to make sure other students and the teacher experience the stress with (them) “. (Gurian, p37 ) I guess it’s a case of misery loves company- poor kids.
When I think about the classes I’ve taught over the years,it seems to me that usually boys act out and become more aggressive when stressed while girls usually become more passive and withdrawn. I say usually because of course we all can all think of boys who have become more passive in response to stress and girls who have become aggressive.
When we’re trying help kids who are at-risk because of the behavior they manifest, we try to find out what’s going on at home. I’ve called parents lots of times to ask if anything is going on at home that might affect a student. Often, there is. Teachers can’t solve the problems that cause stress for students at home other than to suggest appropriate counseling, but we can help with the stress at school.
How can we do this? Teachers can build positive relationships with students. We can be good roles models or mentors. I’ve written here before about how just one positive relationship with a teacher or any adult for that matter can make the world of difference for a student, not only while he is in that teachers’ classroom but beyond it as well into his adult life.
I really do try to help my students. I’d like to think that the stress balls I provide for them to squeeze while their working ( I try not to notice my students bouncing them off everything in sight) help my students deal with their stress. I’d like to think that when I ask students to take the attendance to the office or to deliver something to another teacher I’m helping them deal with their stress. I’d like to think that having activities that allow my students to move around the room helps them deal with stress. But, I really think the only way to get rid of the emotional stress completely is to get rid of the problems completely and most likely that’s not going to happen. So, I guess I can only really comfort the walking wounded and hope the relief they get is enough to allow them to earn enough credits to graduate and go on to a better life- at least, that’s the way I see it.