Emotional Reactivity at Work: Good Idea?… or Not So Good?

Posted: July 17, 2012 in All Roles, For Educators
Tags: , , , , , ,

New teacher or wily veteran, you’re going to be triggered. You’re going to have days when nothing seems to go smoothly and everything that you don’t want to happen does happen. You’re going to have students who have found your “buttons” and seem to really get a kick out of pushing them. At some point, you will come face to face with a situation (hopefully not face to face with a student) that puts your self-control to the test. Maybe you came in to work after a long night of arguing with your spouse or significant other and you’re tired and stressed. Maybe you sadly experienced a loss during the school year and you’re back in the classroom fighting the emotional distractions. Or maybe you’re of the mindset that that being extremely emotional helps you to scare or manage the behaviors of your students. Whatever the cause of your sensitivity, the most important thing to remember is that if you are at work, it is not your student’s job to consider or attend to your feelings (though this doesn’t mean you need to allow insensitivity to occur in your classroom), but it is your job to do your job… which is to get your students to learn content (and some life skills).

When we’re feeling tired, upset, vulnerable or stressed, we will be far more tempted to react to our student’s immature ways. But we can’t give in to this temptation (well, we can, but it usually backfires in fairly significant ways). Reacting to our students from our own emotions can lead to many problems. Being reactive lowers our credibility in their eyes. Being reactive gives them permission to also be reactive. Being reactive role-models excuse-making for our students and it creates unsafe, tense classrooms (“It’s not my fault I punched Jimmy, he made me mad). Like every other human, we have good days and bad days and our emotions try to get the better of us, but unlike other humans in other professions, how we manage our emotions can impact children (and it also creates an environment that adds to our own stress levels).  No one is saying it’s an easy thing to do to stay non-reactive to provocative childish behavior, but if we don’t develop the ability to do so, we’re not only teaching unhealthy behavior to our students, but we’re also running the risk of harming our classroom climate in the future (which again, works against our goal of making our jobs easier, not harder).

In order for our students to remain focused on the learning and on our instruction, they need to trust that we’ll always be responsible for our actions and our words. And in order for our students to always do their job… we always have to do ours… even if it means holding onto our emotions until we leave work (and I’m not promoting that you take it out on your pet either). The best ways to relieve emotional stockpiles differ from person to person, but some of the healthy strategies (which might be less entertaining than the unhealthy ones depending on your proclivities) include exercise, talking to a counselor, artistic endeavors, nature, music, writing or reading… so choose wisely as best you can, when, how and with whom you unleash your emotions.

  1. Liza says:

    Your post reminds me of an article I read about a Buddhist approach to dealing with difficult emotions. It distinguished love from goodwill, and how the Buddhist approach is not about walking around saying we love everyone, but it is about walking around cultivating goodwill. So someone might disappoint you, or give you good cause to dislike them immensely, but it doesn’t mean we have to reflect those negative feelings back to the person who caused them or to anyone else in reaction, or entitlement…it means we can choose to send out some goodwill to others and take the attitude that you hope they can learn from their errors or at least learn to leave others to their own journey in peace. Our personal lives may be the trigger on some days, and our roles as educators on other days, but hang on to the notion of goodwill…at least give it a chance. And help your students to get familiar with it too.

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