Thursday, September 7, 2017

Is It Ever Okay For Teachers To Get Angry With Students?

I wanted to get some feedback from my PLN on whether or not they felt it was okay for educators to get angry with students. So I posted the Twitter poll I included below. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion. Your comments helped to inform my thoughts on the issue. I share some of my thinking below.

1. There are no good or bad emotions. Anger is a normal emotion that every person experiences. Teachers are no exception. To expect a person to never become angry in their professional role is to expect them to become a robot. We don't want robots teaching kids. It's also not healthy to repress anger. Repressed emotions end up manifesting themselves in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

2. Anger can be a force for good. I believe educators who are passionate are more likely to become angry because they don't accept mediocrity or actions that aren't in the best interest of learning and kids. Let's get angry about stuff that matters. Some of our frustrations really don't matter. Let that stuff go. Get angry because you care. Get angry because you want the best for your students. And use that anger as positive energy to create change and make things better in the world around you.

3. It's important to be slow to anger. Being quick-tempered is not a helpful quality. Although I am advocating for some of the benefits of anger here, I think it should usually be more of a slow-simmer rather than a explosive response. When we act too quickly in anger, we will likely do more harm than good. 

4. As I mentioned before, emotions are neither inherently good or bad. They are just emotions. And our emotions are an important part of who we are. Every person is entitled to every one of their feelings. Often we cannot control how we feel, but we CAN control how we respond to what we feel. 

Part of being a mature person is learning how to handle emotions and direct them in positive ways. Teachers need to model this for students. They need to use words to talk about how they are feeling. For example, it's good to say, "When I see a student treat another student disrespectfully, I feel angry." People who can talk about what they are feeling are almost always more skilled at handling emotions. 

So it's always a good idea to describe HOW we are feeling rather than acting out on how we are feeling and expecting others to create their own interpretation. Students need to see teachers modeling this type of awareness for all emotions, including ones like anger, sadness, fear, or embarrassment that might sometimes be frowned upon.

5. If you are finding yourself stuck in anger, that is not a healthy place to be. Emotions should come and go. Anger should subside. Getting stuck in anger or sadness can lead to depression. It can harm your relationships. We want to have balanced emotions.

We held a workshop for our staff several years ago called 8 to Great. We learned the following:

If we think of angry people as "mean," we'll cut ourselves off from our anger and get stuck in depression.
If we think of sad people as "weak," we'll cut ourselves off from our sadness and get stuck in rage. 

7. Is it ever okay to yell at students in anger? Well of course not, you might be thinking. How could an educator ever yell at students and feel like we are acting in a professionally appropriate manner?

One year during our Homecoming week, there was a rumor that our seniors would have silly string and air horns at the assembly. So before the assembly started I talked with the group and explained what I'd heard, and asked them to please not use the air horns or the silly string and of course I explained why. I asked if I could count on them to cooperate on that. They said they would.

Well, when it was time for class yells, the seniors did their thing but there were also a bunch of air horns going off and silly string was going everywhere. It really touched a nerve with me because it seemed so blatantly disrespectful. I had specifically asked them not to do this.

So I made the entire senior class stay after the assembly, and I gave them a highly spirited talk. Was I yelling? Yes, I'd say I was. I explained how disappointed I was in them. I told them how much I cared about them. I told them I would never intentionally disrespect them. I told them how much I wanted them to have a great year. I let them know I knew everyone wasn't responsible, but that what happened wasn't acceptable for Bolivar Liberators. It was a brief, but very intense few moments.

I have very rarely yelled at students over the years. Was this worth yelling about? Is anything worth yelling about in anger? I don't know. Respect is very important to me. It was interesting how many students came up to me and apologized afterwards and even said they completely agreed with everything I said. Were they the same ones with the air horns and the silly string? Probably not. But I think they appreciated that their principal took a stand for what they knew was right.

What do you think? Did I go too far in yelling at the kids? In general, I would say it's never appropriate to yell. How else could I have handled this situation? What are your thoughts on dealing with your anger as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. It's not that you went too far yelling at the kids it's that it was a total waste of time and ineffective. You took it personally and what they did had little to do with you. A "yelling session" as I refer to it quickly becomes nothing more than a show to high school seniors. Also yelling at the entire group when you know it was only 3 or 4 bad apples is never a good idea. However the bad apples can spoil the harvest so the best course of action in this situation would have been to have the whole group stay behind and clean up the mess. When we take the foolish actions of kids as a personal affront, we get into trouble.