Chronic frustration from dealing with negative or unsuccessful interactions around school discipline is a leading cause of teacher burnout, resulting in the flight of teachers both from the most challenging schools and from the profession altogether.

The emotional toll on educators from high-stakes confrontations and power struggles with students is massive.

If we were to design an ideal “emotional makeup” for a prospective teacher who we think might be successful with school discipline, what would that look like?

Would we want someone who is comfortable with conflict? It would certainly seem so. Successful classroom managers typically need to be able to confidently confront student behavioral problems without fear or anxiety before the confrontation and without rumination and dwelling after the confrontation. You need to be able to confront quickly and confidently and bounce back easily.

But maybe a tendency toward conflict aversion would help teachers avoid unnecessary conflicts, or to be more measured and considerate about what requires confrontation. We have all probably known teachers whose lack of conflict aversion gets them embroiled in far more conflicts with students than necessary.

What about frustration tolerance? Teaching can be extremely frustrating, and the first few years especially can feel like a never-ending cascade of problems. You need to be resilient to come back with a clean slate every day. And yet, you could see how being too tolerant of frustration could cause one to become complacent or let problems linger without solving them.

But what if we were able to replace frustration altogether? From Ross Greene’s Lost and Found:

[Quoting a superintendent implementing Greene’s CPS strategies]

I think that it really all comes down to one thing–curiosity. Don’t get frustrated about the kid’s behavior, get curious about the problem causing the behavior. A lot of adults want the problem to be fixed and better immediately, and I think a lot of adults are used to a model of communication where they lead, and the student does what they say, and then they get results.

What a remarkable thing it would be if were able to re-program ourselves such that our first reaction to any maladaptive behavior is neither surprise nor anger nor disappointment but curiosity. This is easier said than done, of course. Our reactions to misbehavior often feel primal and instinctive; we are “set off” and sometimes even lose our cool. What would it take for us to become less frustrated, less offended, and more curious? How do we get there?


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