Anger - the #1 enemy of effectiveness for teachers (not to mention cause of health problems)

When teachers make mistakes, it’s usually because they get angry. I call anger the #1 enemy of effectiveness for teachers, parents, or anyone for that matter. It’s important to understand how teachers make themselves angry and why. Anger is always more emotion than is necessary or helpful, not to mention unhealthy for us. Teachers would often ask my REBT mentor “Aren’t there times when it’s good to get angry?” His answer was always that “Whatever you can do when you’re angry, you can do better when you’re not.”

E-motion can be helpful energy to move. That’s what nature intended it to be. Get frustrated, irritated and annoyed, and you try harder to make things better, or assert yourself with others. Have concern and you take precautions. But make yourself angry and you become reactive, and lose your response-ability, or the ability to respond in the best possible way. There’s two ways to make something you don’t like worse, do nothing and overreact to it. Teachers too often do the latter. Most people do. 

Anger is emotional nitroglycerin. That’s the way nature intended it to be to deal with real threats to our lives. Anger is half of our fight or flight response to perceived threats. If our lives were really in danger, we’d want as much energy to move as possible to either run away or fight for our lives. The problem is that people often needlessly plug into their fight or flight mechanism because of how they choose to look at things before, during and after things happen.

Anger can make otherwise smart people do stupid things. When angry, we’re less likely to consider consequences before acting. It’s harder to access and act on helpful advice. For example, “Just ignore them” or “Don’t let it bother you” are both good advice, but not something people can do when angry. People are less likely to learn from their own or others experience when angry, and more likely to violate their own morals and values. Anger gives people a false sense of power, righteousness, permission and protection, so people are less likely to reflect on what they think, feel, say or do and see the error of their ways.

For all these reasons, it’s always better to prevent anger, than try to manage it. It’s like the comic book character The Hulk. Once Dr. David Banner gets mad, and “hulks out”, it’s “smash” time and a lot of needless damage gets done. The only real way to prevent the damage is to not “hulk out” in the first place. Trying to manage anger once we generate it is in many ways a “fool’s errand”. It reminds me of that old saying about “closing the barn door after the horse is already out”.

By the way, most people believe that when you get angry, it’s better for your health to let it out instead of keeping it in – to get it off your chest, to vent. But research shows that letting it out doesn’t result in better health than keeping it in. The only people who fare better health wise are those who don’t get angry in the first place. That’s another argument for preventing anger rather than managing it.  

Anger is often a secondary emotion. It’s often preceded by shame and anxiety for example. Shame comes from believing you don’t live up to expectations. It’s easy for teachers to believe that, especially nowadays with what seem like ever increasing expectations being placed on them, some of which are unrealistic and unfair. That makes it’s easier to believe you won’t live up to expectations in the future and generate anxiety. Everyday tasks start to seem like bigger threats than they are, or need to be. Teachers can even start to dread going to work, or dealing with certain students or classes. Student misbehavior and lack of effort or achievement seem like bigger threats than they really are, so much so that teachers snap at students or even lash out at them in anger. Remember that anger and anxiety are the two halves of fight or flight. Shame can quickly morph into anxiety, and anxiety can quickly morph into anger.

The solution to shame is to have USA or Unconditional Self-Acceptance. To choose to look at whatever you think, feel and do as understandable given that you’re human, fallible, and what you have been through in the past, and are going through now. It’s allowing yourself to not be perfect, and to make mistakes. It’s remembering that when you do, you’ll never be the first or last person to do so. It means choosing to believe you did the best you could at the time. Taking the same attitude toward what kids say and do will temper your emotional response to what they do. Looking at their behavior this way is called having UOA or Unconditional Other Acceptance. 

A second solution to getting needlessly angry is to learn to have an internal locus of control. Like most people, teachers usually have an external locus of control – they wrongly believe that kids drive them crazy, and make them angry. It’s really what we choose to think, and how we choose to look at what they do before, during and after they do it that makes us feel crazy or angry. Some ways we choose to look at things make us feel better, others worse. Some make it easier to deal with what they do, others harder. It’s our choice which way we pick, and therefore how we feel. 

Teachers typically wrongly see their jobs as the source of their stress. But our jobs don’t stress us out, we do by the way we choose to look at things. Anger and stress, and every other feeling, come from inside us, not outside us. Others can have all the expectations of us they want to have, but it’s ultimately our choice what we expect of ourselves, and how we look at what happens afterward. 

It would also help to construct a THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat. There’s a detailed article about how to do so on this blog. It would help teachers see where they are emotionally at any given point, and what effect that has on their behavior. It would also show them how what they think sets them up for how they feel, and what they do. More importantly, it would show them where they might want to be instead emotionally and behaviorally, and what it will take in terms of their thinking to get them there.

Picture an old-fashioned thermostat, with a needle that can be pushed up or down to adjust the temperature. The face divided into 3 columns, and 3 rows. One column each for THINK, FEEL and DO. The bottom row of the THINK column is DON’T CARE. The middle WANT, PREFER, DESIRE. The top, NEED, NECESSITY, DEMAND. Within each section, you can go from SORT OF to REALLY, i.e. you can SORT OF WANT something, or REALLY WANT it.

We all have a right to want whatever we want. As teachers, we have a right to WANT kids to do what we want them to. If we set our thermostat at WANT, and they don’t do what we want, we’ll be FRUSTRATED, IRRITATED and ANNOYED. But if we set it at NEED, and DEMAND they do what we want, we’ll get ANGRY when they don’t. The bigger the difference we create between our expectations and reality, the more emotion it will cause us to generate. How much of each emotion we generate will depend on how much we WANT, or think we NEED for them to do something. 

A second version of the THINK column has UNPLEASANT, INCONVENIENT and UNCOMFORTABLE in the middle, and AWFUL on top. What kids do, or don’t, can be inconvenient, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. But it’s not AWFUL, as in the worst possible thing that could happen. It could always be a lot worse. But if you think they NEED to do what you want, and they don’t, you’ll think it is AWFUL. 

A third version of the THINK column has DON’T LIKE IT in the middle, and CAN’T STAND IT on top. We have a right to like or dislike whatever we want to. But when we tell ourselves we CAN’T STAND something we simply don’t like, like what kids say and do, we needlessly inflame ourselves and get angry. 

Learning to not get angry comes from recognizing YOU control your THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat, not kids, and that it’s your choice where you set it. It comes choosing to look at what you and kids both do as understandable, and part of being human, and having both USA and UOA. Finally, it comes from recognizing how and when you needlessly turn your THINK thermostat up, and learning how to turn it down by correcting your irrational thinking.

To learn how to gain control over your own thermostat, I invite you to visit my site called Teacher ESP - Effectiveness and  Stress Prevention at:

You can also check out the "tools" I think every teacher and student should be given and have at:

If you would like a copy of a pre-made THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat, email me at: