As a special education teacher for seventeen years, I have noticed that anxiety has become increasingly prevalent in the classroom.  Many of my students come to me with this disability, especially in a residential treatment setting. As a teacher, although I am not able to make anxiety disappear, I am able to reduce its affect on my students’ education with some simple accommodations and classroom practices.  One of the reasons why I enjoy teaching at Sunrise is that we have an extremely low teacher to student ratio, so all of these accommodations are fairly easy to implement and monitor.
The first accommodation and practice that I encourage in my classroom for students with anxiety is organization.  While this may sound overly simple, just being organized can help reduce anxiety because you are not constantly looking for things you need and you have an outline of what is needed and due for the week.  Once a week in my Study Skills class I do a binder and backpack check where I make sure that my students have everything organized.  If they are not, I give them time and assistance to get organized.  We also have our students use a daily planner.  This is invaluable for them in keeping track of assignments and due dates, and making a plan on how they want to get everything done for the week.
In relation to being organized, I establish routines and procedures in my classroom.  I do this for common everyday things such as attendance, assignment turn in, and lesson plans.  I noticed that this is invaluable for students with anxiety because it makes my class predictable.  They know exactly what is going to happen in my classroom and how it is going to be done.  An example of how I do this is that I always put my lesson plans on the top of the board along with due dates.  This allows my students to know what we are doing today, and when it will need to be done.  Then they are able to write all of this down in their planners, where they can refer back to it.
When there are changes to the routine, such as exams and projects, I “pre-coach” my students.  In other words, I tell them what is coming up and what the expectations will be.  Many times, but not always, I will give them examples of what I will be looking for.  I do this early enough to allow my students to plan ahead.  For students that I know suffer from great anxiety over schoolwork, I will meet with them individually to discuss assignments in further detail and allow them to ask questions.  Here I can assist them in planning on how they want to get it all done, while allowing them to express whatever frustrations or anxieties they may have.
Another important accommodation that I use in my classroom for students with anxiety is “chunking” major assignments and projects.  By chunking, I mean breaking major assignments down into smaller manageable pieces.  While watching the Olympic Marathon as a child I remember the winner of the race telling a reporter that he never ran 26 miles.  He claimed that instead of running 26 miles, he ran 1 mile 26 times, and that was the secret to his success.  I have always remembered that advice and have tried to implement it in my own life and the lives of my students.  Instead of looking at the whole, I have them break things down into smaller, achievable goals.  Once they finish a goal, they move on to the next one.  Step by step, they complete the smaller goals and thus they get done what they thought they would never be able to accomplish.
Anxiety is a challenge in the classroom and in life, but you can help students to manage it.  Here at Sunrise we have the resource and abilities to help our students be successful.
–         Written by Jeff Rohwer, BS, Special Education Teacher at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center