How to Stay Calm When Angry or Frustrated with Students

Learn how to stay calm when you're angry with or frustrated by your students from education consultant Grace Dearborn in this Howcast video.

How to stay calm when you are angry with a student? That’s a really good question. How do you stay calm, the first thing is assume the best about the student. You may be angry with that student because they are displaying some kind of chronic negative behavior or the behavior that they are displaying seems disrespectful or defiant to you. Let’s assume the best, the student wants to be appropriate and they want your help to get there and their misbehavior, that’s causing your anger, is just their way of asking for more help or more clarity about what they need to do and how they need to do it. They are fishing for who you are going to be together in the classroom, what your relationship is going to be but on this particular day you are angry and so controlling that anger is tricky because you can’t control when anger happens for you it just come out and it’s there.

But what you can control is what you do with that anger once it comes up for you. Teachers usually walk down the path generally of reactivity with anger or rational response with anger. Reactivity is I got angry I am done with you and I lash out at you and toxifying the environment for everybody and I might win that battle. I am angry at you, you are wondering around the classroom I might get you to sit down but I have lost the war because I am eroding safety for you and the rest of the class when I express that anger out back unto the class or unto a student. What I could do instead is a rational response, assume the best about the student, they want to be appropriate and they want my help to get there.

This is something we call the rrrgh technique because it starts with three Rs and the first R is recognize, recognize that you are angry because often times when we lash out at our students when we are angry it’s because we don’t realize that we are angry until we are already over the line, we are like seething, seething, seething, seething, seething and lash out at the student. So if we can recognize, if we can be consciously aware that we are angry in that moment then that will help us chose a more reasonable response even though we might be angry in that moment. Now this is a very quick hello anger have a cup of tea not a seven course meal we are not trying to wallow in that anger, we are just trying to recognize that it is so; so that we can have a more productive response.

The second R in the rrrgh techniques is re-orient yourself, really quickly assume the best about that student and that might be really quickly in your head saying, “This student wants to do better and wants my help to get there”, just re-orient your way towards them in a more compassionate, positive light and then do something really quick to calm down, for me I’ll take a big deep breath and then I’ll speak to the student; because that helps me clam down right before I speak to them. If counting up or down from five works for you that’s great do whatever works for you and that’s super fast though, so you can calm down right before you speak to them. And then when you speak to them use tone, volume and posture; what that means is that you use a calm serious tone of voice, lower the volume of your voice and square your posture to the student when you’re speaking to them.

Tone, volume and posture helps us maintain safety and structure and while I still may be angry internally I am not expressing that or lashing that out onto my student while I am speaking to them; because I would be calm, I will have a low volume and I will have a serious, square posture to them. While also assuming the best and staying calm in my body with a deep breath or counting down from five. That’s one way to deal with your own feelings of anger in the classroom.