December 13, 2012

Performance Anxiety

Performance anxiety
Performance anxiety (Photo credit: Jen SFO-BCN)
I have performance anxiety since ever. I guess partially because how I was brought up, partially because of my "special" or "different" nature. I pretty much do anything better without supervision. One example is learning driving stick shift car. By all means I am a talented driver, but in the first lesson of stick shift driving given by my friend, in his new car (I had hitherto learned basic driving skills in automatic car with help of another friend) , I was so nervous, and stopped engine every time when I started it. But same day at night, when I was trying on my own car by myself, I "miracally" moved my car out of parking lot at the first attempt. And by that single move, I knew pretty much all the secret about gearshift. After couple of times practices by myself (yes, illegally), I felt I was an experienced driver already. So when another friend checked on me several days later, he was surprised by my performance and said: "you already know how to drive, let's go to highway".

Having such problem, as a teacher, I always try my best not to let my students feel nervous by not staring at their performance all the time, as I fully believe that they could do better if they have more chances to experience the process by themselves. Most students are doing well, no matter I look at them or not, but a few of them do have such "anxiety". One of them is so obvious that whenever she knew I was looking at her direction, she started drawing or painting "nonsense". What's worse is, she doesn't listen. And I know this is not because she can't, but because she could not focus her mind - instead of listening me, she was thinking of how others (especially her father) would think of her if she could understand what I said. Not only she has this problem, she also learned "smartly" to hide it. I don't know how many times she quickly responded my questions/suggestions before I even finished my sentences, or before my points were fully represented. I also notice, her anxiety went worse when his parents was present at classes, which always is the case.

Her father was overall happy with her works but as soon as she did works not so outstanding, he would show his concern, by occasionally standing in front of his daughter, worrying her mistakes. Obviously, more and more, Her father realized my teaching "philosophy" a "little" hard to understand, and implied in conversations that he didn't think it's a good idea to leave students alone. I tried my best to let him understand what I think, but I don't think he could get it.

This student is only 10. She already learned to pretend to be someone else. I know she is trying very hard to be smart and quick learning, as those qualities are what her parents encourage in all possible situations: schools and family or social gathering. That's why she always respond me instantly (or pretend not hearing me at all), regardless she understands or not. Yesterday, I finally told her, while her father sitting somewhere a few yards away: "if you didn't understand me, just ask me again. It's nothing to be ashamed of if you cannot understand your teacher, but it's not good for you to pretend you understand things you do not." I said a little loud, clearly, just to make sure her father heard every word.

Not sure how my straight forward style works, but I am sure these students could do better if their parents do not expect so much from them. I don't doubt these parents' love to their kids (though I do doubt the quality of their love), as I could see they indeed give lots of love to their kids, but sometime I feel, this love, like "tiger mother"'s, mix with high expectation, might do some different kind of damage (if not more) than those child abuses without love, because, with this "love", kids get even more confused.
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  1. All too often, parents view their children as extensions of themselves, burdening the kids with their own unrealized set of expectations. It's cruel and unusual punishment, if you ask me. I'm very much like you: I despise being supervised or micromanaged. I've always been able to figure things out for myself...that's what thinking for oneself is all about. Your students are lucky to have you for a teacher, Yunyi. As a student, I absolutely despised the Socratic method of teaching because it's arrogant. As a teacher, I tried to understand and adapt to each student's individual learning style. Great post with lots of food for thought.

  2. My parents were always ambitious for me, chiefly, perhaps, because I am an only child. I always wanted to please them and by and large I have. I certainly benefited from their encouragement. From early in life I was taught that there was nothing I could not achieve if I set my mind to it, that there were no barriers imposed on me because I was a girl. They encouraged me, yes, but they never pushed me to the point of anxiety. I suppose I am lucky in more ways than one

  3. I too use to hate when I was being watched intensely by a teacher or my mother when they were trying to teach me something. I felt very nervous and overwhelmed by it. My mother use to force me to do things her way, and if I made a mistake there would be all hell to pay for it. I would then be called names like stupid, idiot etc for not grasping her method straight away.

    Sometimes more damage can be done by not encouraging a child to have another go politely when a mistake is made. It's too easy to just blame them and make them feel inadequate.

    I am also familiar with those that start to do something before you finish giving them instructions, it can be annoying but I wonder if that's because they are nervous too.
    Good post Yun Yi, so many things in this post I better stop now.

  4. yunyi, my upbringing was the total opposite. I grew up in an atmosphere of complete freedom. My parents never pushed me to be or become anything. They never interfered in my life. They simply left me free to follow my own bent, to do the things I liked doing, whether that meant swinging on a high bar or sitting all day in front of a television set. Worldly success and ambition meant nothing to them. It was more important to enjoy life, to be kind and love people, to have friends than to have talents or goals or good grades in school. Personal relationships superseded personal ambitions.

  5. Thanks Kris for your kind words about me. I am glad we have same kind of nature, because what we got IS THE BEST!

    @Ana, I think your parents were wise and discovered your talent and provided you with all possibilities. I think there is a difference between your parents' expectation with some parents of my students - their expectation is build on their own wish, not their childrens'.

    @RPD, I am sorry to hear the way your mother treated you. For me, it was mostly my father, who seemed to enjoy seeing my mistakes (not in school but in house chore, I was treated like slave!), as if he was right about my "low intelligence". I had such a big problem later on whenever I was mis-judged by people about my intelligence, and now I know exactly why.
    Yes, when kids/students made mistakes, I think the first thing a good parent or teacher should do is to tell them not to feel bad about themselves, not the other way around.
    Take care and i hope we both can eventually overcome all these upbringing traumas.

  6. @np, your life philosophy is truly the best humans can get. however, i think it requires lots of wisdom to fully understand it, to enjoy it. to tell you truth, i am in a place that is very close to it. and i am glad i am wise:-)

  7. You don't need me to tell you how significant parental expectations are in Chinese society Yunyi, and it's almost always counterproductive. When I was working with Chinese students, I found that some would become so anxious about what they were doing that even their motor control would be lost. I think that you're absolutely right to avoid putting pressure on your students, because they will always do better if left alone.

  8. Dennis, living in China for decades, I am sure you know the culture almost as well as me! Thanks!

  9. Yun Yi, I hope that your students and their parents appreciate your open approach to learning. If not, you have offered them the best of yourself - and that, my friend, is enough...

  10. Melody, thanks for stopping by. And you are absolutely right!