Zaynah Azam (Qualified 2017 with South Birmingham SCITT)
Role(s): Geography Teacher
Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience, such as in the run up to exams or a job interview. But when anxiety becomes much more severe this feeling can take over and begin to interfere with everyday life (mqmental health.org). It is often difficult to recognise when there are so many other students in the classroom. Symptoms of anxiety include sweating, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, nausea or stomach upset, inability to concentrate, confusions, irritability, restlessness among others (Education update, 2013).
Whilst we do not want students to suffer anxiety to the point where it begins to interfere with everyday life, some anxiety is needed to achieve academic success. Research among almost 5,000 secondary school students in Canada found that pupils reporting moderate anxiety were more likely to leave school with a qualification in comparison with those that suffered too much or too little (The Guardian Newspaper). Lead researcher Frédéric N Brière, of the University of Montreal, said: “A troubling proportion (6-22%) of adolescents do not complete secondary school in the UK and North America”. These adolescents are at high risk of experiencing a wide range of psychosocial, physical and mental health difficulties as adults (The Guardian Newspaper). This is quite worrying because young people today are the generation for the future and need to be resilient enough to tackle and challenge everyday issues of life in general. So although some anxiety is normal, too much could be devastating for the student’s future prospects.
Studies show normal children today report more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950’s. Why the increase in anxiety? In both studies, anxiety levels are associated with low social connectedness and high environmental threat. During the study period, social connectedness decreased because of higher divorce rates, more people living alone and a decline in trust in other people (American Psychological Association). Although this research was carried out in America, parts of the study are still relevant because the UK and America are both advanced countries with similar economic growth. To be able to say that more students are suffering anxiety than ever before, there has to be a comparison from studies carried out in previous years. It is important to look at studies from a range of sources to be able to make an informed choice about how we can support out students in school, just as it is equally important to understand why students suffer increased levels of anxiety more now than in previous years.
However, as with any research project, there is always an opposing view. The Guardian Newspaper reported ‘Mental health problems rife among teenagers but teachers lack skills to help’ in March 2017. This reports states that a vast majority of students experience ‘emotional distress’ after starting secondary school and that teachers are unable to help them. Four in every five 12- to 16-year-olds in the survey said they felt they had mental health problems but just one in 20 would turn to a teacher for help if they felt depressed, anxious, stressed or emotionally unable to cope. MPs in the UK claim schools only have a ‘patchy’ ability to pick up and prevent mental health in students.
Students who suffer anxiety can feel stress, panic and worry for much longer than usual which can make symptoms harder to control. In a classroom setting this can be difficult for the student, the teacher and the other students as well. The aim of this study is for the educational practitioner to gain the knowledge on how to support students that display anxious behaviour in the Geography classroom whilst maintaining their other duties. If the Department of Education make the necessary policy changes for schools and teachers, perhaps there will be a window to address pastoral issues in the classroom.