In a recent discussion board for my Classroom Management class through Liberty University Online, a fellow classmate opened up about her struggles with managing her own anger when dealing with problem students in her classroom. To her post I gave the following reply:
Hi K.! I really appreciate your willingness to share about your personal struggles with managing your frustration and temper when dealing with challenging students! I can totally relate: I am not naturally the most patient person! I just wanted to encourage you that, through the Lord’s power, you can begin to always respond in a patient manner with all students, as well as to share several strategies that have helped me in this area. First and foremost, we must remember that we cannot manufacture patience in ourselves. Rather it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, New Living Translation), and is something that we must pray for the Lord to produce in us as we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25).
There are certain things that you can do, though, that will help you in the midst of difficult situations. The first strategy that works to diffuse anger caused by feelings of frustration and helplessness when dealing with an obstinate child is extremely simple and yet so effective: drink water! Keep a water bottle handy, and, whenever you feel your throat tightening in frustration, take a moment to take a few good gulps of the cool water. It really does work! 🙂
Another strategy that has helped me is to always speak in a low, calm, soothing voice, no matter how the student is speaking. Not only does this help to keep your confrontation with the student private, but it also helps to calm down their own defiance and anger. Use this quiet, soothing tone to express understanding of the internal struggle with self that the child is experiencing (“I know it’s hard to obey when you really, really want your own way…”), but also encourage them to make the right choice (“…but I know you will feel so much happier when you do what I’ve asked”). In this way, you keep yourself calm and also put yourself in the child’s shoes—it’s a lot harder to get angry with a child when you realize just what an intense struggle is warring inside of them between good and evil.
Lastly, in the words of Burden (2013), “stay in control of yourself” (p. 225). This became my mantra when I first starting subbing as a paraprofessional last year. I took the job with all sorts of glamorous theories about how easy working with children is when a teacher just has the right balance of praise and consistent discipline. I had forgotten the factor of children’s freedom of choice. You as a teacher can do everything right, and a child can still choose to take the wrong course or simply refuse to work with you. And this is when I began to experience overwhelming feelings of frustration, anger, helplessness, and failure. Then I realized that I cannot control my students; the only person I can control is myself. Really, I cannot even control myself in my own strength, but have to rely on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And He is only a prayer away (Luke 11:13). I hope you find these strategies helpful! Wishing you the best!
Burden, P. (2013). Classroom management: Creating a successful K-12 learning community [5th ed.]. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.