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annie_g's Message:

I agree. I hope these parents are prepared to support these children as adults because their anxiety will no doubt keep them from holding down a job. Over my teaching career, I saw more and more of this every year. I really think a lot of it comes from the parents. I know there are children who really do have problems with anxiety, but the parents should be helping them learn ways to cope, not shielding them from doing any work at school.

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Discussion Review (newest messages first)
tiredannie 08-31-2019 11:22 AM

Thanks, everyone! You all brought up some amazing points. I agree that there's nothing I can really do to "fight" it on a larger scale. But perhaps at the classroom level, I can make a point to frequently include readings/activities that focus on a growth mindset and perseverance. I can't help but wonder how these kids will handle being in the real world. Life is tough. If you have no coping skills and truly think that anxiety will excuse you from'll be a rude awakening.

Teach 5 08-26-2019 03:49 PM

I suffer from anxiety so I’m not being unsympathetic. However, I think we are failing to teach the current generation the difference between nervousness and anxiety. Also anxiety shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Everyone has something to deal with and excuses don’t help.

Angelo 08-26-2019 09:27 AM

That's the thing. I'm sick of parents talking about the staff at our school as though we were somehow mean, uncaring, or lacking in understanding of anxiety. Our admin does back us up, which is nice. The reason some parents think we're obtuse and unsupportive is that we don't simply excuse students from work when they say they are anxious. On the contrary, I'd argue we do more to help students than many other schools. We will support students as they work through their feelings. We will meet with teachers and parents to discuss next steps. The difference is that all our interaction centers upon getting the student to the point where they can still be accountable for their work. Some parents don't like that.

Every year, we (I'm an academic counselor) get calls from a handful of parents asking that their kids simply be exempt from tests and exams because of anxiety. "He's a bright kid, but he doesn't test well, and exams just trigger his anxiety. Is there anything else he can do?" Or else, "He's so anxious about these exams. Can't you just use the term grade instead?"

No. You may think exams are an antiquated and blunt instrument to test students' mastery of curriculum (a case some parents try to make) and/or point out other schools that have done away with timed tests and exams. But that's not us. And you KNEW we had traditional exams when you applied and were accepted (we are a private prep school). You were under no obligation to come to this school, and you're under no obligation to stay here. If you think your kid will benefit from a less competitive academic environment with more flexible assessment options, then make that choice and take ownership of it. The thing is, parents know about our success rate. Our students (with very few exceptions) get into good colleges. And when they get there, their success rate is very high. But some of these parents want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to tap into our success but expect the school to bend its (clear and transparent) expectations and regulations to suit their kids.

There's a common pattern to some of these interactions. There's a strong correlation between "screen time" and anxiety. Many of the kids whose parents say they have "anxiety" will admit privately that they stay up until all hours binge-watching on Netflix or watching Youtube videos or gaming. They are chronically tired in the mornings and tend to be late to school. They inevitably get behind in their school work (no wonder) and then become "anxious" when confronting the consequences of those choices. Yeah, I'd be anxious too if I had dicked around and ignored my work and now was looking at a precipitous drop in my GPA.

I had a student last spring who had done precisely that. He was taking AP English, and in the final quarter, got a serious case of senioritis. He had his college admission in hand and thought he had it made. The English teacher was raising red flags for months that he appeared to be "phoning it in" and didn't appear to be making any progress on his major research essay. The teacher spoke to the parents. The teacher spoke to me. I spoke to the student. I spoke to the parents. It was clear that the student had not even read the two novels about which he had to develop a research essay. When I spoke with him, it was all "Yeah I know" and promises, promises, promises. I reminded him that his college admission was conditional and that a grade drop in English would drop his GPA and probably cost him his admission. He said he knew. The parents said they knew. Action would be taken.

Well, the due date for the research project came and went, and no project was forthcoming from this student. The teacher spoke to the student and offered support. The teacher reached out multiple times to remind the parents (not that such should really be necessary for an 18-year-old SENIOR allegedly off to college in the fall) of the gravity of the situation.

Then one day the mother called me in tears. Her son was about to receive a zero which would indeed cost him his English credit and his admission. She said, "I can't believe the school would do this to him. He's come so far and you're going to let him lose everything over one assignment?" I said patiently that this wasn't something the school was "doing to him." He had had multiple opportunities and multiple offers of support. The mom said, "I know he's made some bad choices, but he's a kid. And he has anxiety." (There it is, I thought.) He was exhausted by the pace of his senior year and "felt anxious about an assignment he wasn't confident he could do well." So his choice was to do nothing. The thing that really annoyed me was that it was one of those beating-around-the-bush conversations where the parent w-ouldn't come right out and ask, although clearly she was angling for someone to wave a magic wand and say, "You know what? It's okay. He doesn't have to do the project. We'll just input it as an incomplete instead of a zero." I made it clear that we would support him to get this work in, but that he would still have to do it. Then mom got mad and accused us of being mean and of not accommodating a mental illness. "What if we get a doctor's note for his anxiety?" she asked. That's fine, but it won't excuse him from doing this work. 17 other AP students have worked their butts off to get this work finished. It's a major course requirement.

I asked the mom rather bluntly if she intended to follow her son around at college and make excuses for him. She said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It's all for nothing if he doesn't get in." You know what? It's all for nothing if he DOES get in and pulls this crap and washes out in the first year.

You have honest-to-goodness anxiety? Okay. Get help. I'm one of the helpers at the school level. If you're a diabetic, you need to take your insulin and monitor your blood glucose. If you're an alcoholic, you need to abstain from drinking and go to rehab or join a 12-step program and commit to it. If you have anxiety, get professional help and commit to learning coping strategies to improve your mental health, participate in therapy, and learn to advocate for APPROPRIATE supports (not simply asking to be excused from your work when you feel "overwhelmed").

Imagine an employee who said to his or her boss, "I'm suffering from alcoholism. I tried AA, but it wasn't for me. I prefer to carry on drinking. So I need Mondays off. No way I can come into work until Tuesday. What if I get a doctor's note confirming I suffer from alcoholism?"

AnonoPerson 08-25-2019 11:55 PM

High School Spanish teacher here. My course contract states quite clearly that presentations and other speaking tasks are completed during the class period and only during the class period. These assignments range from a 25+ word (yes, you read that right) presentation to a slideshow. A total of around 5 are done during the year. Still, it amazes me how much parents react to the assignments and go as far as contacting my P with/without a doctor's note stating that the student ought to be able to be exempt from anything in front of the room. "But what about allowing him/her to present to you one-on-one outside of class?" No. That would open the door for every one of my 100+ students to do the same.
I'd like to add that in the past, students who are 'anxious' seem to be fine with being an attention-seeker in the cafeteria, as a cheerleader screaming on the sports court, and in many cases, during the class.

Kinderkr4zy 08-25-2019 08:00 PM

I see it too. And you cant fight it-if admin gives in (and everyone I know gives in on this one for whatever reason) then its something that "works". If it works then it keeps being used as a strategy. I wish I knew the answer but, sadly this is not changing around these parts-they kids are just getting more and more "anxious" every year.

Renea 08-25-2019 10:26 AM

I've often wondered if our current curriculum exacerbates anxiety in students.

*When younger students know they have to be proficient or above in all areas and then they're tested and retested to ensure progress is being made it could contribute to anxiety. Are you good enough today? Did you make it?

*Just before I retired each classes' grade-level instructional schedule had to match exactly and each class had to be teaching the exact same lesson at the same time. There was no time to reteach if students hadn't mastered the lesson. I could see students become anxious.

*When the lesson was over our students had 60 seconds to be prepared for the next subject. Yes, we were timed... 60 seconds. I could see the students become anxious as they raced to prep for the next lesson without a break.

*Our teachers knew that some lessons were developmentally inappropriate for children in our grade level but we had to "teach" them anyway. Few children mastered those lessons and some students became quite anxious. They wanted to measure up.

*Behaviorally disordered students were in our classrooms with no support. Students had to deal with those BD kids swearing, throwing things, and sometimes physically aggressive. I saw some students stressed to the max with simple fear of those classmates.

*We took recess out of our schedules to facilitate higher scores. How did that help relieve student stress?

I most certainly agree that we want to encourage resilience in children and don't want to pamper parents who overprotect their children but it might be good to consider how the current school environment contributes to student anxieties.

Gifted 08-25-2019 09:29 AM

As someone with actual diagnosed anxiety, I've found that the only real solution to alleviating it is to push THROUGH it... not to avoid what caused it, because that will never be realistic in all circumstances. What are we teaching students when we let them avoid uncomfortable tasks? Adulthood is just a constant series of them!

annie_g 08-25-2019 09:10 AM

I agree. I hope these parents are prepared to support these children as adults because their anxiety will no doubt keep them from holding down a job. Over my teaching career, I saw more and more of this every year. I really think a lot of it comes from the parents. I know there are children who really do have problems with anxiety, but the parents should be helping them learn ways to cope, not shielding them from doing any work at school.

Violet4 08-25-2019 08:08 AM

So it does bother me when people use it as a cop-out for their children. I think when anxiety does legitimately become an obstacle, it might be necessary to take a step back but it's empowering to go back and try again and still get your work done.

Claire 08-25-2019 07:42 AM

My dd14 has anxiety for real. However, she does all her assignments and is the hardest worker in everything she does. She faces challenges head on. She plays sports at a high level and maintains a's. I admire her determination and grit SO much. The parents are definitely enabling it to be used as a cop out.

Clarity 08-25-2019 06:43 AM

know about anxiety. In hindsight, I'm pretty sure I was anxious on the mornings when there was no food in the house and I had to wait until school lunch was served to eat (no free lunches back then, either, buy my mom paid in advance on the first of the month when her welfare check arrived).

I believe I was anxious walking to school in marginally warm clothing when it it was -10 or -15 degrees out. No, I'm not exaggerating.

I'm certain I was anxious when we were told we needed yet another dollar for a workbook, knowing I would go home and have to watch my mom have a melt-down over the expense.

And if I lost or broke my glasses - I won't even go there.

Guess what? I never mentioned it to anyone or let it get in the way of my academic performance. Because back then, my mom would have told me to just suck it up and do the best I could.

But seriously, at least I did not have to worry about not having the latest iPhone or a bulletproof backpack.

Singvogel 08-25-2019 06:30 AM

I, too, have seen an increase in anxiety and "sensitivity." The child is the one who is hurt in the end if the diagnosis is inaccurate, or no treatment is given.

Children don't persevere often. If they can't poke a series of buttons to get what they want, they quit.

If you push, you're mean.

Angelo 08-24-2019 08:28 PM

See... the thing is, we all have anxiety. To be human is to be anxious when confronted with something new, unfamiliar, unpleasant, challenging, whatever. Asking to be accommodated for anxiety is a bit like saying I have to be accommodated because I have bacteria in my body. Everybody has bacteria in their body, but that doesn't mean everyone is grievously ill from those bacteria. A few are (think nasty strep infection) and need to be treated and accommodated, but most are not. Healthy levels of anxiety allow us to perform, to compete, to get our work done, etc. And when anxiety becomes unhealthy, there are many ways to deal with it, some of which may require the assistance of professionals in the field.

Hypothesis: If I really wanted to, I could probably walk into my primary-care doctor's office on Monday and walk out with a note diagnosing me with an anxiety disorder. Since the primary diagnosis tends to be based on self-reported symptoms difficult to validate (or disprove) with objective, diagnostic tests (the tend to be based on answers to whichever standard questionnaire the physician is using), virtually anyone can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Of course, the idea is that you take the diagnosis AND a referral to a specialist for further evaluation and the development of a treatment plan. However, it's not uncommon for families to wave that initial "doctor's note" around the school at their leisure with no intention of following up.

In an alarming number of cases, we deal with students whose parents wave an anxiety diagnosis in our faces and demand extra time for tests, preferential scheduling, "cheat sheets" (memory aids) for math and science evaluations, liberal exemptions from assignments, come-and-go-from-class privileges, etc. When you ask how their therapy is going, they say they went once or twice to the therapist but didn't enjoy it or find it helpful. No intention of seeking out a new therapist. Okay... so let's see if I've got this. I have crippling anxiety, but not crippling enough, apparently, to actually cooperate with a treatment plan or follow through with behavioral therapy, but I still want all the school-level accommodations.

The frustration is that we know a few cases are legitimate, and we don't want to make a kid suffer. The problem is that statistics and common sense seem to dictate that the majority of "anxiety disorder" diagnoses we receive must be bogus.

I also deal with cases in which parents project their own mental health issues onto their kids. The student seems mostly okay, but mom comes in and hyperventilates, twists a tissue into knots, and at the slightest prodding, bursts into tears. Insists her kid has anxiety, but the kid seems mostly fine at school. Honestly... deal with your own issues. Talk to your doctor. Get into treatment. But don't project all your anxieties onto your kid and convince them they're the one who's actually ill. It happens more and more often.

Keltikmom 08-24-2019 08:00 PM

This excuse starts in primary grades. I taught second grade. First week of school,parents come to ask about GATE testing because their dd is a genius. Parents are psychologists . After one week I can tell kid is nowhere near GATE material. So I tell this to parents, as gently as possible.

Three weeks later I get the request for meeting because snowflake is having anxiety. I talk too loud. I push too hard, I have too strong a discipline program, etc.

Their solution? Whenever she feels stressed, she needs to go outside and “commune with the birds.”🙄

Okey dokey then. You win. Kid was an issue all the way through 5th grade. Never made GATE.

teenytiny 08-24-2019 07:41 PM

Yes, yes, and YES. I have seen exactly the same thing, in elementary. Anxiety has become a more and more popular excuse, and they apply the anxiety label to all kinds of behaviors including laziness, entitlement, oppositional and defiant behavior, rudeness, etc.

How I'm dealing with it is, I don't fight it. If the parents insist that the child has anxiety and shouldn't be pushed to do the work, then I don't push them. They don't get the work done. They don't learn any work ethic, they don't learn how to push through, the kids lose out.

That's what the parents want, that's what they get. The student is THEIR child. The parents are the problem, and they are the ones damaging their child. They'll live with those consequences.

tiredannie 08-24-2019 07:25 PM

Ok, so I'm two weeks into my new teaching job at a new district. I'm loving the support from my principal, colleagues, and division chair. Compared to my last district, classroom management has been a breeze. Overall, students are respectful and courteous. While my current school isn't perfect--it's definitely better than my previous teaching situation. There are so many pros to my new job and I do believe I made the right decision to switch districts. With that being said, I've already noticed something about the culture of this school that is getting under my skin--students and parents using "anxiety" as an excuse to be moved from classes and to not do work.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not denying that anxiety is real. Anxiety is definitely a real thing. I know because I've struggled with it on and off since I was a teenager. Being a teacher doesn't help at all, and working at my old district was giving my panic attacks almost daily (which is a big reason why I had to get out of there after four long years). I also have students who truly suffer from anxiety (mainly due to trauma), but you'd never know because they are soldiers who go through each day doing their very best. They never say, "I can't do this because I have anxiety."

What I'm referring to are the people who don't really have anxiety, but use it as an excuse because they know that the school won't question it. Thus, they get to have extensions on assignments, are able to opt out of assignments, and are even able to switch teachers because they claim they have anxiety. This is frustrating for me and for students who truly suffer from it.

I had a student drop my AP class because she said the first homework assignment gave her anxiety. Mind you, all they had to do was read an article (about a 10 minute read) and formulate one talking point to post to Google Classroom and to discuss during the next class session. Another teacher in my department experienced a mom calling the principal and demanding that her daughter be moved to another English class because the teacher gave her daughter anxiety. When the principal asked for her to be more specific, she said that the teacher gave her daughter a low grade on the first writing assignment of the year, which caused her daughter anxiety. Even though the teacher said the writing assignment was able to be revised and resubmitted for an increased grade, the mom was adamant that her daughter be moved to another teacher's classroom. Apparently, she wanted her moved to a certain teacher's class because the teacher has a reputation for being an easy grader (and not very challenging). Her demand was granted.

Students are falling apart at the seams when they are required to do work, when they encounter a challenge, or when they receive critiques. It's crazy. And the parents are worse. Instead of supporting their child by encouraging them to work harder and to utilize resources that will help them to become stronger students, the parents are taking issue with the school/teachers and giving excuses as to why their kid should have special treatment.

We did an activity in my sophomore English class revolving around developing a growth mindset and learning how to persevere when we encounter challenges. It was during our class discussion that I had several students express their frustration with peers who throw around excuses to underachieve--specifically the anxiety excuse. I was not only impressed by their maturity and insight, but I became curious as to why this issue isn't being addressed on a larger scale within the district.

Has anyone else experienced this at their schools? How are you dealing with it? I really think that this is coming from the parents--not the students. Nonetheless, it is still a problem. The education system has so many issues, but one that needs to be discussed more often is the lack of student resilience and grit, as well as the web of excuses that parents and students create in order to take the easy way out.

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