Three simple steps that will dramatically improve your mental and emotional health and well-being

I ran “Tool Time” groups at my wife’s school for the most troublesome students. A young math teacher asked for help in dealing with my guys in her class. 

“I took AP classes in high school, so I never had any experience with these kinds of kids. In college I took all kinds of higher level math classes that I’ll never use again teaching sophomore algebra. But they never taught me how to deal with these kinds of students”. 

Teachers are required to take higher level classes that many will never use in teaching. There’s certainly nothing wrong with knowing too much about your subject matter, but preparation seems to be based on the premise that the more you know about your subject, the better teacher you’ll make. In higher education, “experts” in subject matter are typically seen as the best professors. So it’s understandable that teacher preparation is also based on this premise. Many education professors opted to stay at the college level and never have experience at lower levels. However, it doesn’t take new teachers long to realize that all the subject matter knowledge they got in college, or even methods course they took, will not help them deal with what they have to – much of which ultimately puts a limit on what they can accomplish with students. 

Teachers are not given any training in how to manage their own mental and emotional responses to behavioral challenges students can present them with. They are often trained in classroom (behavioral) management, and given strategies for trying to deal with behavior they don’t like. However, if behavior management (at least as it’s usually done in schools) worked well, we wouldn’t have so many problems. Plus, you have to be in the right mental and emotional place to do it effectively. Make yourself angry, and you become much less effective, and can even reinforce the very behavior you don’t like. Not to mention, you end up a lot more stressed out than necessary or helpful. Dr. Robert Marzano says teachers need to have "emotional objectivity" to deal in the most effective way with students, especially the most troublesome. The key to acquiring and maintaining it is mindset.

Teachers are also not given enough insight into why students behave the ways they do, let alone how to deal with the underlying causes of their behavior. It’s not because there aren’t simple models that explain this, i.e. Rudolph Dreikurs’ mistaken goals, or the work of Albert Ellis. Teachers simply aren’t taught such things, perhaps because those preparing them to return to elementary and high school classrooms never need such things at their level. The typical child development classes teachers are required to take offer little practical help to teachers. 

There are a few simple “tools” we could and should give teachers, either in college, or on the job. 

1) Teach and encourage them to have both unconditional self and other acceptance (USA, UOA) 

Shame comes from believing you don’t live up to expectations. There are more expectations of teachers than ever before – meaning more opportunities to feel shame. Shame sets the stage for anxiety and anger – to be needlessly stressed out, and short with students. It works the same way in students. Having USA will help teachers help students develop it. UOA helps temper teacher responses to what students do and they don’t like. 

2) Teach them to have an internal locus of control 

Most will have an external locus and wrongly blame students for how they feel. This puts them at the mercy of student behavior, and will cause them to feel worse than necessary or helpful. This in turn will cause them to make mistakes with students, especially the most troublesome. Teaching their students to have an internal locus would benefit them immensely. 

3) Teach them to recognize and correct irrational thinking 

Thoughts cause feelings, not events – and attitude is always the father of behavior. So it’s the key to managing emotions and behavior. Knowing how to would allow teachers to help students learn to self-manage better. That would make a teacher’s job easier, and more rewarding. 

These three tools are the foundation of Teacher ESP - Effectiveness and Stress Prevention. You can read more about them at:

They are three of ten "tools" I believe we should give to every new and current teacher, and every students. I call this collection of "tools" the Mental and Emotional Tool Kit for Lide. You can read about all ten "tools" at: