Jul 06 2012

Classroom Management? How about Anger Management?

For eight years starting in the summer of 1995 and ending with the summer of 2003, I presented a workshop at TFA institutes.  Back then I described it as a ‘classroom management’ workshop since the last half of it had advice on that.  In 1995 I was invited to do it.  In 1996, I was a CMA.  After that, I was no longer invited, but as long as I asked if I could come, they would allow me to.  This often required me paying several hundred dollars to fly to Houston (many of those years, there was just one institute in Houston), but since I liked doing it, that didn’t bother me so much.  Then, in 2004, for the first time, I was told that my volunteering was not wanted anymore.  I also have presented this workshop to other organizations throughout the years, including The New Teacher Project and Math For America.  Over the years, the workshop was videotaped twice, once in 2000 and once in 2003.  The 2003 one has been up on YouTube for a few years, but I just converted the ‘lost’ 2000 one and put that up too.

Though this was billed as a ‘classroom management’ workshop, I always felt that the first half of the workshop was the more important part.  The first part was my story of my first year, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening.  My intention was to counter what I considered TFA’s sugarcoating of the first year, something they still do.  I felt that if someone had convinced me that the first years isn’t just “the hardest year of your life, but also the most rewarding” but an experience that might require counseling to overcome acute PTSD, maybe I would have taken a less risky approach.

I don’t do this workshop anymore, mainly because I can no longer accomplish the climactic moment.  After describing all the frustration of all the failed attempts to silence my classes, I tell the audience that I had to resort to screaming.  But what people don’t understand, at first, is that I am not just talking about regular screaming.  I am talking about a type of screaming that is what they mean when they say ‘screaming bloody murder.’  So I demonstrate.  You can see this from 16:02 to 16:09 in the 2000 video or from 26:53 to 26:58 in the 2003 video.

It is not easy to scream like that on command.  That kind of screaming is generally something that happens as a reflex, a defense mechanism, when you are getting attacked and that is your only option.  Yet, by re-living my first year through retelling, I was somehow able to summon up the ability to give every ounce of energy I had into it.  And if it seemed painful, it definitely was.  Even though I would yell like that at least a few times a day during my first year, and somehow got used to it, when you are not ‘in shape’ for it, it takes a lot out of you.

Sometimes after one of those workshops, my stomach muscles would be sore for several days.  Often I couldn’t talk the next day.  Once I strained my neck from it.  Even without a physical injury, it was not good, emotionally, to go back in time, mentally, and relive the experience of those moments.  In the 2000 video I was 30 years old and in the 2003 I was 33.  Now that I’m 42, I truly believe that if I attempted to yell with that force, just to try to convince the new people how hard the first year can be, it could seriously injure me.

I don’t know what percent of new teachers yell like this, at some point in their first year.  I suspect that it is a lot.  I’m someone who has a lot of patience.  Until my first year, I don’t think I ever yelled at anybody.  I don’t think I have a bad temper.  The yelling was something that just happened.  It was either that or quit, and I didn’t want to quit.  The yelling enabled me to get through the year since I’d get a few minutes of silence, at least, from it, and in doing so I did manage to teach all the topics I was supposed to, even though it nearly broke me to do it (and maybe even did break me.  I never went for PTSD counseling for it instead to do my own much less efficient therapy by complaining about TFA for 20 years.)

I don’t think that at the TFA institute they do any anger management training.  It may not seem like a high priority, and it also seems kind of negative, but maybe if I had had some, I wouldn’t have been so shocked by my own anger when it happened.  So I have an exercise for the new TFA corps members.  Before you attempt my exercises, I should make a disclaimer that I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or any other kind of counselor.  I don’t know if this will help you at all, but here it is anyway.  You should get a group of four together, go into a room, and see what it feels like to do one of those blood curdling screams.  It might bring up a lot of emotions.  Maybe you have been repressing your anger for all these years, and this will affect you.  Again, I am NOT a counselor by any means.  But I feel like it was bad for me to experience that kind of release for the first time in front of a class of 30 sixth graders.

Maybe if I knew what it felt like ahead of time, I would have been more easily been able to recognize that it was about to happen, and that might have helped me somehow.  It wouldn’t mean, necessarily, that I wouldn’t yell like that.  As I said, I was at the point where quit or scream were my only two options.

Here is the 2003 workshop.  The yell at 26:53 is OK, but not really my best work.  Still, I think it may have surprised some people enough to make them really want to hear my advice that followed.

Here is the 2000 workshop.  The sound isn’t very good, but the yell is much better (at 16:02).  Also, as I’m a lot younger and closer to my first year, I have a lot of intensity (probably too much) and there is a lot of energy from the audience too.  Especially as this was an optional workshop that was happening around 9:00 PM at the institute, it was a pretty large crowd.

12 Responses

  1. Blue Suede Shoes

    Watched the second video. Did you really yell at kids like that?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Yes. It was either that or quit. Maybe should have quit, but didn’t.

      • Blue Suede Shoes

        I can believe it felt like that to you, but I would be nervous about projecting your experience on to other new teachers. I don’t think that most other new teachers yell at their kids like that.

        • Gary Rubinstein

          Hard to say what percent do. Since 11% of TFAers quit, it is likely that most of those were driven to do things they never thought they would. I’d say about half have to yell like that at least once, or do something else like burst into tears in front of their class. Yelling like that is pretty bad. The point, though, that I’m trying to make is a little anger management training would have helped, and it is not part of the training.

          • Blue Suede Shoes

            Sounds like anger management would have helped you. That said, I don’t know that it is really a part of any ed curriculum.

            I would be careful not to project what you would have wanted as what everyone needs.

        • Agreed. I never once yelled at my kids this past year, and neither did any of my first-year colleagues, at least to the extent shown in the second video. (The general trend in my region seems to be that middle school teachers do the most yelling, and then only on the most challenging days.) I can’t imagine a teacher yelling like that on a regular basis and still being able to maintain his/her sanity.

          To be fair though, 2 out of the original 28 members of my corps quit during the first year, and pretty early on (before I got to know them), so who knows what their classrooms looked like before they quit.

  2. Frederika

    I have done both. Yelled, which does not work and just made me feel like a witch. I got over trying to yell them into obediance. And, cried–out in the hall between classes, and in front of one class of kids who were so mean: to each other, to the staff, and made me feel useless, disrespected, and unwanted. And these episodes were after years in the classroom. It is very tough for adults to put up with the kinds of challenges to one’s authority that some kids can pull off. Lawyering, tag teaming, whack-a-mole, constant disruption of a carefully and well-defined lesson. It is hard to take–hard to manage.

    I was never a “yeller.” But, we have all had a “yeller” in our own schooling.

    • I don’t yell…I can think of only a handful of times in my life that I’ve shouted in anger, and the weren’t in my classroom. I am more the type to get sullen when I am angry. But I have definitely said things I wish I could take back to students when I was upset or frustrated, thinking I needed to respond immediately. It took me a while to master the use of the Flat Still Silent Stare, which looks like you are deliberately being scary, but actually gives you time to get yourself together and formulate a reasonable response.

  3. Jessica

    I think lots of first year teachers (and other years as well TFA or not) end up reaching a breaking point in their classroom and end up yelling. I have done it. I was shocked earlier this year when a teacher, who was one of the calmest I knew, called me and confessed to me that she had yelled like she had never heard herself before. Should we yell? No, probably not. Does it happen? Of course.

  4. I watched the second video, which has to be one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I nearly died laughing. (Although it surprises me that so many first year teachers laughed too, since I felt like I was usually laughing at myself for doing all the exact same things. I don’t know how it’s possible to laugh so hard without hindsight… you know they were all planning to do most of the things you were mocking!)

    I wish you were still doing this at Institute. This is full of fabulous, concrete, realistic advice that could have made a huge difference for a lot of us. I’ve been sitting here doing this ridiculous combination of nodding my head, laughing, and grimacing for the last hour. Thanks for sharing.

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Thanks Mathinaz,
      Glad you liked it. TFA stopped letting me do it around 2004 and then I still did it for other organizations until 2009 when I decided I was getting too old for it. Maybe I’ll do it again someday, but for now, at least the videos are there for whoever wants.

  5. Gretel

    I’ve never heard of anger management being part of a teacher training program, but I think it’s a wonderful idea. Kids can push buttons like no adult can.
    I, too, am a very patient person generally, but in my first year, I screamed, I cried, I binged on junk food when I came home, I skipped meals, I smoked about a pack a day, and a number of other behaviors that were not healthy. I did not do TFA, but I did another quick alternative certification program without adequate training. It sure would’ve been helpful if someone had told me then what to do with all the anger and frustration that come with teaching.

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