The Affective Filter

IMG_2009 2You probably didn’t know this about me—because how would you?—but I used to teach. For about six years, I taught either Spanish or French to university students. I originally started teaching while I was a graduate student studying world languages, but once I finished my program, I was asked to stay on as an adjunct instructor. Eventually I even earned the grandiose title of “senior adjunct instructor,” which basically meant nothing except that I could sign contracts two years at a time instead of one term at a time. Teaching was an amazing and rewarding experience but also a very frustrating and demoralizing one, for a lot of reasons that aren’t pertinent to this blog or this post. Overall, though, there were a lot of great lessons I learned while teaching that have helped me in myriad other areas of my life, both personal and professional.

In the world of education, there are all these pedagogical theories and philosophies floating around, and not all educators incorporate all of those ideas in their practice, and that’s OK. In the same way that every student is different and has unique needs and skills, so is every teacher. Some teachers are great at teaching their students practical knowledge by way of song, for example, but I would rather bury my head in a sandbox than sing to a class of judgmental college students. But that’s just me. One of the most useful pieces of wisdom for me as a teacher was Krashen’s “affective filter” hypothesis. I promise I’m going to tie this back to the nudist/naturist community, just hang in there.

The affective filter, as it pertains to language instruction, is sort of like a screen that prevents a student from acquiring language. It generally refers to all of the external factors around the student and the language-learning environment that cause emotional distress for the student. When a student feels embarrassed to speak in front of the class or to make mistakes, it hinders learning. When the atmosphere of the classroom is negative or overly critical, it hinders learning. When a student is stressed about all sorts of other factors such as work, family life, or money, it hinders learning. This is probably true for more academic fields than just foreign language, but foreign language learning has a uniquely social aspect that relies on constant interaction and participation in order for the student to succeed. Frankly, nudism did a lot for my social anxiety, but pushing myself to engage more in the classroom while I was a foreign language student also helped me overcome some of those hurdles.

I can’t help but feel that this same hypothesis is relevant to nudism and naturism as well, especially for new participants. Imagine the first time you disrobed around others in a nudist setting. I am sure it wasn’t easy at first, and most newcomers find it to be a daunting experience as well, but we quickly forget about how much of a feat that once was for us once we’ve become comfortable in our own skin. It takes time, though, and patience. What will people think of my body? Will people look at me? Will they judge me? How will I even get there? What if I don’t like it? Can I afford the transportation and fees to get there? What if my family finds out? What if my work finds out? What if I see someone I know? What if I get an erection? What if I’m on my period? What if I’m the youngest person there? What if someone says something homophobic or racist? How long will it take me to feel at ease? It’s this unique social pressure that made me draw the connection to foreign language teaching, making these stressors the nudist equivalent of the affective filter.

In language education, the goal is to reduce the affective filter whenever possible, even if a lot of that filter exists in the anxious mind of the student. For the nudist community, it’s very much the same. These concerns and worries are all perfectly valid, even if not entirely tangible. Upon visiting a nudist club, most people will find that all of these concerns were unfounded and fall away with a little time spent nude in the company of others. So what should we do to reduce the filter if the filter exists in the minds of potential newcomers? Maybe there’s not much we can do, but we can at least be gentle. We can extend warmth and kindness to every new face and understand that getting naked around other people is extremely stressful if you’ve never done it before. We can be careful not to judge their unease or lack of confidence, or to put them on the spot when they may already be feeling anxious and shy. We can all act like the best teachers were remember from our youth. And maybe it won’t solve all the problems or reduce all the anxiety, but it can help.

Stay kind, my friends! We’re all dealing with stress and need a little understanding.