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Teaching anxiety

By Jennifer Aberhart - posted Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Love and fear are the two most powerful motivators in the world. Almost nothing evokes these emotions more than our thoughts about our children. Our love makes us desire and seek the best opportunities for them, while our fear for their well-being keeps us alert to events that might threaten their safety. When combined, these two emotions become a most potent mix that can often lead parents into a state of high anxiety with regard to their children’s well-being.

Today’s parents live in fear-driven times that are partly reality and partly induced by the inescapable government and media hype that surround us. Parents of our era are bombarded from every angle with stories of such things as pedophilia, drownings, poisonings, car accidents, bullying, bashings and drug-laced drinks.

It is a generation that tends to be far more vigilant, particularly of their younger children, than either their parents or grandparents were. However their vigilance often comes at a price to their own well-being. Many parents, particularly mothers, find themselves seemingly constantly on such high alert that they begin to suffer from the effects of these constant fears.


Coupled with the perceived physical dangers, the current educational debates on falling literacy and numeracy standards and the revamping of schooling and reporting procedures provides yet another stress for parents. Parents, many of whom are also working, are already overburdened with pressure, trying to ensure their little Jacks and Jills are eating the right food, getting enough exercise, doing their share of extra curricula activities and finding time to do their homework.

As a consequence of the latest hype, some parents are now becoming in many cases over-vigilant about their child’s classroom performance. You will find them queued up anxiously outside the classroom frantically interrogating their children as to whether they are absolutely sure they have their homework and their reader.

Their time with friends is often spent comparing their children’s reading and numeracy abilities and the number of awards their child has received. They get visibly upset if their child, after lots of home drilling does not get all his spelling words right in the Friday test, or stumbles over words he seemed to know yesterday. They begin to suspect the worst. Something is wrong with their child.

Being concerned to give their child the best advantage, they often take him or her on a round of specialist consultations during which the child is interviewed and tested numerous times over. When nothing untoward is discovered, they may decide to change schools or engage a tutor to bring their five- or six-year-old child up to par.

Often, all that is achieved during this time is the child becomes increasingly aware that he or she is the cause of their parents’ anxiety. This has the effect of raising the child’s own anxiety levels as he or she not only takes responsibility for their parents’ stress but also conclude they are considered less than perfect.

If only parents could relax for a minute, and remember the wide divergence in the ages of different children they know, as to when they walked and talked. Maybe after due consideration, they could then allow their child a little leeway if he is not yet at the same level as some of his peers in literacy and numeracy skills and keep their expectations and pressure on their child in check.


They might be happily surprised to find their children performing much better when they do not have to cope with over-anxious parents. Anxiety, as we well know, is a debilitating factor. Stressed children usually cannot perform at their optimum level. Many teachers and tutors are aware of the changes that can occur when an over-anxious parent is hovering over his or her child. Something a child could happily do five minutes ago suddenly becomes a mental blank.

While many schools welcome parental assistance, particularly with school-reading programs, teachers, with good reason, are wary of having over zealous parents assist their own children at school. Well-known children’s author and teacher, John Marsden sums it up well as he discusses the fact that generally he does not permit parents into the classrooms of his new school.

His statement regarding parental involvement that, "They have different agendas to the school and are over-anxious. They just get in the way," is a point that we should all take into consideration. High anxiety transmits itself from one person to another and generally has a negative effect on performance levels. Learning environments should be protected as much as possible from the ravages of anxiety-driven adults.

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About the Author

Jennifer Aberhart is a primary teacher by profession with a particular interest in both children with literacy problems and the inadequacies of our educational system that significantly contributes to the failure of many of these children.

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All articles by Jennifer Aberhart

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