3 Times I Didn’t Lose My End-of-Year Cool!

A MiddleWeb Blog

School’s almost out and anticipation for the long break is almost palpable. The days are sunny and warm. Daylight lasts longer which means that time for sleep is shorter. Many are ready for the school year to be done. But it is not done yet.

There is work left to do and doing it with an open heart and a focused mind is increasingly tough for all of us. This is the time of year when everyone is on their last nerve. Teachers. Students. Parents. All of us!

As the year winds down, I am seeing some students beginning to balk when presented with challenging work or even shutting down completely. I am noticing an increased frequency of lunch time and other school breaks ending with students fighting, crying, or frustrated. And, truth be told, that is making me feel like fighting, crying, and otherwise having hissy fits too.

In this time of heightened emotions it is easy for teachers to lose their self-control. That’s why I’m feeling good about three recent school challenges where I didn’t lose mine! Below I will share these examples and the strategies that kept me cool, calm, and centered.

1. “I’m not going to do it.” That is what Trevor said when we were getting ready to write. Trevor often refuses to work, and I always find a way to get work out of him with minimal drama. But, this time, I could feel myself getting hot: I mean, who did this kid think he was? Did he think I asked him to write for my own kicks and giggles? Did he think that I wanted to grade 100 student papers? Oh yeah, my temperature was rising.

So I did what I knew I needed to. I walked away. I took a minute to calm myself with quiet breathing. Then, when I felt ready, I went back and said, “You know what, Trevor, I can’t make you work. But I can tell you this, I am going to watch the time and make a tally mark for every minute you don’t work, and you will come back and work with me later.” And, that’s what I did.

After 11 tallies, Trevor quietly picked up his pencil and wrote. Then at recess he came back and we worked together for 15 more minutes. He was happy; I was happy. He was proud of his writing. I was proud of his writing. Win-win. No hissy fits from either of us.

2. Raylene came storming in. She threw herself down in the take-a-break chair and loudly made a noise that sounded like a cross between a huff and a roar. She often comes to my room to take a break, pull herself together, get a hug from me, and then head back to class. But this time, Raylene was more furious than usual and began to kick the desk. It was loud. It was distracting. I was trying to teach and felt anger and irritation threatening to explode.

I stomped over to Raylene ready to lay into her, but, just before I did, I forced myself to read the tattered quote taped above the desk, Gifts to Give. I don’t remember where I found it, but it has served me well. As soon as I read “To the difficult child, PATIENCE,” all of the anger I was feeling drained away.

I put a hand on Raylene’s shoulder and said, “I’m so sorry you’re having a rough day, Ray. I am going to come and chat with you as soon as I can. In the meantime, will you please stop making that noise. I need to finish with my class, okay?” I gave her a pat and moved back a step.

She gave a couple more heated kicks and then stopped. I went back to teaching my class, and when it was over, I returned to chat with Raylene. She had calmed down. I was calm. No one lost their cool!

3. “Oh no! I forgot! Can we meet tomorrow?” It was 4:45, 15 minutes past the scheduled start time of my meeting with a parent. When I called, the parent casually laughed about having forgotten, asking, “Can we do it tomorrow instead?” WHAT?!?! Tomorrow?!?! Did she think I had limitless time? Did she think I was just sitting around waiting for someone to talk to?

My blood pressure was rising. I was mad! I pulled myself together and politely told the parent that I would check my schedule and call her back. I walked over to a friend’s classroom and told her the story. She said, “I have to show you something!” Principal Gerry Brooks (really…he’s a principal) had just posted a new video with the codes he would like to see on student placement cards. Among them were codes to describe parents, including, RRNSU (Reschedules, Reschedules, Never Shows Up)!

It was hilarious and it perfectly described what had just happened to me. I laughed so hard I had to wipe away the tears. Then I picked up the phone, called the parent, and rescheduled. Not frustrated. Not mad. Didn’t even really care if she showed up the next day or not; it’s all part of the job, right?!

So, there you have it, three times when I could have lost my cool but didn’t. In each, I used a simple strategy to keep calm. I hope you find one or more helpful in your final weeks of school.

Strategies to Help You Keep Your Cool  

1. Breath. Recently I have used a simple focused breathing method to help me stay calm, centered, and focused. Called “figure 8” or “lazy 8” breathing, it helps me self-regulate. I keep a little copy of a figure eight behind my name tag on my lanyard and when I feel myself needing to cool down, de-stress, or relax, I trace it with my finger.

I start from the center, I move up and to the right, breathing in until I return to center. I hold for three seconds, then, trace down and to the left, breathing out until I reach the center again. I repeat as often as needed. I have been sharing the strategy with students, and it seems to work for them too! Try it. It is simple and very effective!

2. Get Inspired. I have always surrounded myself with quotes, poems, and pictures that inspire me. This spring I have used them as as place to stop and think when I feel myself become in danger of losing my cool. I shared one above (Gifts To Give). To the left you’ll find another. This one, from Rabbi Tarfon, reminds me that though I can’t fix everything or be successful all the time, it is my job as an educator to keep trying, to not give up, even when I’m frustrated.

Try finding your own inspirational messages and post them where you think you’ll need them most. Then, when you feel your pulse racing or your mood shifting, read them. Really read them and ask yourself how you can live in accordance with the messages they share.

3. Laugh. In an earlier post on the Heart of the School Blog, I wrote about creating a culture of joy in your classroom. When we feel joyful, our bodies release dopamine which makes us feel even better. Joyful laughing is almost always a good thing.

My daughter, who is 11, and I use laughter as an elixir for all kinds of emotional ills. Take for example the day she came home crying because she had an argument with a friend. She was so upset, she couldn’t effectively express her thoughts and feelings. So, before I even tried to talk with her, I pulled out my phone and Googled, “funny puppy videos.” We watched a couple (and they really were funny! Puppies are just so dang cute!) and we laughed a lot.

As she laughed, I could see her stress melt away, and soon she was ready to talk and when she did, the problem just didn’t seem as huge to her as it had only minutes before.

Give yourself this same gift. Add a bookmark on your browser for a website that always makes you laugh. Gerry Brooks, funny dogs or cats, Kid Snippets, cute babies, whatever! Then, when you need to, take a minute to giggle.

4. Love. No matter what is happening, try to focus on love. I know that makes me sound hippy-dippy. But when we remind ourselves that we are the stewards of our fellow human beings, it becomes easier to accept the behaviors they display, and we can encourage ourselves to dislike the behavior but not the person.

When Trevor tested my patience by refusing to work, I reminded myself that I love him (as I do all of my students.) Later, when we worked together during recess, I told him, “Trevor, did you know that there is nothing you can do that will make me not love you? Even when I am frustrated or angry with how you are behaving, I care about you and I believe you can do whatever you set your mind to do.” Trevor beamed and I know that next time he is ready to lose his cool he’ll have that in mind. Similarly, when I start from a place of love, it is pretty difficult to end up at a place of anger.

Fellow educators, I hope that the end of your school year is productive, fun, and reasonably stress free. I am going to do my best to try to keep my cool. I hope you do too! Now, I’ve got to go, I need to watch a couple of funny puppy videos before I finish grading end-of-term papers…

Rita Platt

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher and a self-proclaimed #edudork with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and writes for We Teach We Learn. Rita's first book,Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom (Routledge/MiddleWeb), was published in July 2019.

6 Responses

  1. Marianne Floyd says:

    Really timely, practical words. Nice strategies and thank you for sharing them.

    • Rita Platt says:

      Thanks, Marianne! I had to put a few of these strategies in action today! LOL! It really is THAT time of year!

  2. Liz Bailey says:

    Thank you for your humor and insight just when I needed it!

    • Rita Platt says:

      You are so welcome! I need it too. It is a battle to keep it together this time of year.

  3. Eva Knight says:

    Thank you for sharing this with me. We are only human, and our patience seems to run out at this hectic time of year. I will surely try these hints. Thanks again, a first grade teacher.

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