Stress And The Student

A long while back when I first started out as a rookie tutor, making the student achieve that distinction grade was my one and only concern; after all, it was essentially what I was being paid to do. And for me it wasn’t a tall order. However, as the education landscape changed radically over the years, with excessive and ever increasing demands being forced upon youngsters, I have come to understand something far more delicate hangs in the balance: the mental well-being of our studious youths. In recent times I have personally encountered quite a few instances of students struggling to survive the overwhelming stress brought about by enormous expectations to perform in major tests/examinations, most notably the A levels. Some crumbled visibly and delicate, baby steps had to be taken to resuscitate their broken spirits; others transformed into obsessed, temperamental maniacs who would bite anyone at the slightest provocation.

This unhealthy emerging trend is the main reason motivating me to turn the spotlight on highly stressful environments presently existing within schools. In Singapore, most junior colleges strive to maintain (or improve ) its standing within the viciously competitive academic circles, and ultimately students are subjected to pressure cooker tactics by teachers in attempts to obtain that stellar institution report card. Lessons, more lessons, even more lessons. Better still, tighten the screws further and make everyone breathless by having compulsory supplementary classes during semester /term breaks. Truly “memorable” holidays. Assessment tests conducted once every term deemed too infrequent to keep the kids constantly on their toes? Make it a fortnightly affair then. Scoring below the cohort average for the latest set of quizzes? Off you go to remedial tutorials for some serious shaping up. Anything just to scare all shitless and produce textbook embracing robots. Anything just to keep the grades up. To hell with the importance of morale.

On occasions I have to assume the role of a counsellor when my student shows up for tuition with a pale, taut face and physically weakened constitution-obvious symptoms of silent suffering. He has injected two hundred percent of his soul and effort into school work, but the lightning fast tempo of things is still consistently getting the better of him. Three different subject tests within the span of a week. More horrors to come shortly. He hates his life, though knows that complaining achieves nothing whatsoever; his classmates are equally worn out and won’t give a genuine damn about people around them. School teachers certainly won’t loosen their grips over a bout or two of whining-they would typically shove one word of advice down your throat: ENDURE.

Then there are the young perfectionists. For this group of kids, failure is not an option. Mind you, their definition of failure is rather extreme; getting a B instead of an A is considered apocalyptic in magnitude. Clearly this “win them all” mind set is very suffocating, and the situation is further exacerbated with school teachers unloading heavy expectations on their already shaking shoulders. Factor in the insane cut-throat competition coming from peers, the formula for creating acerbic, volatile mammals with short fuses is complete.

Prolonged exposure to such undesirably painful settings of intensity/stress creates a dark abyss of emotional dysfunction and possibly depression, so somehow I had to act as a subtle psychological pressure vent to prevent my student from spiralling downwards and getting wrecked by this hellish mental black hole. Playing the hybridized educator/shrink role is extremely exhausting, but it has to be done to preserve the sanity of young ones. I can’t save everyone, and am not going to deny that I have failed miserably in some attempts previously; however that strengthens my resolve to soldier on and explore new methods to place my students on hard, safe ground.

Nothing describes junior college education more aptly than the phrase “survival of the fittest”. This trivial human being called me can’t change the rules of the game, but at least I can coach my charges to construct a learning style congruent with his abilities and come out relatively unscathed at the end of everything. To tutors, treat your students with concern beyond the paper chase domain. They need it. To students, don’t go too hard on yourselves. Peace and god bless.