“The fear” – My personal experiences with ‘teaching anxiety’

3 Sep


Fear of teaching?

Just like a fear of spiders, ‘a fear of teaching’ is common, completely normal and completely irrational.

One of my colleagues, who is very experienced and an excellent teacher, recently said something which hit home for several reasons.  As she was about to leave the coffee room to start her class, she said ‘I still get that little bit of fear before I go into class, every time. Do you get that?’

My answer was an honest one – ‘No, but I used to’, but this was the first time I that I had ever publicly confessed to the fact that I suffered from a fear of teaching.

This ‘fear of teaching’ is something which I think is very often felt, but very seldom discussed.  Why is this?

In fact, for my first two years of teaching, it wasn’t so much ‘a little bit of fear’, but a massive amount of dread which made me feel sick. It took me about 2 years to realize that I was suffering from some sort of social anxiety about going into class.  I’m not normally someone who suffers from social anxiety, it seemed to be unique to the teaching situation. 

For the three years or so I suffered from this, I don’t think I mentioned it to anyone. It seemed like a private fact.  Moreover, it seemed like something that I shouldn’t really admit to.  I didn’t want people to know that I felt under confident in the classroom. In fact, I think sometimes, I would wax lyrical about teaching, teaching theory, students and classroom activities in the teachers room as a way of avoiding or covering up the fact that I actually felt uncomfortable teaching.

The effects of this pre-class fear were numerous. It was very draining. It massively added to the stress of lessons and the fatigue caused by teaching. For me, the fear  would be before class and normally erode about 10 minutes into the lesson. But,if the lesson started going badly, it might have lasted for the whole class or even gotten worse. Or, if I started to run out of lesson plan, I realized that I’d forgotten a handout etc, it could easily resurface.

Physical Symptoms

Does any of this look familiar? This is how I felt before class.

What were the causes?  Well mainly, I was proud of my work as a teacher. I wanted to be a good teacher, and I hated the idea of classes not liking me. I was scared of student complaints, which I took as a slight on my professional ability, and I was scared of students thinking bad things about me. There was also a degree of potential social embarrassment from among my peers.  No wants their fellow teachers to see them as being a bad teacher.

 Like most social anxiety, it was probably rooted in my deep desire to be liked and appreciated, and an over-active imagination of what students might have been thinking about me.  In their faces I would read ‘what a useless teacher, why have I paid so much money for someone who is so unprofessional’.  In fact, what they were probably mainly sitting there thinking about what they would cook for dinner that night whilst patiently waiting for the teacher to set them a new activity.

My colleagues’ comment  about how she was feeling was probably the first public mention of ‘teaching anxiety’ which I have heard of, in the whole 5 years of teaching. For her, I think it was just more pre-class jitters. But I wonder how many people are more like I was when I started – walking around with a gut -wrenching fear before every class?

I know that not every teacher suffers from some for of anxiety.  But I also now know that I am not the only one.   Who else has, or has had, some sort of anxiety about teaching?  Did anyone find cures or coping techniques?  Any experiences that you are willing to share?  Has anyone else already blogged about this?





5 Responses to ““The fear” – My personal experiences with ‘teaching anxiety’”

  1. englishteachingnotes September 3, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    I have always felt that fear..and, though it’s very hard to formulate, I sense that the right amount of fear is a kind of guarantee that the lesson is going to be good (well, that’s a kind of a “sign” for me). If there is too much fear and nervousnes, then, even if not admitting it, I knwo something is going to be (slightly) wrong…All in all, this dread became quite bearable and decreased after I took a CertiBet course with Marc Powell in Oxford Tefl…After that, I started feeling much more confident, and even being nervous I knew deep down that I could manage almost anything.
    I hope this knowledge will still be there for me when I come back to work from my maternity leave))

    • Jonny Lewington September 4, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      Strangely, for me it was taking a six month break which made me feel much more confident in the classroom. I think it was just a case of perspective. Maybe it will work for you too?

      Congratulations, btw!

      • englishteachingnotes September 7, 2013 at 10:15 am #

        I hope it’ll work this way too – as sometimes a break in studies, surprisingly, helps the students’ English..

  2. Daniele Scalia September 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    I don’t know if you remember me , but I was your student at LAL on January and I just would like you to know , your classes are amazing !
    Talking about the fear , I am also an English teacher , for lower levels than yours of course , but I feel the same way you wrote . I ‘ve been teaching for one year and the fear has gotten better , but I think it’ll always be a part of my teaching life .

    • Jonny Lewington September 4, 2013 at 8:36 pm #

      Daniele! Of course I remember you! Your class was one of the most motivated classes I’ve ever taught 🙂

      You are right, a level of fear will always be present, but I think it definately gets a lot better over time.

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