Stress and Anger (pt.2) - Anger

Hot on the heels of stress comes anger.

Here in the UK we're used to feeling pretty negative about anger. We're often taught as children that anger is dangerous and not for public expression. We learn through experience to internalise anger rather than letting it out, or to save it up to be let out later on, in private.

   Thirteen reasons teachers are angry  , by Ryan Martin. Presumably one of the reasons is soft cricket balls? It's health and safety gone mad!

Thirteen reasons teachers are angry, by Ryan Martin. Presumably one of the reasons is soft cricket balls? It's health and safety gone mad!

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to stumble across an article all about angry teachers. Ryan Martin's article is a little clickbait for my tastes (why does every other article online have to have a countdown in it?), but he makes some important points. Central among these is: 

"It is most certainly OK for teachers, and frankly for anyone, to feel angry ... The more important question is, what do you do with it?"

In teacher training I remember being instructed on how to manage the anger of my students. And later on I had some pretty enlightened training which focused on the developmental aspect of anger, and on the psychophysiological causes. Through these I came to see anger as natural and understandable and manageable. But at no point was I encouraged or helped to think about my own anger as a teacher.

I remember being alarmed when, in my second year of teaching, I got exceedingly angry at a particular child's behaviour. Fortunately I was able to manage my anger and the child concerned wasn't adversely affected. Unfortunately, I left it there, thinking 'so long as I can manage it, I'll ignore it'. 

Martin's advice is clear here: as teachers, we need to understand the causes of our anger, then to fix the cause-response cycle, and finally communicate clearly about this.

The first two steps are relatively straightforward. Anyone who's made an IEP will know how to look for antecedents (triggers) to behaviour or emotion, and will have some idea about how to prevent or re-direct the response. It's the final step that so often gets missed out, often because of the shame or guilt associated with the experience (see the previous post for more on this).

But it's vital that we're open about what's really going on in our classrooms, as this is the only way we can hope to improve it. And it's only by being honest about what we fear that we can learn that we're not alone.

But it's not just about feeling better. What if the anger that teachers feel was telling them something important? What if the anger - expressed clumsily at a child or a manager - was actually precipitated by the wider political system, or by their own unresolved issues, or unfair working practices? In these instances anger needs to be listened to as an important spur to action, not guiltily swept under the carpet.