The value of keeping our cool in the class

Career & Education

The value of keeping our cool in the class

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, December 08, 2019

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Teaching is a tough job and classrooms can be battlegrounds due to the varied personalities, backgrounds and experiences of the players. Teachers, then, can be likened to the referees in a sporting game whose job it is to ensure that the game is played according to the rules and is fair, despite any misbehaviour or verbal threats coming his way.

A good referee is usually defined by his/her calm and consistent adherence to rules. It stems from an ability to self-regulate one's emotions when faced with extremes of behaviour. It is a core strength necessary for professionalism in any job, but is particularly important for educators, as we have the added responsibility of modelling good behaviour in both words and actions for children. It is, therefore, always a mistake for an educator to lose his/her composure from verbal utterances by one's students.

Students will undoutedly push our buttons and many will do so deliberately, especially those who are yet to develop the capacity for self-regulation. Children with poor self-regulation — often due to their family circumstances — are likely to be disruptive.

It is normal in any intense exchange between student and teacher that negative thoughts and emotions will rise to the surface. High-intensity emotions wear down the body, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative. Therefore, if a situation is becoming volatile but has not become physical, it is best to consciously decide to leave this escalating position as quickly as possible and seek external help.

Research has identified anger and anxiety as core factors influencing a teacher's decision to leave the profession. The emotional terrain of teaching is treacherous and not much focus is placed on strategies to mitigate emotional fluctuations. Teachers need to be equipped with resilience to the inevitable unpleasant experiences they will face and need strategies to moderate their emotional reactions.

When we lose our cool in front of our students, the following may happen:
1.We lose rapport — Building relationships with our students is important to learning. When trust and connection are broken, it can take a long time to repair the damage.

2. Accountability is undermined — Emotional reactions and outbursts only serve to undermine one's authority as students will now deem us unprofessional and will no longer respect us.

3.It generally worsens student behaviour — Friction and animosity that develop as a result of the authority, figure losing their cool will likely lead to the worsening of the student's own emotional response.

4. It shows ineffectiveness — Usually, educators who lose their cool easily do not know how else to deal with unpleasant situations. Therefore, classroom management skills must be learnt during teacher training. Anger must be redirected and give way to impartiality, fairness and calmness. When we remain calm in the face of trials and tribulations, we exemplify peace and teach our students how to handle tough situations.

That being said, it is important that the offending student receive disciplinary action for any disrespect or misbehaviour, especially that directed towards his/her teacher. It therefore means that as soon as the first rule is broken, consequences must follow. As more rules are broken, parents will likely have to be called in.

Of course, in our culture and our unique classrooms, things are not always black and white. There are grey areas that can lead to a delicate dance to maintaining the student-teacher-parent balance.

We must keep in mind that some of our students are coming from very poor homes in which domestic violence, frequent and/or violent loss of life, anger and hunger are stark realities. These students may have become bitter, defiant, abrasive, confrontational, non-compliant and callused and will express their frustrations in the form of disruptive behaviour. Unfortunately, these behaviours are most often a cry for help. These students need help but not necessarily from the 'big stick'.

If students threaten or physically abuse a member of staff, this must be considered as a major rule breaker and must be dealt with swiftly and decisively even if higher authorities have to be called in. It is incumbent on the schools to have clearly communicated procedures in place for situations such as these and these measures must be followed.

Admittedly, there is no single foolproof strategy to deal with difficult and insubordinate students, and a combination of measures are likely to be more effective. One thing is sure though, if we lose our cool, we would have made the situation ten times worse. Hopefully, training and continued educational support for our teachers will begin to emphasise the emotional aspects of this profession.

Dr Karla Hylton, UWI lecturer in biology, is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, or

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