Sunday, June 22, 2014

Upsurge in Anxiety - Guest Post

Guest Post by Dave Harper, a Humanities, French and Music teacher at Southgate Middle School in Campbell River, BC. He is also plays the banjo, guitar, and harmonica and shares his love of Bluegrass with students. Thanks, Dave for sharing your thoughts.

My experiences as a middle school teacher lead me to share much of Glen Thielmann's thinking. I honestly feel that what he has written in his blog is the outline for a book about the contemporary middle school / senior secondary and how life within it and its social media and hallway nexus plays out on a 24/7 basis for our students as part of the upsurge in anxiety in students.

At the root of it all I see the Neufeld / Mate theories of attachment playing out in real time every day. Only five years ago it was rare to have students arrive at class as anxiety-ridden wrecks saying that they can't attend that block and just leave (often with a friend escorting them who is going to assist in their "decompression") . Usually I discover quickly it is the result of a social media driven interaction that has just occurred or has been "building" over the course of the day. This is now a thrice weekly occurrence at a minimum.

Note that I generally agree to let the other student go with the student in the midst of the anxiety attack because there is no counsellor available and I have 28 to 30 other kids who are expecting me to teach the class. Only five years ago my middle school had two full-time counsellors. The extrapolation to what is playing out on the sidewalks in front of schools around the province is a bit of QED.

Interestingly I notice the greatest degree of inner calm in those students who either do not have or whose parents do not allow devices to be brought to school.

The link to the then-Minister Abbot-era drive for BYOD ( bring your own device ) and the increase in student anxiety is very clear in my mind. We cannot say no to the devices being at school now. Most / certainly many elementary schools try not to allow them. I notice that the majority of elite prep schools are explicit that personal devices are to be left in lockers or will be taken away. I don't know if that is an "all talk" but without follow up policy that looks very different in practice than on paper. I feel it is the correct policy but we are unable to have such a policy at public middle and secondary schools.

As the parent of a seven-year old boy I have already decided that my son will not be allowed to have a device at school when he gets older. The boys in my classes without devices are generally more focussed, involved in less social conflict, and involved in sports and real social interaction. The shockingly few girls without devices at school also tend to be calm social leaders who are involved in leadership activities and have "balanced" lives.

Are they calmer because they don't have devices or are they calmer by nature and therefore they don't feel the need to bring a device? Chicken and egg, perhaps.

I think I may ask Glen if he wants to collaborate on a book! Typing these thoughts has got me thinking that there is something deeper going on here with which our schools are ill-equipped to cope. Feel free to ask me any follow up questions if my thoughts are not clear to you.

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