Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman


  1. 1.
    a person's state of mind seen in terms of their being angry or calm.
    "he rushed out in a very bad temper

    • 2.the degree of hardness and elasticity in steel or other metal.  "the blade rapidly heats up and the metal loses its temper"

  1. 1.
    improve the hardness and elasticity of (steel or other metal) by reheating and then cooling it.
  2. 2.
    serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to (something).
    "their idealism is tempered with realism"

"If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape one hundred days of sorrow." Chinese proverb

This is the fourth in a series of five articles about dealing with high proportions of students suffering from poverty; if you missed the first 3 articles, click on the following links:

In this article, Part IV, I thought it would be appropriate to have a set of "non-examples." This article about what NOT to do is about the destructive nature of losing one's temper as well as the innate effects of these "Power Stealers:" attitudes that will sabotage a teacher's effectiveness in any classroom. For example; making excuses for students because you feel sorry for them, taking misbehavior personally, and stereotyping students. (These are applicable across the socioeconomic spectrum; I am mentioning them here because of the potentially frustrating nature of teaching in high poverty environments. This article is very good for me to write - I have always had a very quick temper and being a middle school art teacher has forced me to have more self-control than any other career I would have chosen!)

**7th grade Cubist tempera painting
Is there ever a time to show anger or irritation? Is it ever appropriate to yell at or purposefully intimidate students? What about an impassioned speech from a teacher who needs to get the students' attention about how their behavior effects others? There is a fine line between having a "strong voice" and being a "*bully!"

Here is the story of my middle school experience in 1985: several of my teachers at that time exemplified "what not to do" when frustrated. The summer before my 7th grade year, my parents could no longer afford to send my brother, sister, and me to the private school where we had gone since kindergarten. So, my siblings and I were enrolled in a small, rural, public school where the behavior of the teachers and the students shocked me, to say the least. A few weeks before school started, my neighbor warned me about that middle school. She was also going into 7th grade and I will never forget her statement, "You don't want to go to that school - it's a BAD school! The kids get into fights every day!"

I was not from a (financially) rich family even though my parents did own their own home and my dad held a college degree.  As a matter of fact, when we transferred to the public school my siblings and I qualified for "reduced lunch." However, for the first time in my life, I met truly "poor" kids (they all thought I was poor, too!) and was confronted with a secular culture in extreme contrast to my own. The culture shock that I experienced was characterized by several variables: church school vs. public school, educated families vs. uneducated, city vs. rural, middle class vs. poverty. It seemed as though the kids and the teachers were in a constant power struggle - kids vs. teachers and kids vs. kids. 

Several of these teachers used to scream at the children (daily) in attempts to discipline unruly behavior. My science teacher would regularly break down into tears when the kids wouldn't be quiet, and my home-room teacher would get so angry with the students that he literally threw a desk across the room. That same teacher used to rip his whistle off of his neck and throw it AT the students, screaming the whole time. My social studies teacher used to kick metal trash cans across the room to put on an intimidating show of power, yelling and lecturing whomever happened to be in trouble. I had the same teachers again in 8th grade; why they were still employed is beyond me!

The kids at my middle school also sought to prove how powerful they were and would get into fist fights. They teased each other mercilessly, were well-versed in the language of sex (in 7th and 8th grades) - some smoked, some drank and did drugs and made no effort to hide their lifestyle. Kids glorified fighting, bullying, and persecuting teachers. They cheated on tests, copied each others'  homework, and ridiculed kids (like me) who made good grades. They would laugh when others were disciplined, and to me this was shocking. They all thought I was pretty strange because I did not laugh (and for other reasons - people still think I'm an odd duck!) 

I have been watching teachers all my life, learning from the best and from the worst. I think it is human nature to take the actions of others personally, and it is instinctive to get angry and upset. However, this is guaranteed to undermine everything a teacher is trying to do in the classroom:

"A single flash of anger can undo weeks of rapport building with your students. When you yell, scold, use sarcasm, or otherwise lose your cool, you distance yourself from your students and undermine their trust and respect of you. You become less approachable, less likeable, and less influential—all critical keys to creating a well-behaved classroom."  6 Teacher Personality Traits That Make Classroom Management More Difficult, by Michael Linsin

**8th grade Cubist interpretation - tempera paint
About five years ago I had the "class from hell;" a 7th grade class full of boys who thought it was great fun to get under the teacher's skin by shooting crayon bits across the room, complaining about every project, and refusing to be quiet while I was trying to teach. I am sorry to say that I did indeed become furious at their antics, and that sabotaged my efforts to get their behavior under control. I tried everything I knew, both positive and negative reinforcements, but nothing really seemed to have an effect because I dreaded that class every day. They knew it, and they rejoiced in needling me. My saving grace was a field trip, believe it or not; I told the kids that the only ones who would get to go had to pass my class and stay out of trouble. The kids shaped up after that.

After I started researching classroom management techniques last year, I came upon this jewel from expert Fred Jones at educationworld.com:
"It takes roughly 27 minutes for adrenaline to clear the bloodstream. During that time, your brain 'downshifts' to the brainstem. Even with mild upset, you are in 'survival mode.' In 27 minutes, you'll be back into your cortex. Then you can think and reason again....Now, let me give you a piece of advice about managing a classroom. You will do a much better job with a cortex. When you downshift, a classroom suddenly becomes thirty cortexes manipulating one brainstem. Those are not even odds.

Also, educator and author Michael Linsin has a lot to say about self-control and classroom management: "Frequent sighs, rolling eyes, red-faced lectures. Outward signs of frustration can cause enveloping, knife-cutting tension in your classroom. When you allow students to get under your skin, it not only makes your classroom unnerving and unpleasant, but it causes students to challenge your authority and test you whenever they get the chance." 6 Teacher Personality Traits That Make Classroom Management More Difficult, by Michael Linsin

"Yelling also shows a loss of control, which provides a poor model for your students. When you yell or fail to conceal your frustrations in front of them, you’re teaching your students how to behave when things don’t go their way or when they don’t get what they want. In the majority of circumstances, yelling is the result of not having a solid classroom management plan marked by a faithful adherence to rules and their intended consequences. Thus, yelling, much like lecturing, takes the place of real and effective classroom management. Your students should always know what is expected of them and exactly what will happen if they don’t meet those expectations. This creates a safe world that makes sense. Yelling, on the other hand, creates distrust and resentment in students because it’s arbitrary, it’s based on intimidation, and it chisels away at a child’s dignity." Don't Yell At Students, by Michael Linsin
"But every time you react emotionally to misbehavior, you shift control over to your students. You step out of the driver’s seat and hand them the keys. You give up the upper hand in the relationship. All before saying a word. Because when you let misbehavior get under your skin, you communicate to anyone remotely paying attention that your peace and contentment is dependent on how they behave. And once this is established, classroom management becomes a high-altitude climb." Why You Should Never Show Annoyance At Misbehavior, by Michael Linsin

So, how can the teacher remain calm? 

This illustration is from Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #1 is to be proactive, the idea that responsibility means we are able to choose our response in any situation. Proactive people take responsibility for their behavior, reactive people blame others and circumstances for their behavior. This idea that there is an actual space of time between my reaction to a situation and the "stimulus" was earth shattering to me, personally. I know this seems stupidly simple, but even as an adult I was not aware of this until I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. All my life I really thought "other people made me angry/annoyed/etc" - I didn't realize that I was choosing to be emotional.

**8th grade Cubist interpretation - acrylic paint
One final tip - Michael Linsin says to do what Olympic athletes do - "Decide First," in his book, Classroom Management For Art, Music, and P.E. Teachers. Before you get to school in the morning, take a few minutes to imagine yourself remaining calm throughout the day - no matter what happens - even if a stampede of horses runs through your classroom you WILL stay calm. Fred Jones also has some good tips for remaining calm in these articles; Meaning Business Part I; Calm is Strength, Upset is Weakness and Meaning Business; Exploiting Your Power. Finally, in all honesty, the thing that helps me stay calm the most is simple prayer. 

 "Taking poor student behavior personally: revenge isn't sweet, it's self-sabotage. Letting your emotions get involved in classroom management will cloud your judgment, make you do things you will regret, and alienate your students." The 9 Biggest Classroom Management Mistakes Teachers Make, by Michael Linsin

"Adrenaline increases your metabolism producing 'nervous energy;' it takes 27 minutes for adrenaline to leave the bloodstream. Translated into everyday terms, two 'squirrelly' student behaviors per class period will keep you 'wired' all day. Most teachers think being on your toes just goes with the territory. Running on adrenaline all day, however, builds up an energy debt, just as athletes build up an energy debt when they compete. You will feel that energy debt about 27 minutes after the students go home; it's the letdown that has you muttering, 'Boy, what a day!' You'll take that exhaustion home to your family. You'll feel like sitting rather than being active. You'll have little tolerance for more stress, and normal family demands will make you want to scream, 'Give me a break!' Regardless of your pay scale, you are paying too high a price for earning a living." Meaning Business Part I; Calm is Strength, Upset is WeaknessFred Jones, education world.com

"When you react emotionally to misbehavior you undermine true accountability—because it causes students to blame you, direct their simmering anger at you, and justify for their misbehavior. In other words, it replaces healthy reflection with excuses." 11 Reasons Why You Should Never, Ever Lose Your Cool, by Michael Linsin

"'What about students from disadvantaged backgrounds?' The question never ceases to knock me back on my heels because, truth be told, every strategy on (smartclassroommanagement.com) has been developed in classrooms with students living in among the most challenging circumstances. Disadvantaged, crime-ridden, poverty-stricken, you name it. The fact is, it doesn’t matter where you teach or who shows up on your roster, the well-behaved classroom you long for is within your grasp. But there is an obstacle blocking the path of so many teachers in their quest for a dream class. It’s a negative attitude. For if you don’t believe it’s possible to transform your class, if your default setting is to point the finger at outside circumstances, if you’re in the habit of bemoaning the make up of your classroom or the neighborhood you teach in, then it will never happen for you."  Are You Sabotaging Your Classroom Management Success?, by Michael Linsin

"My life is in the hands of any fool who can make me angry." Fred Jones, Tools For Teaching
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." James 1:19-20
"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." Proverbs 29:11
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

*"Bullying is not about anger. It's not even about conflict. It's about contempt - a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect. Contempt comes packaged with three apparent psychological advantages that allow (people) to harm another human being without feeling empathy, compassion, or shame:1. A sense of entitlement - the privilege and right to control, dominate, subjugate, and otherwise abuse another human being.2. An intolerance toward differences - different equals inferior and thus not worthy of respect.3. A liberty to exclude - to bar, isolate, and segregate a person deemed not worthy of respect or care. In other words, bullying is arrogance in action." The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso, 2003  

**All student paintings from Mrs. Nichols' classroom. We do this semi-annual project based on art history; students choose an artist to research and design an original painting based on that artists' style. Students combine a modern cartoon with the style. I call it, "Cartoon Art History." 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Anonymous said...

The frustrating part of this is no one really tells you how not to loose your cool. What use is it to stand in the front of a classroom of 35 mixed grade middle school students with your hand raised to get their attention for 50 minutes. I can't hear the phone ring, intercom or a knock at the door over the noise these kids make. They destroy the materials so with the massive budget cuts I am going to be without supplies before the end of the semester. I afraid to do much with them for fear they will fight and use the linoleum cutters or E-xacto knives on each other. I am at a loss and it only 3 weeks in to my 1st year of teaching. I am ready to quit right now but I don't want to be a failure after all the time I spent to be able to teach art.


Hi, Anonymous!
I am so sorry to hear about how those kids are treating you and your class. First, let me say that it's not YOU, it's THEM. Don't let their behavior get to you! Middle school kids can be very, very frustrating. Many of them make a game out of how far they can push the teacher to frustration. Again, I repeat, IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S THEM. It is the students' responsibility to show respect for the teacher, it is the teacher's responsibility to hold them accountable when they are misbehaving, and to encourage the ones who are doing the right thing.

Exactly how do I avoid losing my cool? The answer is that sometimes I do; emotions can be tricky! The key to not allowing them to take over is to stay visibly calm, cool, and collected. Pretend! Teachers are the greatest actors! Feelings of frustration and anger will quickly subside if I don't give in to them. On the outside I appear to be unconcerned about the students' behavior and I can very calmly enforce a consequence, separate the student, assign an essay about respect, etc. Sometimes the behavior is so bad that I have to send the student to the hallway or to another teacher's classroom. (Of course, if students are out of control/fighting I hit the call button for an administrator.) I am very fortunate that the teacher across the hallway is an enormous, intimidating football coach and he has my back! If my classroom management plan is failing with a particular student, I will also contact his/her other teachers to find out what interventions they have successfully tried. I know that I don't have all the answers, but I will call out all the stops to figure out how to reach a kid so s/he can be successful in my class!

Finally, in regards to the noise the kids are making that is sabotaging your class, I would suggest that you not allow them to talk at all. At least, have Silent Art for a few days or weeks. They will dig their heels in, complain that you are being unfair, and a few will push the boundaries until you want to scream! However, if you show them that you care about them, that you are willing to protect their right to learn by holding them accountable in a consistent, calm, and fair manner, over time the majority of the kids will come around and you will love teaching again. It will take time, and some classes will respond much more quickly than others.

Rachel Hessing Wintemburg has some pretty terrific advice here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/448592898504941/permalink/1251191638245059/

I also wrote an article about a time in my career where I almost quit because I was placed at an unfair disadvantage with having to monitor close to 100 8th graders - kids were literally baiting me and mocking me: http://artteachershelpal.blogspot.com/p/stress.html

And finally, here is an article with further resources about dealing with disrespectful students and how to stay calm: http://artteachershelpal.blogspot.com/p/on-authority.html

Please let me know if there is more I can do to help! I feel your pain!

Mrs. Anna Nichols