With the end of winter break, the beginning of a new semester, Coronavirus concerns and more, stress levels are high for students.
Juniors Oliver Doyle and Grace Ensor both noted that their English class was a main stressor for them, but their Latin class led by teacher Jeff Smith was their saving grace.
Smith is just one of several teachers recommended by students as educators who provide the best stress-relief for their students. Other nominees include math teacher Jessica Haskins, English teacher Katie Guymon, and science teachers Jane Knittig and Mebbie Landsness.
For Doyle, the best things teachers can do to make school less stressful are “study guides and retakes, and extra credit obviously is always nice. Specific time in class to focus on tests and quizzes and stuff.”
Smith’s philosophy aligns with these requests.
“Rather than give them just a study guide, kids kind of make their own. I will go over the test for a whole hour and go through exactly what they need to know. I want them to know this stuff, so I tell them what they need to know,” Smith said.
According to Guymon, the most stressful thing for her English students is the essays and long writing assignments that her class entails. To relieve this, Guymon and the rest of the English department provide the opportunity for students to make up essays.
“If you get an essay back and you’re not thrilled with your performance then we can conference about that. I mean that’s a natural part of the writing process anyway– that vision. Any student who wants to improve and specifically seek me out to improve proactively, you can’t say ‘no,’ to that,” Guymon said.
Guymon’s teaching style revolves around the idea of forming connections with her students.
“I think the relationship piece is pretty much everything, and I really like my students.I think it’s really fun to chat with them,” Guymon said.
These relationships make it easier for Guymon to check in on her students.
“Mental health wise, sometimes I kind of just read the room or bring up the fact that I noticed that the energy level is down, or [if] I hear there’s a big test in this class on Friday, like [maybe we should] move the due date for my assignment in response to some other stressors that I know that they have that may not be as flexible,” Guymon said.
Landsness’ teaching style mimics Guymon’s in that her focus on relationships and communication has brought her success in reducing the stress of her students.
“What’s been really successful in my case has been getting to know my students and what their obligations are outside of school and what their stressors are outside of school to kind of help the holistic picture,” Landsness said. “I really have enjoyed this semester in particular, just an awesome group of students, and I feel like we’re good at communicating and that’s what builds relationships.”
Like Landsness, one pillar of Haskins’ math class is the use of communication to build relationships, not only from student to teacher, but from student to student as well.
“I try to reduce the amount of outside classwork that is necessary and just try to have kids talk to each other. Just like ‘hey, how ya doing, how’s your day, how’s your weekend,’ to infuse less academic time inside of the classroom,” Haskins said.
This idea of making the classroom a more comfortable space that isn’t strictly academic is something that Haskins advises other teachers to consider.
Haskins said, “For me I think finding the time to connect with your students and give them time to breathe so your space doesn’t feel like it’s purely academic [is important], and a little bit of give and take between the academic bit of it and the social bit of it is really helpful.”
Knittig utilizes communication not only to connect with her students, but to help convey the difficult topics that her physics students need to learn.
“Physics is really a different way of thinking that a lot of students haven’t encountered before, and so it feels really new to students because it is,” Knittig said.
Since these new topics can be very difficult for students to understand, Knittig supports the use of homework but only to an extent.
“I think there’s a balance between how much is necessary, because you do need to practice it outside of class to be successful, versus how much starts to feel like too much and trying to keep that balance,” Knittig said.
Haskins recently implemented a new optional homework policy for her Pre-Calculus students and is seeing promising results.
“There’s probably fewer people that are turning it in, but I think those people are doing it for the right reasons,” Haskins said.
Instead of assigning students homework, Smith chooses to offer more work time in class.
“I realize they can’t go home and get a lot of help so I stopped like five years ago when I got my masters. They found the efficacy of homework is pretty low unless it’s just a little extension of what you’ve done. Like in math I think it’s pretty valid or if you have to read a book or something for English I get it, but with Latin, if they get stuck, they can’t go anywhere other than like the internet or text their friends and cheat, so we give a lot of time in class where people tend to work in class,” Smith said.
Even though these teachers are good at relieving their students’ stress, it doesn’t mean their classes are completely stress-free.
Knittig said that maybe this is a good thing. “I don’t think that school should be stress free. I don’t think it should be super high stress, but some moderate stress is where learning happens,” Knittig said.
Guymon offers some advice to other educators.
“I’m not rigid. I know some people have a harder time leaning into being more flexible because it means to them giving up their high expectations or the rigor of their class, but I don’t think it has to do that. The stuff that we do in my class is on par with what I always do. There’s learning happening, but I think that if you do it in a low pressure environment, students don’t even realize how much they’re learning, how much they’re growing. I think teachers have to learn to give it up a little bit, which I know is a hard thing to do,” Guymon said.
This will be Maren DeMargel’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year.