Teachers and Social Anxiety


eight red chairs in a circle and a blue chair sat facing away from the circle

During my time at school, there were many times where I felt particularly singled out and that was mostly at the hands of some of my teachers. Regular readers will be aware that I have had social anxiety my entire life and I felt this was particularly prevalent whilst I was at school. Whilst my teachers may not have known about this, I was very quiet back then (and still am now) and they couldn't have singled me out more if they tried. Today, it is now time for me to speak out about the way in which some of my teachers treated me just because I was quiet and hopefully if any current (or future) teachers are reading this, you can see why this is not okay to treat a student like this and what you can do instead to encourage and help a student you may feel has many similarities to me.


I attended secondary school between 2011 and 2016 and stayed on at that school for sixth form from 2016 to 2018. I wouldn't say that the main issue happened during sixth form as pretty much all (bar one) of the teachers I had then were genuinely lovely. The majority of my problems happened during secondary school and were mostly at the hands of one of my maths teachers and one of my science teachers, although I have a bad memory and there may have been a few other teachers that did similar things that I don't necessarily remember.


As I have said above, I was incredibly quiet at school and this happened more so in subjects that I didn't get and wasn't so confident in, which is possibly why it was my maths and science teachers that mostly picked on me instead of any of the other teachers in other subjects, but this does still not excuse what they did. I was reflecting on my school years the other day, and whilst in primary school, while I was still quiet, I definitely had a lot more confidence back then. I remember in my year six leavers assembly I was able to stand up, on my own, in front of the entire school, teachers and all of my year's parents and perform a song on my cornet. I had been beginning to grow in confidence and assumed this would carry on throughout secondary school to the point where, for the first time in my life, I was relatively confident. I couldn't have been more wrong.


I guess I have my primary school teachers to thank for always being so encouraging to the point where I was able to stand up in front of all of those people. I thought that my secondary school teachers would be like this, and some of them were, but I often felt quite singled out by some teachers due to not knowing things. I'm not sure at what point Ofsted decided on this, but they told teachers that they were no longer allowed to ask students to put their hands up and instead had to pick students to answer the question. Both my maths and science teachers (but my maths teacher in particular) took advantage of this and would often single me out in class when they knew full well I wouldn't know the answer and when I didn't, instead of moving on and asking someone else or trying to give me gentle pushes towards the right answer, they made a point of pointing out how thick I was to the entire class for, in many cases, not knowing the answer to a question they had not yet taught us. I'm pretty sure they got a kick out of this as I seem to remember one time in year ten my history teacher asked me a question and I got the answer right straight away and instead of seeming happy about it, he looked pretty annoyed that I had got it right straight away and even asked me another question later on in the lesson, which I got wrong, and looked pretty proud of himself then. Given teachers are meant to be encouraging towards students and if it seems a student is struggling they are meant to help and not belittle them, I was, and still am, pretty shocked at how these teachers felt was acceptable to treat me.


I know I didn't speak to them about the fact I had social anxiety and maybe if I had they would have treated me better and been a bit more understanding, but the fact they treated me so badly to the point where I dreaded going to any lesson and not just theirs in case another teacher treated me in the same way, put me off from trying to talk about anything, let alone my mental health. It was even so bad to the point where on the first day back at school after the summer holidays in years eight, nine and ten, I would have really bad anxiety attacks to the point where I would almost make my Mum phone in sick for me because I didn't have my timetable and didn't know which teachers I would have and it would fill me with dread at the prospect of having any of those teachers for another year. No child should have to feel like that about school, whether that's about their teachers, fellow students, or anyone/anything else about school.


Another thing they used to do was whenever a student was acting up and they couldn't control them, they would always somehow end up being put next to me. They would moan because they had to sit next to 'the quiet girl that doesn't talk' (I quite obviously did talk, they just never gave me the chance to and I never felt comfortable enough to be able to have a proper conversation with anyone other than my friends) and I would moan on the inside, but appear like I was showing no emotion on the outside, because, yet again, I had no other choice but to grin and bear the fact that I had to sit next to someone who would constantly distract me and then getting me in trouble for talking, which was ironic given that the rest of the time the teacher would complain that I didn't talk.


I mentioned earlier that my teachers weren't allowed to ask us to put our hands up and would just pick someone at 'random' to answer a question. But surely a teacher knows the difference between a student who is just quiet and maybe too anxious to give an answer in front of the whole class, over a student that just isn't paying attention. I guess teachers need to know that every student has an understanding of what they're doing, but surely they can tell this by marking books (another thing my teachers never did) so they can see, again, who possibly does know what they're doing but just doesn't feel confident enough to speak in front of anyone and those who just haven't been listening.


I do think it is important for teachers to help quieter and socially anxious students, like myself, to come out of their shell a bit more (even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with being quiet. After all, if everyone in this world was loud then there would be no one to listen to us). But there are better ways they can go about this over continuously picking on quiet and socially anxious students. Possibly introducing a system where students can subtly let you know when they do/don't feel comfortable answering a question, such as giving them a red card for no and a green card for yes. I don't think that's necessarily the answer, but something needs to be done so that more students don't go through the same things I did.


I would be interested in knowing if you went through the same or similar as me at school (or at any point in your life, actually) and if there was anything done, either by yourself or your teachers, to overcome this. Or, if you are a teacher, is there anything you do or feel it would be beneficial for your students to do, in order for us to overcome this barrier between students, teachers and social anxiety. Please let me know in the comments below.


Love Beth xx

Recent Posts

See All