Teachers are human. It is inevitable that you are going to get mad at individuals or groups of students within your classroom when they are being naughty, disrespectful or just generally not doing what you intend for them to do.
So how do we handle this teacher anger, which is a very powerful emotion?
Yelling is never the answer
It is absolutely critical that a teacher never yell (or talk angrily with great volume) at her students. Yelling has the immediate result of tearing your community apart and shredding the teacher-student relationship that you are working so hard to build.
I was once visiting a teacher in a different building. As we were talking, we became aware of a teacher in the hallway yelling very loudly at a student – a second grader! Among other things, she was calling him a baby.
The teacher I was visiting shrugged her shoulders and said, “It may not sound like it, but she really is a good teacher.”
No. No she's not. I place her behavior on the “child abuse” spectrum.
As much as it might feel satisfying to vent your frustration and anger, you are fooling yourself if you think you are teaching a child anything by yelling at her.
Effective teachers have better choices than yelling; choices that involve teaching a lesson rather than simply venting an emotion.
Words carry weight
Compare this approach:
“What you are doing is making me angry, stop it immediately.” (Spoken in a raised voice.)
…with this one:
“Your choices are making me so frustrated so that I want to yell. I expect you to change what you are doing quickly so you are meeting expectations.” (Spoken in a firm, normal voice.)
Notice the difference?
In the second example you are making the child aware that their actions have consequences and reminding of the classroom expectations. When they choose how to act they are influencing the way another person feels.
Consequences may seem obvious to us adults, but elementary school children may never have had this pointed out to them… and you can't assume that they understand the concept to the level that they should.
Essentially you are saying:
“Other people have feelings and what you do affects those feelings.”
So instead of simply telling them to stop misbehaving, teach them something at the same time. After all that's our job! And since you have built a great relationship with them, they won’t want to damage that sense of community.
Another common phrase that I use with my children is this:
“You've made a poor choice. Please sit off to the side and I will accept an apology when you are ready to give one.”
If there is any teacher-student relationship in place, most students will provide the apology to get back into your good graces and to rejoin the activities of the class. But you'll need to give them some time to ponder it and calm down a bit.
It doesn't work in a vacuum
Here's the sticking point, however: These techniques can be very effective in getting children to modify their behavior, but don't fool yourself into thinking that these techniques will work if you have not already established a close-knit classroom community where the children value (and even perhaps love) their teacher and each other.
I know that if I tell a child that they are making me angry and ask for an apology, I will invariably get one simply because Mrs. Weigle is their favorite teacher.
However, I know exactly what would have happened if one of my teaching partners from the last few years had asked for an apology from one of his students. This teacher had no classroom community at all and regularly yelled at and berated his students – that could be him in the picture above! ; )
If he were to ask for an apology, their outright refusal to do so would have been very predictable… and understandable.
Never stop teaching
So how, exactly, do we deal with teacher anger? By doing what we do – teaching. I'm not saying it's easy, but we channel those intense feelings into a teachable moment…then step into the hallway if we need to take a few deep breaths!
Compare the end result with what you get from unloading, and you'll see that yelling now will only lead to more yelling later.