Now you’re talking: Classroom staple strikes issue with students


Art by Valeria Velasquez

Multiple Authors

Public speaking aides youth
In the United States, anxiety disorders affect 25.1 percent of adolescents between 13 and 18-years-old, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Though there are many types of anxiety disorders, feelings of nervous panic generally interfere with daily activities, are hard to control and can last a long time, according to Mayo Clinic.
School, TIME reports, can become an anxiety-inducing environment for teenagers. And when teenagers spend 900 to 1,000 hours on average in school per year, according to the Center for Public Education, school becomes a prominent part of a student’s time in adolescence.
In September, American adolescents took to Twitter to demand changes in classrooms to reduce anxiety producing projects. They posted many tweets insisting teachers abolish classroom presentations, as public speaking causes students with anxiety too much stress and nervousness and grading them on their presentations skills is unfair. The individuals believed anxious adolescents should have the option of completing an alternative assignment in place of presentations, according to The Atlantic.
At first look, it makes sense to listen to the teenagers on Twitter and omit presentations for students struggling with anxiety; schools should not force students into emotionally and mentally challenging situations, especially when those teens have a diagnosed disorder that hinders their abilities to cope with those situations. Delving deeper into the circumstances; however, that is not the best solution to the issue.
Though being sensitive to teenagers with stress disorders is imperative to helping them overcome their fears, allowing kids to opt out of presentations in place of other assignments debilitates them from learning and growing. Teenagers need the skills learned in public speaking situations for their futures, and one of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to face the circumstances that causes it.  
After school ends and teenagers are looking for jobs, a strength many employers look for is effective communication. Executives and hiring managers rank oral communication skills as the top most crucial ability a college graduate should have, at 80 percent to 90 percent important, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Practicing often and refining conversation skills in many forums, such as one-on-one interviews, group discussions and presentations, will best help create strong communication abilities, according to the University of Bradford. Though students with anxiety do not enjoy speaking in these situations, they can gain confidence in speaking by participating and developing their conversation capabilities.
Additionally, those struggling with anxiety can best overcome their fears by facing them. A treatment for this disorder that ADAA recommends is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy called exposure therapy. Therapists gradually expose patients to the feared situation or object so that the patient becomes less sensitive to it overtime. For students, this could mean doing one or two presentations to smaller sized groups and adding more people as time progresses. Having teenagers work their ways up to bigger presentations is better than omitting presentations entirely, as it allows them to improve upon communication skills and getting  used to presenting in front of many people.
Students should not ask for opting out from every presentation assignment, but work with their teachers to figure out specific accommodations they may need to feel more comfortable. This way, teenagers can learn important public speaking skills and experience situations that may be nerve wracking but also provide a safe place to learn how to overcome anxiety. 
Teachers should listen and provide assistance to adolescents who ask for help. A balance should be in place; the student should feel as comfortable as possible while also experiencing a little challenge to learn from.
Problems follow presentations
Your heart pounds and a fist is squeezing your heart. Inhale. Exhale. You stumble, trembling like a hypothermic, your world unfocused and fading. It’s so bad that it can’t be real. This can’t be real. You look around for the thing you are sure is seconds from slaying you. “Ok,” says your teacher. “Start whenever you’re ready.”
When students conduct presentations, they gain valuable communication skills and prepare for future professional and academic settings, according to the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences.  Those with an anxiety disorder, however, are not in the same position as their peers when it comes to presenting.
A fear of speaking in public is a common symptom. It is one of the major symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) or social phobia, according to Mental Health America.
Last month, on Twitter, a user by the name of “Leen” posted a tweet receiving more than 132,00 likes and over 400,000 retweets calling for students to be given an alternative assignment choice to presentations. She is one of the many who took to Twitter to petition for an end to what they view as a discriminatory assignment towards those with anxiety, according to Let Grow.
Teachers push kids out of their comfort zones, but for Leen and other teens with diagnosed anxiety, this is more than an uncomfortable experience. Using exposure therapy to make kids face their fears is merited as one of the most effective methods for treating anxiety, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, but implementing this strategy in front of a classroom full of peers could prove more traumatizing than beneficial.
Granted, teachers have students’ best interests at heart, but that doesn’t prevent negative outcomes. The just-suck-it-up attitude and tough love mentality can work for some and at times a gentle nudge of encouraging is all a kid needs to overcome their anxious emotions. But some people with anxiety are less prepared than others to face their mental illness. One in four American adolescents 13-18 have an anxiety disorder including SAD, and if left untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at high risk to perform poorly in school, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
This is a valuable opportunity to evaluate the methods by which we handle those with anxiety and mental illness as a whole and make education more fitted for people’s needs.
An alternative assignment to a presentation, such as an essay or a prompted short answer response, can be just as effective in assessing understanding of the curriculum. One can learn communication skills through other forums. Students also learn skills they will use in the real world like college applications, which sometimes require essays, an important factor in the admissions process, according to the College Board.
If a student with an anxiety disorder feels comfortable enough, the alternative assignment option could be a one-on-one exit interview or a modified oral presentation that uses a pre-recorded narration with timed transitions that ease them into public speaking.
Forcing a student with anxiety to do a presentation can be detrimental to not only their mental health, but also their education. If the student feels marginalized by an assignment, they will be less likely to participate.
The distress that presentations impose on those with anxiety disorders creates an attitude of apathy and disinterest towards their classes. By innovating educational models better suited to the needs of students with these disorders, schools and teachers can help create an inclusive learning environment that is safe and stimulating for everyone.What is your opinion on giving in-class presentations? Should students with anxiety be exempt? Let us know in the comments below!