Overcoming observation anxiety
Whether you have been observed by colleagues in a more or less unofficial setting, by your DOS as part of a job appraisal scheme or process, or as part of a teacher training course such as the CELTA or the Delta, being observed can be extremely stressful for most teachers.
The topic of classroom observations is very wide but this blog post aims to focus on just one of the aspects involved in the discussion of observations – how to reduce anxiety and feel more confident in order to be able to do your best.
The context outlined below is drawn from experiences of training on or following a training course – a CELTA course or other course at a similar level (or it can be a higher course, such as a Delta or similar); however, job appraisal observations can benefit from the very same suggestions.
I am so nervous!!!!
This is a familiar phrase in our CELTA training classroom or our trainees’ preparation room; some suffer more than others, and there are extreme cases when the trainee loses all touch with reality and goes very white and quiet!!!
Anxiety can be of two kinds, debilitative and facilitative and the kind outlined above is not the kind that gets the adrenalin going and puts us into a high energy gear! It’s clearly debilitating and creates panic, loss of orientation and, at times, complete loss of memory!! Trainees forget what they intended to do and with eyes glazed seem to embark on a journey which is quite difficult to comprehend or follow!!!
If you are one of those blessed with a calm and confident personality, stop reading now. Or tell us how you do it. For the rest of us mere mortals, here’s a quick and dirty guide on how to go from terrified to composed in five simple (but by no means easy!) steps.
Remember that good old boy scout motto? Being prepared in mind and body is very important for any test and any task, so much of this blog post is a reminder of how you can best prepare for a great lesson.
This can be the most important stage for pre-empting potential problems that can quickly turn into sources of anxiety! We’ll call this one the ‘be prepared principle‘ which has a number of important maxims:
1. Clarify your aims
Anxiety is often due to a lack of certainty or clarity of what it is really that we hope to achieve. Do not despair!! This is why you are following this course and not awarded a certificate on day one! There is learning to be done and teaching is a complex, demanding task. Remember these points and try to improve a little in every lesson
- decide on your primary focus and avoid too many aims
- be ruthless about leaving out anything not strictly relevant to your main aims
- write your aims down simply and clearly
- scrutinise for inconsistencies, tricky points, weak spots.
- remember not to be over-ambitious as to how much you can fit into your lesson slot. Less is more!!!!
Key words: Be prepared – Clarify your aims – Remove the clutter – Less is more
2. Seek help
Teaching Practice points are not cast in stone and tutors usually encourage any creative, innovative or just plain practical ideas you may have in order to achieve your lesson aims.
- So, talk to your tutor! This should also help alleviate your anxiety, especially since you would be sharing your concerns with the person observing you.
- Talk to your peers; use them as a sounding board for your ideas. Return the favour; this is a collaborative learning experience after all, and you can benefit from it in three very concrete ways:
- it takes your mind off your constant worrying about your own lesson plan
- you can get the most amazing ideas about your lesson as you are considering somebody else’s
- you are no longer alone in this! The CELTA course (especially the intensive one) was not designed to be a solitary experience. And you will need all the support you can get (and give), if you are to overcome your worries and fears.
Anxiety and fear sometimes spread like wildfire. Avoid contaminating everyone! A group of trainees who are constantly fearful and anxious is not going to be a productive team and it doesn’t look like this feeling can generate the positive energy and enjoyment in the learning which your course should create in you!
Key words: Connect with peers – Ask for support – Do not spread your anxiety – Keep calm
3. Practice makes perfect!
Even very experienced conference speakers tell us how many times they rehearse a talk to make them feel confident. Truly!!!!
Once you have decided what you are going to do, rehearse and time your activities. Enlist a helpful roommate or family member, or one of your peers, as learner substitutes.
If possible, rehearse in front of a mirror or even record yourself giving instructions and asking questions. Pinpoint and amend any potential problems before you encounter them in class! If need be, script your questions and/or instructions. If all this sounds too much, just think of the immediate benefits:
- you remove a great chunk of uncertainty about how effective your lesson can be, by pre-emptying certain potential problems.
- you immediately feel more in control of the whole process; this can actively help reduce observation anxiety.
- you feel more at peace with yourself, because you know you have done your best preparing for your observation.
- your lesson may not be perfect, but you can get some peace of mind and satisfaction from knowing you have given it your best shot.
If you are worried about not being able to remember your lesson notes, some ideas:
- print them large (just your own actions) and use colourful and cheerful text highlighters to remind yourself of your next step.
- put each step on a large flashcard and hold in your hands
- use a great online tool which works as an autocue – read a short blog post here
Now, if you are one of those people that tend to express their anxiety verbally, then use this trait to your advantage: find a quiet corner and read through your questions or instructions aloud, concentrating on the language you use.
- Go into a corner and speak your lines to the wall. The wall will bring back your voice full volume and besides a recording, it’s a great way to hear how you sound.
- Try to modulate your voice and regulate your breathing. (If you’ve ever had any yoga or meditation classes, now is the time to put everything you’ve learnt into practice). You’ll be surprised how listening to your own voice can calm you, especially if it is clear and modulated.
Key words: Rehearse – Rehearse – Reflect – Revise for confidence
4. Stay ahead of the game
Do yourself a service and do not leave anything for the last minute.
This simple piece of advice really goes a long way. It means not having to worry about the photocopier or other technology breaking down out of the blue; not rushing around breathlessly to get everything ready at the last minute, among other hurried trainees who are about to be observed too; and allowing yourself a much-needed breathing space to collect your wits and do a few breathing exercises perhaps!
More important even: once preparation is done, and everything is ready, put it away. Stop thinking and worrying about your lesson until about 5 minutes before it is to start. I know this is easier said than done, but here are a few clever tricks to help you along:
- Remove the whole lesson pack from view:put it in your trainee bag, ready to take with you in the morning; move the digital folder away from your desktop; put away all the reference materials you used. Just don’t lock it in a drawer or hide it under piles of paper: you may forget about it and leave it behind!
- Deliberately turn your mind to your next project; be it your next assignment due in the following week, writing up your notes from the last input session or just finishing the chapter on listening sub-skills you started on before observation craze set-in.
- Reward yourself for all your hard work! Preferably with something which will boost your confidence on the actual day.with a new haircut or hairdo
- a new item of clothing or accessory you’ve always wanted (and is suitable to wear/use in class)
- an evening out on the cinema or theatre and catch that show you’ve been meaning to see since the course started!
- Avoid going out with friends and having too much to eat or drink, staying up all night watching your favourite series on a viewing marathon or playing your favourite online-game, and generally anything that saps your energy and prevents you from having a good night’s sleep.
- If all else fails, exercise till you drop and then go to bed! Just remember to drink lots of fluids.
Key words: Ahead of time – Change scenery – Reward yourself – Rest Body and mind
The self-fulfilling prophecy or….
5. Act confident to Feel Confident
The actual observation day is here, and in a short while, you are about to go into class. Acting confident, even if butterflies are having a rave party in your stomach, is your best ally. Whatever you do,
- Don’t drive your fellow trainees round the bend by running around like a chicken without a head!!! Remember, they are on the same boat as you and you can work each other up to a frenzy!!! This is a sure-fire way to block yourself (and everyone around you) from doing well.
- Do not tell everyone (including your students, tutors and support staff) how anxious you feel about this observation and how certain you are that this is going to be a disaster. Repeatedly. Until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Talk about anything else, or just go for a brisk walk around the block until the urge subsides.
- Turn your self-fulfilling prophecy into a prediction and a predilection for success. You can do it.
- Do some breathing exercises. A brain without enough oxygen is not going to be much good to you when you need to be alert and going full steam ahead!
- When it’s time to start, just take a deep breath and smile!
- Walk into the class room confidently and dive straight into your lesson plan.
- Smile to your students, look at them in the eye and let the moment sweep you away!
- Forget your tutor in the corner and concentrate on communicating with your students and listen to what they say. Before you know it, it will be over!
Remember your students – that person in the corner is watching a real teacher teaching real people.
All too often, trainees forget all about the students and teach to and for the tutor/observer.
Not a good idea!!!!
Focusing on your students is a great way to help you forget all about yourself and your own anxiety.
Overcoming observation anxiety