Losing It (In the Classroom)

Tim “VidSnacks” Holt posts another example of a teacher losing it in the classroom and being caught on video.  Students have cameras and audio recorders in their pocket?  Should we be surprised?

The teacher who was caught on tape has since resigned and the news story has interviews with union officials and administrators pointing fingers in all directions.  Teachers yell at kids all the time.  I find it a little disingenuous that we treat videotaped verbal beatings as if they’re worse than the yellings that go on every day unrecorded.  Are administrators really unaware that there are teachers on their staffs who yell?  I find it hard to believe that this was a one-time incident for this teacher.

One of the values I bring to my classroom is that kids are people.  Shocking, I know.  I don’t implement any rule that I wouldn’t expect to be a rule in a faculty meeting and I talk to my students as I would talk to my colleagues.  Have I ever gotten mad in the classroom?  Yes.  We’re people too.  But one of the most effective things I do is to say in a perfectly calm voice, “I am getting very upset with you (class) right now and I need to calm down.”  I go to my desk and shuffle paperwork for a minute and come back to the front of the class.  This works in my classroom only because students get to a point where they really care about me and know that the feelings are mutual.

Admittedly, teaching in the upper grades might be different.  But do your students know that you care about them?  I don’t mean that you bring them stickers, I mean that they know you want them to do well and are interested in what they’re interested in?  Do your students feel like people in your classroom?

13 Responses to Losing It (In the Classroom)

  1. You are right about the misdirection being used here. The fault is the teacher losing his cool to that extent. That was wrong not the recording.

    My principal told us in a faculty meeting that if you dislike our kids – this isn’t a good fit for you. Transfer forms are on the district web site. He means it and I get it.

    Have I ever yelled? Yes – Freeze at least once a day as a 1st or kinder tries to walk away from the computer with the headphones on and mouse in their hands. Have I ever cussed and shouted obscenity? No – not even the time the tech people moved a box behind me as I was teaching. I fell head over heels and smacked my head on the hard floor. The recitation of the alphabet was rather spirited.

  2. “Are administrators really unaware that there are teachers on their staffs who yell”

    I am a first-year teacher and a person who in my “regular” life never yells. I never once yelled at a child when I was student teaching, babysitting, etc… This year, I have yelled at my students more than I care to admit. I hate myself for it and every time I do it, I get more upset…at myself. When I reflect on why I’m doing it, I realize that a huge part is that I see my principal yell at kids all the time. I had a hard time figuring out what to do with my students with more difficult behavior in the beginning, and I think I took to yelling because thats what I saw my principal doing. I actually feel like he would be proud of me for doing it.

    Btw, I am trying to get a job at another school for next year because I think staying at this one will only continue to negatively affect me as a professional.

  3. @Laura

    Thank you for your honesty. My intent is/was not to make teachers feel bad about themselves. If you “hate yourself” then obviously that unhappiness reaches the kids in this case via yelling. Kudos for you for recognizing that it’s not helpful even in the face of poor models of behavior.

    Know that it’s not uncommon for teachers at the beginning of their careers to use a raised voice more often than an experienced classroom teacher because they haven’t yet found that inner strength. You’ll find it. Good luck to you.

  4. Laura you are right about the culture of your school effecting the way you react. Until a couple of years ago my building was semi open concept. Some point they had put up “walls” that were open at the top. I had a “sound dampening” curtain between me and the room next door.

    I didn’t think much of it till a yeller was moved in next door. I mean someone that would turn red faced yelling at kids. My kids started to complain that I was yelling like next door neighbor about October. We are in a pod set up with 4 rooms that have a common area and feed into the breezeway.

    The teachers in the next pod that had the rooms in my position and her’s started complaining to me about her screaming. The one in my position could hear her through the metal wall/chalk board and the one in her spot could hear her through the vents. Thankfully our favorites playing principal had been moved when she and her favorites (including yeller) got into a tiff that blew up and brought the district admin into the school. Our new at the time principal (veteran principal just new to our school) wrote her up and put her on an improvement plan. That helped with the tone in the pod. I worked really hard on my tone that year to stop falling into that trap.

    There is also a difference between raising your voice and screaming. My current principal will not tolerate screaming at the students – but is an army vet and knows how to pitch his voice to be heard over bedlam that is 5 classes of 5th graders descending on the ramp outside their portables from specials. When someone else said I was screaming at a group of kids – he said no look at her body language she is pitching her voice to be heard over a group not screaming. We have tried the hand signal thing that Fred Jones and Wong tout but it never seems to work with our kid. Some type of call out call back works better. “If you can hear me clap once” clap “clap twice” clap clap “Say superstar” Superstar

  5. It is such a simple concept, to treat students like people. I try to do this daily, and when a student needs discipline I try to treat them like I do my own children. I spend enough time with my students to see they are humans with all the frailties that entails. The last thing they need is one more adult bagging on them.

  6. Mathew,
    I teach high school kids, and when I’m at my wits end and feel like yelling, I just go to my desk and sit down and wait- kind of centre myself. The kids notice and then we talk about what’s going on and how I feel about it and sometimes thye tell me how they feel. After our discussion, class continues. They can understand that I’m frustrated because they are not doing their best. Sometimes, I do lose it and then I apologize and then we talk about that. I tell students that teachers are human first and teachers second and because we are human we make mistakes and sometimes handle things badly. I tell them we are all in this together. They understand.

  7. One of the many reasons we chose a private school for our children was the amount of yelling we heard in our public school. There wasn’t any in the Kindergarten classroom, to be sure, but we saw several teachers yelling at kids for minor, minor problems. One teacher insisted her 4th graders stand like statues while waiting for their turn in the hallway to use the bathroom. Each time a student twitched she had a fit. That was not what we wanted for our kids.

    In the school we chose the teachers are required to behave with respect toward the students. These are not wishy washy teachers; they are sometimes very firm when it’s required. But they speak in respectful tones to EVERYONE, including students. When a student isn’t behaving the way a teacher would like, the teachers go over the expectations again and review the situation to see if there were high barriers to meeting the expectations. Most teachers spend time with their classes developing a sense of community and setting patterns for problem resolution so that when there is a problem everyone knows the path for solving it.

    I teach at a nursery school, we we do the same stuff with the little kids. We act as though a child who is misbehaving either doesn’t know the expectations or is not able to meet them for some reason, whether that reason is internal (maybe lack of practice or hunger) or external. Then we try to solve the problem. A child will do well if he can, I believe.

    http://preschoolpatti.blogspot.com/

  8. I never yell at my (college) students, because I’m not the yelling type; instead, I get intensely irritated, and that can come across as meanness. I have been working on developing an approach more like yours, at saying, “I’m really irritated right now, so just give me a second.” I’ve also tried explaining why I’m irritated, to the whole class. The best approach, though, seems to be just talking to the kids privately and explaining, “If you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to ask you to leave.” And then asking them to leave when they keep doing it. It’s hard to fight our natural tendencies, though; what I really want to do is glare and snarl and then ignore them, but that is not productive and leaves them feeling diminished.

  9. @Siobhan

    Agreed that talking individually to students regardless of the age is usually the best policy. If it’s only one or two students who are the problem, that’s what I usually do. I guess I’m talking about a whole-class meltdown of sorts in this post.

  10. I wrote a similar post recently on this very topic. Must be kismet.

    Yes; I DO believe my students know that I care about them, that I want them to learn, to make progress and to succeed. I do, however, tell them when they’ve messed up, and give them an opportunity to make the situation right. That’s also showing that I care. :)

  11. This is an interesting article. I teach with a couple teachers in my grade level who have raised their voices and students actually flinch. I am not saying I never get frustrated, believe me I do, but I try to use a stern voice rather then yelling. I have had parents ask me about comments their children make at home about such and such really yelling. Kids, especially in the elementary take it to heart. When I have acted as principal, I have raised my voice in a stern way, but never a full fledged yell. I think I would scare myself if I yelled in the school.
    Most of the time when the students are loud and I need their attention, I will whistle to get their attention and then talk to them. I agree when students know you care, they will react even if you look at them in a “cross” way. Too many of students hear yelling at home and if they continue to hear it here at school, they will shut the teachers out like they do parents or adults at home.

  12. Ladydiwyo,

    Good point about tuning out yelling. My favorite example is hearing a teacher yell at her students, “Stop yelling!”

    We’re also modeling the behavior we want from students so yelling tends to breed more yelling.

  13. I was a very laid back person before I started teaching middle school. The major players that get my blood boiling are people who do not seem to respond to any type of instruction that isn’t barked at them. I feel sorry for the other students who have to go to school with these attention whores. I do what I can to speak to them and explain what is expected in a normal tone. But at least once a week, they get me. I have tried so hard to keep them in the classroom, but at this point, even though I have decent rapport with all my students, I feel like my only choice is to send them to a principal who can do nothing but send them to yet another meaningless detention hall that they don’t care about. … Because they were going there anyway. Talking about what just happened in class does absolutely nothing to change the behavior for these pArticular students. Do I raise my voice? If I didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to hear me over their own.

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