When we discuss anxiety in teaching, the conversation usually turns toward students. Almost every conversation ends with a discussion of our students and the ways that we can minimize and deal with their anxiety.
But what about teachers? Do we never get anxious, ourselves?
This discussion will focus on teacher anxiety, and list some tips for how to be less nervous when teaching.
For student teachers, new teachers, and teachers that struggle with anxiety while teaching, keep reading for some survival tricks!
Quick Discussion: How To Be Less Nervous When Teaching
As a teacher, you are accustomed to catering to the needs of your students, colleagues, and family. So you may have been dealing with anxiety in the classroom for years, without ever focusing on your own needs.
So, the question is – why do I need to overcome my nerves while teaching? Well, there are many key reasons:
- Reducing your anxiety benefits yourself, both physically and mentally
- Reducing your anxiety benefits your family
- Reducing your anxiety benefits your students
- Reducing your anxiety benefits your colleagues
- Reducing your anxiety improves numerous personal and professional outcomes
Strategies For Being Less Nervous While Teaching
The best cure for nerves is proper preparation.
Sometimes, a well-planned lecture is enough to ease your nerves. If you know the material and know the way you want to present it, you should be confident and stress-free in the classroom. Handouts and visual aids should help – let these tools do the work for you!
Speaking slowly and clearly is a great way to ensure that your lessons get off to a good start.
But no matter how prepared you are, you still need some contingency planning.
First, you need to prepare for students to throw you off your groove in some way. This is a certainty in teaching.
Anticipate interruptions and nothing will be able to distract you. Anticipate unusual or inappropriate questions – kids are always asking these!
There is also a benefit in getting familiar with the classroom or lecture hall before students enter. It gives you a feeling that you are in your element, and that the room is your teaching domain.
And finally, remember that no matter how much you prepare, “failures” will still occur. Sometimes you misspeak, or say “umm” too many times, or lose your train of thought.
These small failures are opportunities for growth, but you can’t allow them to snowball.
2. Rehearse your introduction
First impressions are powerful.
While it isn’t realistic to rehearse and memorize every word of an hour-long lecture, you can derive great benefit from planning a clear and concrete introduction.
If the first few minutes of your lesson go smoothly, the rest of the lesson should follow in a similar fashion.
3. Maintain strong body language and an upright, confident posture
Some people like to use the expression, “fake it ‘til you make it.” But there is a lot of evidence that posture and body language can influence mood and hormones.
A confident posture projects confidence, while a slumped posture serves to increase any feelings of self-doubt you have.
Smiling, laughing, and making eye contact also help minimize anxiety in the classroom. Ultimately, you want to be yourself – but a confident version of yourself.
Along these same lines, many people give you advice that you should use humor. Here, I would advise some caution.
Use humor only if it suits you. Some of us can give the perfect ice breaker or tell an applicable joke to relate to our audience, but not everyone is wired this way.
If you have severe anxiety and don’t feel comfortable speaking, using humor may fall flat, which can be damaging to your confidence for the remainder of the lecture or speech.
4. Remember what matters – your students!
There are many ways of framing this. Some people recommend practicing mindfulness or meditation. Others recommend journaling.
Whatever works for you, the important thing is to maintain perspective. Educating your students is the essential part of your mission. While you can’t change everything, you can remind yourself of what really matters.
Don’t forget that you know the material better than the students and that you are uniquely aware of what the students need. Your job is to educate, not to impress your students or get them to like you.
Release the negativity, take a deep breath, and remember that you entered the profession to help educate young minds. Having some nervousness while teaching doesn’t prevent you from accomplishing your ultimate goal.
5. Exercise, diet, and a healthy lifestyle
There are so many resources available on this topic that I won’t spend too much time discussing it. Hundreds of studies have established the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Eating well and exercising routinely can alter your body chemistry, modify your hormones, and have you feeling more confident and powerful than you had ever imagined possible.
Stretching and yoga provide similar benefits to both your physical and mental health. And as a bonus, both of these activities can be done in only a few minutes. So if you have any downtime during the day, you may be able to accomplish a quick stretching or yoga session.
Maintaining a work-life balance is key to a healthy lifestyle, as well. Spending 24 hours a day checking emails, lesson planning, and stressing about the classroom doesn’t benefit you, your students, or your family. You need (and deserve!) some time away from school to focus on your hobbies and interests.
Lastly, always remember the importance of a quality night of sleep.
6. Take your mental health seriously (and get help if necessary)
Sometimes, a simple list of tips just won’t get the job done.
Many people suffer clinical anxiety that cannot be managed through self-care alone. Because of the unique stresses and demands placed on teachers, many teachers are included in this group of people with clinical anxiety.
Use your best judgment, and seek professional help if necessary. Therapy can be helpful for many of us, sometimes in conjunction with medication.
7. Don’t be afraid to take a public speaking course or seminar
Oftentimes the best way to overcome a fear is to run headfirst into it.
Public speaking is an extremely common fear. In fact, many estimates suggest that over half of the population suffers from a fear of public speaking. If this applies to you, don’t run away from the problem.
There are courses, seminars, masterminds, and groups that exist solely to help people get over a fear of public speaking. Some alumni from these groups include prominent CEOs, entertainers, and a whole list of people that you would have never guessed to be prone to social anxiety or a fear of public speaking.
8. Find a mentor & talk to colleagues
Truthfully, this should probably be closer to the top of the list. For anyone suffering from anxiety (or anything, really), suffering alone without any support only worsens the damage.
Many of your colleagues are going through a similar experience to your own. And many of them have dealt with nervousness while teaching earlier in their career.
If you can find someone that has overcome the same struggles as you, they can serve as a mentor. And if nothing else, having somebody to talk to always helps.
9. Remember that adrenaline is necessary for an exciting, engaging lecture!
If you have tried every tip to deal with nervousness while teaching yet still can’t overcome it, fear not! Having some adrenaline flowing while speaking can lead to an exciting, engaging lecture.
Some teachers and lecturers can speak without any nervousness, but they are so calm and subdued that their students find the lectures boring.
If you feel your heart pumping a little extra while teaching, try to stay in control of your emotions while allowing the emotions to add excitement to your presentation!
There are many ways to deal with nervousness while teaching, and most of them are common sense solutions. But the keys, ultimately, are to be fair and reasonable with yourself.
If you have minor anxiety, preparation and self-care should be sufficient to help you overcome it.
If your struggles are more severe, take a speaking course or find a mentor.
And if you are really struggling with anxiety while teaching, don’t be afraid to seek professional help!