Teacher Tuesday: Keeping the Cool

Life / Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Hi Friends:)

Fellow teachers who are reading this: Did your students BLOW UP last week, as well?

I don’t know what it is about the 6-week mark, guys. But for some reason every mid-October, my students lose their gosh darn minds. As a result, I spend most of late October and early November having one on one meetings with students, overseeing detentions, and sifting through emails from the disciplinary team, guidance counselors and concerned parents. It’s exhausting, especially when you’ve already put a lot of effort into preventing such melt downs.

Every student melt down looks a little different. Here are a few examples of what some of the more memorable meltdowns I’ve ever dealt with looked like.

  • I ask student to hand in homework. Student pushes desk across the room.
  • Student becomes agitated when they realize they have earned a 35% homework average, so they begin swearing at me. Loudly.
  • Crying teenager : “CAN’T YOU SEE I’M JUST SO OVERWHELMED I was up until two am watching netflix- I MEAN STUDYING! YOU’RE SO INSENSITIVE!”
  • Student cusses at me and walks out of class when I tell him that yes, the quiz I announced two weeks ago, that is on our classroom calendar, that I sent text reminders about, and that we have been prepping for in class for three days IS IN FACT happening today.
  • Student yells about human rights when I tell him to put his phone away for the 15th time in as many minutes.

I get asked a lot how I keep it together in moments like this. 

Here’s the thing; 95% of the time, my students are fabulous, funny, intelligent young people. The other 5% of the time they are completely hormonal and irrational. I hate it when students act out in a big way, and I obviously don’t enjoy when their misbehavior is angled in my direction. Whenever a student makes a scene or swears at me or calls me names, I feel embarrassed. I doubt myself and my decisions as a teacher. My face gets hot and I want to say something rude right back at them.

But that’s not how it works. Escalation is never the answer. Keeping calm is key. It can be hard, but it’s so important.

I remain cool in moments of crazy by remembering three things:

Firstly, I am not the one acting irrational. I make my expectations clear to students early on in the year, and I refer back to them often. Whenever a student tries to tell me I’m crazy for insisting that they follow basic expectations that they’ve been aware of since day one… I mean, I just have no reason to doubt my teaching abilities in a moment like these.

Secondly…weren’t we all irrational sometimes when we were teenagers? I sure was. Empathy and respect are also important.

Thirdly, you can’t fight fire with fire. that literally just makes a bigger fire. You need to model the behavior that you want from students! You can’t expect them to learn maturity if you’re behaving like a teenager yourself. 

Once I take a deep breath and remind myself of these ideas, I work to remove the student from the general classroom so he or she can have some privacy in their moment of hormonal-ness. I tell them calmly but firmly to either “Step out of the room,” or “Go to your dean’s office,” depending on the situation. If they ask “WHY?!?!” I just grab hold of whichever policy I am working to enforce, and I repeat it as many times as I need to. “Because you’ve used offensive language towards a peer, you need to step out of the room.”

Sometimes it takes a few tries- and a few teammates- to de-escalate a student in crisis. But through it all, I just hold on to my expectations, refuse to doubt myself, and eventually things always get calmer.

Teaching takes practice. My first few years in the classroom, I didn’t always keep my cool. Sometimes I lost my cool. Sometimes I raised my voice. Sometimes I was inconsistent. It was a trial and error process, just like anything!

So, to all you newer teachers: Hang in there. You’ll find your voice as time goes on!

Now You Tell Me…

  • What does a challenging day at work look like for you? 
  • How do you keep your cool in challenging moments? 
  • Requests for future teacher tuesday posts? 

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