Stress in the Classroom

How does my teacher feel today? 

There is lots in the news at the moment around the pressures that teachers in school face. We wanted to find out whether children in school were aware of their teachers well being, whether their teachers emotional state mattered to them and whether the children felt they could impact these feelings in any way. 

 

So we asked children in three schools and this is what we discovered. 

 

Children were very aware of their teachers emotions.

 

This started right from the moment they came into school in the morning. One child explained that they could tell ‘what kind of day it would be’ as soon as they entered the classroom. It reflects both a level of awareness and anticipation as they assess from their teachers interaction with them what might lie ahead. In another school – we can see that same process of assessment this time considered through the simple acts of whether their teacher smiled at them and said good morning. Both of these actions were understood as signs she was feeling happy – with positive connotations for the day ahead. 

 

Positive emotions could be encouraged in their teachers through the children undertaking activities that believed ‘pleased the teacher’.  This is not surprising, however it does raise an important question. How do children define what ‘pleases’ the child. If this is defined, as it was for many in relation to ‘being quiet’ and ‘following instructions’ then this could have a particular impact on the nature of the learning space itself and subsequent learning experiences. 

 

Indeed the children were well aware of the way in which a teacher feeling ‘stressed’ could impact on the learning for all. Adults having a ‘shorter temper’ – means children are given ‘less slack’. This was interpreted in another school as adults ‘rushing’ or being ‘more blunt’. Significantly, these responses connect ‘stress’ to the implementation of restrictions in the classroom, narrowing the potential for learning, as children react… ‘sometimes [it] makes me scared [or] worried incase I do something wrong’, ‘we get stressed too’. As well as resulting in a shutting down of collaborative activities it also impacts on the time teachers might take to engage with the learning journey (‘they rush’, ‘they don’t explain things as well as usual’). 

 

Notably it was up to the children to change how their teachers felt through improved behaviour or by trying harder. Indeed one group reported how they simply reminded their teacher, who they felt found it hard being away from her baby daughter that ‘you will see [Abi] again soon’! 

 

What this small investigation shows is that…

 

  • Children are constantly reflecting on subtle emotional cues from adults, as they seek to make an assessment of how adults are feelings. 
  • Perceived adult feelings do impact on their expectations for what the day holds. 
  • Children believe themselves to be both the main cause and the solution of adult stress in the classroom. 
  • Perceptions of what pleases the teacher have the potential to narrow learning experiences. 

 

In the next blog we will look at ways in which both adults and teachers might respond to the challenges of ‘stress’ in the classroom. 

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