Teacher Anger: What to do When You’re Reaching the Breaking Point

Do you ever reach a point where you’ve just had it with your students—they still aren’t following directions you’ve repeatedly delivered, they’re still talking not so quietly in the back of the room, and too many of them are still turning in work that has been dashed off at the last minute?

So what do you do? March into class and more or less let them have it?

Well, if you do, you certainly are not alone. In a study of teacher anger, researchers asked students to think of a specific teacher who had become angry in class and then describe that angry episode. Only five of the 301 students asked could not think of an angry-teacher event.

Specifically, these researchers were interested in seeing if they could identify some conditions under which the expression of teacher anger was seen as violating expected norms for teacher behavior. In a nutshell, they discovered that “teacher anger is not in and of itself a classroom norm violation. It is the manner in which anger is expressed that defines it as a norm violation.” (p. 85)

Expressions of anger by teachers are deemed appropriate when teachers “avoid intense, aggressive anger displays and instead assertively and directly discuss the problem with the class.” (p. 85) When they have those discussions, teachers are well advised to be fair and open and to consider carefully student perceptions of what has happened and why.

Put another way, even if you’re mad as hell, you want to turn down the volume, you don’t want to use a lot of emotional language, you don’t want to throw things (chalk, papers), you don’t want to exaggerate (not every last person in the class is lazy), you don’t want to turn red and look as though a stroke may be imminent, and you don’t want to be rude or condescending. You want to describe how student behavior affects you and what it causes you to do and to think. You also want to propose some alternatives—identify behaviors that are appropriate. You know yourself best, but sometimes it makes sense to let the intense wave of emotions pass before you respond. You want to control your emotions rather than let them control you.  … Read More

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