Guest Blog Post: Working through Panic Attacks and Stress in the Classroom

Randi Tolentino (@mizanoa on Twitter)

Randi is the PD coordinator and Technology Trainer in her district. First in her family to graduate from college, she went into teaching ten years after graduating after working in the corporate sector. She is a busy lady with three sons andhas coached JV and Varsity softball. Like most teachers, she has a hard time saying no! Hi, Stress. My name is Randi.

What my schooling didn't prepare me for was how to handle all the anxiety of the school environment I was in. During my first semester, I developed health issues and was put on several medications (including one for depression and one for anxiety).

I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and couldn't even enjoy a surprise family vacation to a beach over fall break because of the intense panic attacks I suffered.

I truly believe had I been in a different school, or larger district, my first year may have been more positive; however, I wouldn't trade my experiences, since they have helped shape the educator I am today.

And, more importantly, our classes wouldn't have reached the level of trust we did.

I was having multiple panic attacks a day, and it wasn't until the most severe of the attacks (and several doctor visits later) that I had my realization.

Some of my students must feel exactly the same way. Being expected to learn about the Civil War when they don't have a place to sleep, haven't eaten in a week, have to work at night to support their siblings-- these were just some of the numerous situations that they were experiencing.

It was at that time I realized I needed to find ways within the relationships of my students to work with them to find ways to help them be successful, without compromising the high expectations I had for them.

Gaining the trust of the kids I worked with was not an easy thing to do-- many of them had come to rely on people leaving them and not caring, so it took them a long time for them to believe that I did care and would not leave. Once that trust was established, and they knew they were safe in my room, they were able to tell me some of the heartbreaking stories that were their lives.

At that point, we were able to adjust due dates when necessary, rework assignments to meet the various learning styles (without them realizing that was what we were doing), and whatever else I could do to help them find success.

Once they truly believed I was on their side, they were willing to work hard for me (and themselves).

On those days when the panic would take over, I would feel overwhelmed and like I wasn't going to make it.  I was able to tell my kids it was a rough day, and through our mutual respect for and trust of each other, they understood, and would take themselves down a notch -- but it took us quite awhile to get to that point.

Up until then, I was a basket case-- crying every night and jittery every day due to my nerves. Those kids have a permanent place in my heart and reaffirmed the reason I went into education in the first place. Those kids are the reason I advocate for meeting kids where they are, while still holding them to high standards. Those kids are the ones who need to know someone cares because all their lives they have been told that no one does.

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