For many students, going to school can be the most difficult part of the day, and not because classes are excruciatingly difficult. Students today face unimaginable pressures, from bullies to discriminatory language to fear for their lives. If that weren’t enough, they still have to go to classes and learn the information necessary to become productive members of society. Along with that comes the pressure to get into a good college or career post-high school and, often, the pressure to live up to others’ expectations of you.
Girls and boys both experience enormous amounts of pressure in school, though those pressures can sometimes take different forms. When we see our children and our students buckling underneath the weight of these issues, what are we to do? Dealing with these pressures might be a part of life for students, but, as teachers and parents, we can help them find ways to get past these issues and enjoy some of the best years of their young lives.
1. Talk it Out
Sometimes, the best way to deal with a problem is to talk about it. Students facing an enormous amount of pressure might be just letting it build up inside of them with no way out. Just having someone to talk to might help students alleviate some of the worry they face, and also might help them find solutions to some of their problems. As a teacher, I have many students visit me before or after class, worried about an assignment or something going on at home. Usually, I just listen and, within a few minutes, the students are able to find a solution themselves. Never underestimate the power of listening.
2. Writing or Art Therapy
For some students, talking isn’t an option. Sometimes students are shy or aren’t comfortable sharing their problems, or sometimes there just isn’t time to sit down and have a lengthy conversation with one student. For these students, writing or art therapy might be a good way to get feelings out. This doesn’t have to be a formal thing; it could be as simple as allowing students the time to write or draw in a personal journal, and it can have the same effect as talking through a problem. I have had many students come into my room from a difficult day and ask permission to take some time to write a personal journal entry. I always allow this, and it is amazing to see the relief they feel once their words are on paper.
3. Start a Club
In my school, I found that girls, especially, were facing unique pressures but didn’t have a space to talk about them. With the help of a few students, we started a club specifically for girls that meets once a week after school. Last year, we talked about the pressure to wear makeup and look perfect, dating abuse, feminist issues and much more. The students who come to meetings have told me that having a space where they feel free to talk about what is bothering them has been invaluable.
4. Use Available Resources
If starting or joining a club isn’t an option, schools generally have a lot of resources for students who need help. One-on-one or group counseling a few times a month might be extremely helpful for students who need a little more than just someone to listen. These resources are often available through the school at no cost to the students. If you need more information on any of these services, ask your school’s guidance counselor or social worker. They can point you in the right direction.
5. Offer Encouragement
All of these pressures can be incredibly damaging to students’ self-esteem. Sometimes, all a student needs to get through a rough patch is to know that someone believes in him or her. Offering encouragement to all students and helping them build up their self-esteem can help students no matter what pressures they are facing.
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