Yes, college instructors are professionals, but they are also human. We always try to be calm, cool and collected, but sometimes students make this very difficult!
There can be many factors that might lead to an instructor blow-up (or meltdown)…classroom behavioral issues, unmotivated students, being challenged on something, feeling attacked on a personal level, stress/pressures from administration, or maybe we’re just having a bad day. Regardless, it’s our responsibility to keep it together. This can be challenging, especially in the heat of the moment. In a recent experience with a disrespectful and disengaged learner (see The Resistant Learner), I found that my emotions escalated very quickly and could have gotten involved in a very childish (“Yes, you are!” “No, I’m not!”) kind of argument. Luckily I stopped myself, saving myself from acting unprofessionally and becoming involved in a pointless argument.
So, to help this from happening to you, here are a few strategies to help you stay calm and avoid doing something that you will regret:
- Take a deep breath and try to understand the situation. Listen objectively and with an open mind. Ignore rudeness, and respond to the content of what the student is saying.
- Call for a break. Use the break time to either speak with the offending student privately, or take a break yourself. Don’t bring your frustration back into the class with you.
- Request to speak with the offending student after the class, or if you need more time to simmer down, in your next office hours session.
- If you feel yourself getting worked up, imagine your department head walks into your classroom. What are they going to see? hear? This might help you keep things professional.
- Take time for reflection after each class. If things went well, why? If you “lost your cool” – why? Was it something that could have been prevented? Or should you have handled the situation sooner? or in a different way?