A TEACHER’S GUIDE TO STAYING CALM AMIDST CHAOS
Relief though it was to put chaotic 2020 behind us, 2021 brought little immediate serenity. Large-scale COVID-19 vaccination is proceeding sporadically, while large-scale infection has picked up speed. And who hasn’t heard of the literal chaos (“complete disorder and confusion,” as per dictionary definition) that broke out at the U. S. Capitol on January 6?
Everyday schoolteachers are limited in ability to influence what goes on in D. C.—or even attitudes students are exposed to at home. But you don’t have to feel helpless either. Here are some ways to help your students escape panic in the face of bad news—or in whatever chaotic circumstances they deal with personally.
Don’t Be a News Addict or “Doomscroller”
What happens at home doesn’t really stay at home, for kids or teachers. The attitudes you feed at home—optimism, serenity, anxiety, anger, prejudice—are the attitudes you carry wherever you go, and spread deliberately or otherwise. So when you’re on your own time, think twice about filling it with news media, especially online news with all its “read this too” links and sidebars. However you stay updated on the world, stick to measured doses and carefully chosen sources. Reserve plenty of time for “non-screen” activities. And to influence your students away from surfing anxiety-provoking news, schedule periodic “news abstinence” projects for your classes. (Remember to include all-around accountability in these projects—and to have the kids hold you accountable for participating equally.)
Steer Class Discussions in Peaceful Directions
Emphasize—and show—respect for everyone, which includes fairly hearing out ideas you may not agree with. Set an example of never rudely contradicting anyone—not even to correct their rude contradiction of you or a classmate. When you do correct, do it firmly but politely. Remember that whatever atmosphere prevails in the classroom, kids will carry some of it into the larger world.
Build a Positive Classroom Atmosphere
Not only what you say, but your surroundings influence whether you radiate peace or tension. Create a sensory atmosphere that says, “Peace, joy, and hope.”
- Decorate the walls with cheerful pictures and inspirational sayings.
- Clear clutter from desks, shelves, floors, and even computer monitors—chaotic surroundings grow chaotic minds (and often chaotic behavior).
- But don’t be a perfectionistic neatnik, either. Keep things casual enough to encourage free expression and self-confidence.
- Do what you can to block outside noise, especially harsh noise.
- When teaching virtually, watch your own visual and auditory background, and teach students to watch theirs. Use the mute function as needed, but remember to pay attention to Chat contributions and Raised Hands. (You might let kids take turns being official “chat monitor.”) And don’t forget to remedy visual and audio static generated by your own computer!
- In a “live” class, also consider the senses of touch and smell. Varying textures on classroom furnishings are helpful, as are live plants, air fresheners, scented candles, and—especially if you must use hard chairs—stand-up-and-stretch breaks. Just remember to allow for allergies and other sensitivities.
And above all else, show confidence in your and your students’ abilities to cope, whatever happens in life. Emphasize that while crises may be inevitable, personally contributing to chaos is optional!