How to Respond When You’re Angry

Maybe you’re a very patient person who can respond calmly in almost every situation. You don’t get upset no matter what your students say or do. If that’s you, you probably don’t need to read any more. Just go on with your peaceful day, smiling beatifically at me as I stomp down the hallway, fuming about some crazy thing one of my students just did.

No matter how hard I try, sometimes I say or do things in the heat of the moment I would never do if I wasn’t upset. My actions seem almost instantaneous and involuntary, and I react (like a chemical reaction) instead of responding (like a reply to a greeting.)

Luckily, even those of us lacking superhuman patience can learn to respond more and react less when we’re angry. Here are a few suggestions:

1- Plan your response ahead of time. Write down what you wish you had said or done and picture yourself saying and doing those things next time. You might even rehearse. It’s especially powerful to actually practice in place, such as in your “teaching spot.”

2- Be conscious of how you tend to feel before, during, and after upsetting events. How does your body feel? What kinds of thoughts do you think? For instance, when I’m angry I usually feel a heavy stomach, heat on the back of my neck, tense shoulders, and clenched teeth. I think things like “here we go again” and “you better not mess with me.” When I notice myself starting to feel these sensations and think those thoughts, I know an angry reaction is likely unless I can shift to my planned response or give myself time to cool off.

3- Try to notice patterns, not just in the “trigger moment” but before it happens, too. For instance, I am 2.7 million times more likely to react in anger if I’m tired or hungry. So I make an effort to get a good night’s sleep before teaching and to eat healthy snacks throughout the day.

4- Practice positive self-talk before, during, and after upsetting events. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Remind yourself that you are learning, growing, and getting better.

Even those of us who aren’t super patient can learn to respond instead of react. It’s not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But it’s totally worth it.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres,


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