It’s that time of the semester: stress-inducing mid-term approaching time. It’s always about five to six weeks into the semester that I start getting frantic questions or queries from students about all sorts of things. I’ve learned to take the barrage of questions and concerns in stride. Many of my students seem to only worry because it’s a preoccupation of being an undergraduate student (or any type of college student for that matter).

I’ve always done my best to calm my students down because when they are calm, I tend to be calm. So, it works for everyone. The techniques I’ve used to calm down students are simple ones: make them smile, make them laugh, and, if I can, remove a stressor. While some may disagree, I’ve always thought students should have a little fun in class and the more the better.

I’m rather animated when I teach; I think it helps keep people awake, including myself, and it’s more entertaining for my students. It keeps them engaged. So, when I receive an email from a student who is stressing, I tell them to relax and go for a walk. Then, during our next class meeting, I do a fun group exercise. I break the class up into groups, and I tell them to deconstruct (Derrida, anyone?) and write a one sentence critique of me. The great thing about this exercise is I tell them to just do it, relax, and have fun deconstructing their teacher! I tell them not to worry about grades or other stuff we need to do in class; they only need to focus their deconstructive lens on me.

In having my students work together to deconstruct me, I help take their minds off of the stress they may be feeling. In addition, it’s still a great exercise encouraging group work and critical thinking. My students usually smile, laugh, and have a good time.

I’ve done other things as well to make my students relax when they’re stressed. There are times when I’ve moved  an assignment back one day or week, and it’s often made a huge difference. Or, I might turn an asssignment into an in-class group exercise, which seems to alleviate some stress from my students.

I find it easy to identify with my students’ stress because I’m still a student. I know that stress strikes us at inopportune times, and it can cause us to freak out or struggle. It’s okay to be stressed. It happens. But, I want to do my best to help my students manage that stress.

If all else fails, then I usually send this YouTube video to my students or play it in class as we do silly writing prompts (I can’t embed the video because of copyright issues). It’s okay to give students a break, and it’s okay to give yourself a break.

Above all else, I always try to remember the mantra: Don’t worry. Be happy.

What techniques do you use to calm your students (or yourself) down when stress strikes?

Photo by Flickr user Dave-F // Creative Commons licensed: CC-BY

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7 Responses to Helping Students (and Yourself) Cope with Stress

  1. Katy Meyers says:

    I really like the advice Trent. I think the most important way to help your students avoid stress is to set a good example. Students will pick up on the vibe of the class. If you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, they will too!

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Thanks, Katy! I agree with you. I think students pick up a lot of things from their teachers. I always try to be calm and relaxed in front of my students, though I don’t know if I’m always successful.

  2. Yes, Derrida!

    Anyway, I agree. I think, especially in classes requiring our students to be creative, relieving stress is essential to cultivating inspiration. All classes should strive to reduce stress on students, but I also imagine it is far easier to do that in some classes than others. I like how you set environments for students to share even small assignments and work together. We are social creatures and for many, independent work is intimidating. We are often much better and happier at solving problems together.

    Another great point raised, teachers are only as happy as their students. We take on their stress, because we want them to succeed and carry the skills we are teaching on with them. To do that, we sometimes have to alleviate student success so that they can believe in their own abilities to learn what we are teaching.

    • Trent M Kays says:

      Derrida! (I love him!)

      Great thoughts, Kristy. I think all teachers should help students reduce stress, but it depends on the situation.

      That’s the great thing about teaching writing. You can have them write through their stress. ?

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