How Can I Handle School Anxiety?

This article is written by Ed Welch and is published by CCEF

 

My first thought is: please don’t quit. Every teacher I have spoken with has felt unprecedented burdens during this pandemic season. New, glitchy technology. Students whose attention wavers. No dynamic, live student participation. More work, which doesn’t seem to have much fruitful effect.

And instrumental music teachers experience all this more intensely. You tend to have more hands-on involvement in your classroom, and that has been gutted. Everything you try will fall short of your expectations.

Here are a few thoughts about God’s words to you.

Talk to God

First, express your trust in the Lord by speaking to him. This can be difficult in times of stress, because it seems too leisurely, and anxiety would like a solution soon. To slow down is counterintuitive.

But God wants you to “pour out your heart before him” (Ps. 62:8). Talking to God is how we start releasing our burdens to him (Matt. 11:28). So gather a few words and speak to him.

Begin with a description of your anxiety. You probably feel exhausted, yet on edge. It’s likely you hate feeling unprepared in an unfamiliar setting. You may be starting to dread your job. The Lord invites you to say those things honestly. He knows your heart, but articulating those things is important for you.

Try to keep talking. Why do you think you’re worried? Anxiety can be difficult to track down, but this time you can probably identify some contributing factors. For example, you have to get up to speed on the technology. That alone is enough to leave you apprehensive. You have more work to do, but without more time to do it.

You might want to dig even more. Often, at the root of our uneasiness is a fear of discovering or rediscovering failure. Last school year, you probably felt competent. Now there is chaos. On top of that, your work is public, for all to see. If something doesn’t go right, it is your fault. If your kids are unengaged, it is your fault. Like most people, you want to do a good job. But under these circumstances, it seems unlikely you’ll be able to.

Listen to God

Here is what you know for certain: your Father comes to you with compassion. He is moved by what moves you. He doesn’t just tell you to “stop idolizing success and reputation.” He knows you are broken, and he will mend you with gentleness (Isa. 42:3).

In 2 Corinthians, Paul identifies one failure after another, a particular weakness that makes his work more difficult, and churches that would prefer someone more impressive to lead them. His words could be paraphrased this way: when you feel really weak and unqualified, this is when God’s grace is enough (2 Cor. 12:9).

Failure, the Lord says, is an opportunity. Much of the time, we can get through our work days by relying on our own skills. But our Father and Lord wants much more. True life is when we depend on him more than ourselves, when we acknowledge that we are weak and he is strong, when we simply say “Jesus, I need you.”

Then Paul points you to Jesus: “He was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). Jesus is bringing you into himself. This is hopeful, just beyond our reach, and certainly not trite.

We could summarize many of God’s words to you like this: he is inviting you to graduate from teacher-by-training-and-natural-abilities to teacher-by-faith. This is one part of your larger calling to walk by faith, which is every Christian’s agenda. If the details of that journey seem fuzzy—and they will—gather a few friends together who can pray for each other.

Simplify

While you’re deepening your dependence on God, there are a few practical things you can do to ease your daily anxiety.

The first is to simplify your expectations for yourself. Your normal pace and goals for instruction won’t work in this season. If you had to choose just a few important things for your students to understand this year, what would they be? Narrow your focus to the most critical parts of the curriculum.

Second, simplify your expectations for your students. Most, if not all, will be distracted by the room they’re in, the family members around them, the texts their classmates are sending. And they also, along with their parents, are feeling deep anxiety about this school year.

Your calm demeanor, as your heart waits on the Lord to do the work he’s already doing, can be both a gift and a witness to them. You’re teaching them music, yes. But if you can model for your school community how to cast your burdens on the Lord (Ps. 55:22), that’s a far greater lesson.

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