I entered the classroom for my first cohort feeling prepared, excited, and nervous, all at once. It had been a while since I was thrown into a room of middle school students to fend for myself, but I felt instantaneously invigorated as I laid out the materials for the day and students started to come in. Everything started as planned; I had the learners considering empathy and how they saw it in their day-to-day.
Then came the group work.
In the form of a game, I asked learners to employ empathy as they considered a set of fictitious characters’ incredibly relatable challenges. It was in the beginning moments of this exercise that Michelle* went under her desk.
While the rest of the class worked on the game, I gently lowered myself into a seated position next to her desk and asked:
“How are we doing?”
“I have anxiety.”
“Ooo. That’s hard. Well, stay here as long as you need. Whenever you’re ready, your group is right over here and we’re really excited to hear your ideas.”
It was a short conversation, and I wasn’t sure it would change anything, but when I turned around a moment later, there was Michelle–not only out from under her desk, but sharing her ideas with the group.
Middle school students’ words and ideas matter – all of them. And the world needs them now more than ever. I hope that as adults we will take the time to listen and learn alongside them. Even if it means sitting under a desk with someone so you can listen more clearly.
-Zane, Adventure Curator
You can read more about anxiety and school anxiety here.
*The student’s name has been changed to respect their privacy.