Saturday, April 30, 2016

You Lost Your Patience with a Student and Feel Terrible... Now What?

We've been getting asked a really similar version of the same question recently in our Emotional/Behavioral Support Crew Group, and I know most teachers have been there at some point, so that brings us to today's blog post.

Christy asked, "Some days I feel like I handle situations well and other days I have an overwhelming feeling of guilt and disappointment with regard to how I handled a situation. I don't always handle a behavior in the best way. I know I am only human but it crushes me! Do you have things you do to build yourself back up? How do you cope with feelings of regret or left-over frustration with yourself?"

Krista asked, "Do you ever lose your temper and then feel really bad about it afterward? I yelled at [some students] today and now I feel bad... And I had just had a proud moment with one of them the other day, and now another set back! Ugh!"

You may not feel like it, but you're one of the good ones.

After losing your patience with a student, you're feeling guilty, sad, frustrated, the whole nine. You can replay it, lose sleep, and beat yourself up over it, but will that change what happened? Nope. My friend's grandma used to say, "Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." Remind yourself of this: The fact that you asked this question, decided to read this blog post, or gave it a second thought-- that shows that you're one of the good ones. You care, and that's everything. Remind yourself that you're one of the good ones, and allow yourself permission to get off the rocking chair.

Looking back on a situation, it's pretty easy to see what we should've, could've, or would've done. It's easy to see how we should have responded to stimuli when we take the emotion and environmental factors out of the equation. In the moment we lost our cool, though, we were experiencing responses to emotional and environmental factors. We had a meeting and paperwork during lunch (low blood sugar), high pressures due to state testing and work demands (stress), lack of time needed to complete important tasks (anxiety), and a class of students who need us (passion). So look at this objectively-- Low blood sugar + stress + anxiety + passion = Ut-oh. We learned all about Maslow's Hierarchy of Need in our educational preparation, and guess what? That same stuff applies to adults, as well.

Behavioral caregivers and educators sometimes experience what is known as secondary trauma. It is under the umbrella of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. People who care for individuals who have experienced trauma may themselves experience traumatic responses. Self-care is incredibly important here. It is crucial to cut yourself a break. You are only human. It can be incredibly difficult to manage the demands of teaching and also experience daily emotional and/or physical aggression. Reach out to the teachers in your building who may teach students who have experienced significant trauma, and come to them with something positive. Often, teachers of students who have significant behavioral needs have several teachers come to their classrooms each day with "bad news," and that can be difficult, as well.

But We Can't Make Excuses. We Must Make Amends.

Still, though, we can't make excuses. If we made those excuses every day and didn't work to modify our own behavior, we'd be as "highly effective" as Mr. Kimball, Madame Umbridge, Miss Trunchbull, Mr. Garrison, Ms. Halsey, any of Charlie Brown's teachers, Mr. Rooney, or Ferris' Bueller's economy teacher. So what can we do?

Channel the guilt into making yourself better. What will you change in the future? What will you do the next time you feel frustrated with this particular student-- or another? How will you take care of yourself? Maybe start walking or running, practicing yoga, buying an adult coloring book, meditating, taking up a hobby, therapy, whatever helps you. Write a behavior plan-- for the student, and then one for yourself. Tell yourself what you would tell your student, that it's okay to feel angry, but with self-control we don't have to act angry... angrily? Grammar fail. Keep track of how often you do keep your cool, and make that your new goal/habit. Maybe reward yourself when you keep up with your goal.

Remind yourself why you went into teaching. Be the teacher you'd like to have when you were a student. We can uplift or crush our students' spirits. Make it your mission to give this student some extra attention and praise this week. Make it your mission to uplift his or her spirits all day tomorrow.

As they say, often the students who need the most love may ask for it in the most unloving ways.

Use it as a Teachable Moment

I remember being in school, and my teacher got really frustrated with us. Our whole class kept talking, and she had patiently asked us to stop about a bazillion times. It was a gorgeous spring day outside, and we just wanted to go out for recess. I had just learned how to whistle and started whistling, completely unaware that this was not something you should do in the classroom. I had done it at home, and everyone praised me, and at recess the day before I was the cat's pajamas. My teacher, in her deepest and angriest voice, whisper-yelled, "WHO is WHISTLING?" Then, one of the kids in my class yelled, and all the kids giggled, and my teacher slammed her hand on her books. We became dead-silent. Then she looked at us, giggled, and said, "Oops, I didn't mean to slam my hand that hard. I'm sorry I lost my temper." One of the kids in my class apologized for yelling, too.

We had a conversation about how even teachers lose their tempers sometimes and what it feels like to repeatedly ask someone to do something and have them not do it. She called a couple kids up to the front of the room to be the "teachers," and my teacher pretended to be a "student." The "teachers" had to call out a demand, but the "student" kept ignoring them, being silly, etc. Eventually, the "teachers" were yelling at her to listen. It was a lightheated way for her to get her message across, and all she'd have to say was, "Repeating myself is no fun," and we'd all behave. We felt respected, and we understood her.

Next time you lose your cool, just apologize and use it to model appropriate behavior. Teach kids how to treat you and each other in the calm moments, too. You lost your cool because you care. Your regret stems from love, and the kids will certainly pick up on that.

When You're About to Yell, Try This Instead

Sometimes, if I am reaching my breaking-point and feel like yelling, I will whisper instead. Not in a creepy or she-may-have-a-screw-loose kind of way, but in a fun way. "If you can hear me [take out your book, grab a pencil, clean up, pat your head and rub your belly]." The kids who are listening will do it, and soon the rest of the class will wonder why everyone is doing it and will get on board. Other times, I'll tell them my throat hurts and that I don't want to have to talk over them. Sometimes I'll say I am starting to feel frustrated and would like to feel proud instead and ask if they can help me with that. Works like a charm. Empathy works wonders here. Occasionally, I'll use a pouty lip face. I channel my best inner Pout Pout Fish, puppy-dog eyes, and just look at my class. It quiets them instantly. Then I'll give them a big smile. Thankfully I teach elementary school, but you maybe could get away with this if you make it super obvious you're joking in the upper grades. Here and there, I'll pull the Hulk card and tell the class they wouldn't like me when I'm angry. I say it with a smile, of course. From time to time, I will clap a pattern for the kids and have them clap it back. I'll tell them I'm watching for kids who are [insert appropriate behavior] to high-five. A lighthearted, "Really?" with a headshake and a smile sometimes is more redirecting than a yell. Humor is a great de-escalator, because it lights up an entirely different part of the brain. When you want to yell, pull out a positive reinforcement strategy instead.

Replace, "Why doesn't anyone have their books out?!" with "I'm looking to see who has his or her book out and is ready to go."

Instead of, "Stop talking!" try, "I love how nice and quietly [so-and-so] is working." (Careful with upper grades- may embarrass students. Instead, "I see a few of you working quietly, and I really appreciate that/it will be reflected in your grade/etc.")

Rather than, "Sit down!" use, "Who is making me proud and sitting in his or her seat?"

Instead of, "We're not going to have time to get through this!" say, "Remember yesterday (or in September) when you were really quiet and worked hard on your paper? That was awesome. I appreciate when you do that. Let's do that again today!"

Replace, "You need to pay attention!" try, "What a difference it makes when you pay attention and put forth your best effort. If you keep that up, I see really big things for you/you'll probably earn an A on this assignment/your reading will improve so much."

When you want to yell, point out something they did well instead, and ask them to emulate it again. Caution-- when a child hasn't experienced success or doesn't believe in herself, this won't be motivating. Try first showing the child one small thing she did better today than she did yesterday, and tell her it was because of her hard work or how proud you are of her. Then, tell her that she can use that same effort again to do whatever task you ask of her next.

The Pep Talk

We have a lot of stress, and sometimes even trauma, that we bring with us as we look out at all the little faces in our classrooms. Hindsight is 20/20; worry is a rocking chair; and you are human. It's okay to not be 100% all the time, as long as you keep working to be better than you were yesterday. Your regrets stem from love, and you reacted strongly because you care. You really, really care. That is evidenced by the fact that you've read this post, lost some sleep, or cringed at yourself. Guilt won't change what has happened, but you can channel that guilt into making a plan for the future. Cut yourself a break as you hold yourself accountable. Think of each guilty moment as the learning experience that brings you closer to being the teacher you want to be. Shower that kid with tons of positive attention moving forward. Learn from it. Forgive yourself. You are one of the good ones. You just had a day. Make tomorrow a better one.

Have you been there? Do you have any other ideas that help? Share in the comments below.


  1. I needed this pep talk so much! I lost my cool with a student yesterday and have been beating myself up for it since then. Thanks for this post!

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  3. Aw, you're welcome, Ms. Kerri! We've all been there. I appreciate your comment. High five for being one of the good ones!

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  10. This is very helpful. I completely lost it and yelled at an entire 5th grade class during their lunchtime to get them quiet so they can hear their lunch choices. I'm the lunch/recess monitor so I'm responsible for getting them in on time, making sure they get their lunch and waiting for their teacher's to pick them up. But yesterday, they came in and just kept talking while I was trying to call the lunches. Which every time they get in the wrong line, they blame me saying they couldn't hear. But they wouldn't stop talking to hear the choices, they ended up having a silent lunch and talked through that, it was time to clean up and they didn't even hear the instructions. Their teacher's came and they talked over the teacher's, refused to stop when they asked them, and would not stop when I told them to so that the right classes can line up with their teacher's. I was trying to hold back my frustration, but I blacked out and was just yelling uncontrollably for them to stop talking. Every little voice I heard I just yelled and they still refused. I ended up yelling more than I usually do and it was a from the diaphragm yell, then they were silent. I left shaking out of frustration and anxiety after they left and I feel bad because that's not how I am, I hate yelling and when I get to that place, you can't go back and it's bad. How can I tell them differently to be quiet for a few minutes in the beginning of their lunch period so they can get their lunch, without losing control of myself and my frustrations? I'm sorry it's so long but I'm running out of patience and alternative strategies.

  11. Hey, Christina! Thanks so much for sharing that. I can completely empathize and appreciate you being so honest. I think it’s awesome that you’re willing to work on it. Do you have Pinterest? There are sooo many awesome ideas if you search “lunch duty management.” A lot of buildings have also set up microphones in the cafeteria so you can talk over the crowd without having to raise your volume. There are also noise-o-meter websites that you can project onto a blank wall to help them monitor their volume. Good luck!!