I’ve written a lot about teacher stress. After all, they say you should write what you know, but today I want to write about student stress. I have not focused on it, but every teacher who cares about students is aware of student stress and, let’s be honest, student stress adds to teacher stress. Caring teachers try to easy student stress, but there is only so much we can do about the calendar and school policy and course requirements. In school, and especially in college, there will be papers, projects, and tests at the end of the semester, but we can give our students a few minutes to vent some of that pressure.
This week I chose to help my students cope with their stress by ridding them of some of the “toxins” that have built up in their bodies by hosting a poetry slam in class. I followed the simple procedure taught to me by the fabulous Mandy Lawson, a Morehead Writing Project rockstar teacher at Sheldon Clark High School. We watched a few slams about education and then I asked them to make a list of things that make them crazy about education, school, and/or college. As we watched a few more slams, they wrote about the one thing that is pushing them over the edge right now. And they wrote and wrote and wrote. After I turned off the last video, I could hear the furious scribbling of their pens and clacking of their keyboards. They clearly had a lot to say.
Then we shared. If you have never experienced the power of sharing slam poetry then it is difficult to describe the raw emotion. I am often brought to tears and feel compelled to clap and stomp my feet – and I am not alone. My students wrote about the instructors and assignments and parents and system making their lives miserable. They wrote about impossible demands and untenable schedules. They wrote and they shared and we listened. We stayed longer in class because they had things to say that needed saying. As they left they asked if we could do it again next week, because they felt better but they knew the toxins would build up again soon enough.
I have taught these students many lessons over the course of the semester, but I wonder if this was the most important lesson of all – the power of words to heal and to detoxify. My job is to teach writing, but I know that writing can be so much more than communication and I hope my students understood that lesson this week.
Do you think it is our job to help our students manage their stress? How do you help your students manage stress?