Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Should You a) Relax or B) Start Panicking?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Should You a) Relax or B) Start Panicking?

Article excerpt

Exam time is testing for everyone involved, including teachers - so when the dread descends, follow this advice to stay calm

The dreams started sporadically in February. They have steadily increased in frequency. Now, once or twice a week, my husband finds me awake and wide-eyed in the wee small hours, muttering about grade boundaries, levels and value-added statistics. Sometimes it's the usual clichés: pyjamas, an exam hall, people pointing and laughing. On other occasions, my subconscious gets more creative: my pen suddenly transforms into a snake or the paper comes to life and starts questioning my ability with a relish that would make Jeremy Paxman blush.

Although I'd like to think that these dreams are worthy of Jungian analysis, indicating my immense complexity and deep genius, the truth, I suspect, is that they are straightforward anxiety dreams - no doubt sharing features with the night-time imaginings of plenty of other teachers, and their students, as the summer exam season looms.

I don't think I'm alone in suffering the stresses and strains of exam anxiety alongside the children I teach. Do we worry because we know our own performance will be judged on the results of such tests? Of course. It's common for performance management targets to be based on your pupils' achievement, and it's therefore a special kind of torture to pace around an exam hall, watching as one of them writes the correct answer, gazes at it for a few seconds and then rubs it out, while you recreate Edvard Munch's The Scream in your head.

But it's not just self-interest that motivates teachers' exam anxiety. You've spent a year or more supporting, encouraging and motivating these students, and you want them to succeed for their own sake. It can be heartbreaking when they struggle, especially when you know the problem isn't their ability to answer the questions but to cope with such intense pressure.

When I hear mumblings about apathetic teachers in the media or from acquaintances, I always wonder if these people have actually visited a school in the run-up to or during exam season. Flies on the wall would see teachers offering tea and sympathy, giving up their breaks to coach worried students. They'd see the after-school catch-up clubs and the impassioned staffroom discussions about our hopes and concerns for particular children.

They might also see teachers in tears, copious amounts of coffee being consumed and working days extending well beyond reasonable hours. …

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