SIP 4.4 Managing Feelings of Frustration Toward Students

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Have you ever heard something like,Professor frustrated with students. "Help" on chaulkboard behind him

  • “What degrees do you have?”
  • “I am an A student and I don’t agree with this grade.”
  • “Actually, I recently read ____ and it said ….”

Comments like these can result in feelings of frustration for professors. Those feelings can become barriers to productive teaching and learning, undermine job satisfaction, and sap energy and enthusiasm for teaching.

Take a SIP of This: Managing Feelings of Frustration Toward Students

It is normal to periodically feel frustration with others, including our students. Frustration with students can make us feel bad about ourselves as if our frustration indicates a character flaw or makes us bad professors, neither of which is true.

When we get frustrated we can also blame the students. When we blame students for our feelings, we relinquish control of a significant part of our well-being.

There are two steps we can take to manage  our frustration productively. First, we need to regain control of our feelings. Second, it is important to address the student’s actions or interactions as a “teachable moment.” Look for part two of this SIP titled “Productive Interactions with Frustrating Students” next week.

Tips for managing frustration toward students

  • Remember the dumb things you said or did when you were a student. With few exceptions, none of us was a perfect student. Did you have a teacher or professor who was forgiving at those times? Ask yourself, “What would _____ do in this situation?”
  • When a student gets under your skin in the middle of class, give the class something they can do independently and leave the classroom. Take a short walk and cool down. Make a plan for addressing the problem. Don’t re-enter the classroom until you are sure that your emotions are under control. No student is worth doing something that will endanger your job or tenure.
  • Don’t take it personally. Every student who enters our class has a different interest in the topic, different preferences for instructional styles, and different sleep and wake cycles, among other things. MSU Denver students  are managing work, family, school, and often other responsibilities. Some come to class after having worked a night shift and are tired or hungry. Others might have a job in which they interact with unhappy people and then come to class and pass along their frustration to their classmates or professors. None of these things has to do with us.
  • Consider why you might feel frustrated with the student. Do you feel as though your expertise is being challenged? Do you see parts of yourself that you don’t like in the student?
  • Cultural or language issues might play a part in communication breakdowns. What can be an appropriate way to act or interact in one culture might be very different in another resulting in misperceptions of the intention of behavior and communication. While we might assume that students are intentionally being disrespectful, a disposition that sounds or appears antagonistic might be entirely unintentional. They may or may not realize that their tone sounds offensive or that their actions are rude.
  • Be honest about your own bias. Everyone is biased, it is part of being human. The best we can do is to be aware of our bias and consider how that might play into the way we feel about our students. Our own bias might, unintentionally, feel as though we are antagonistic to the student, who is then mirroring our attitudes back to us. Taking Harvard University’s bias awareness test can help us think about our own bias.
  • Avoid generalizing frustration for one student to a whole class. Be clear with yourself who frustrates you and why.

Although we might be able to develop understanding and empathy for the students who frustrate us, it is still not acceptable for anyone to be disrespectful to another, particularly in a learning environment. Look for part two of this SIP titled “Productive Interactions with Frustrating Students” next week.

Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Managing Feelings of Frustration Toward Students

  • Join us for the Equity-Minded Pedagogy Series hosted by MSU Denver’s First Year Success Program. Implicit bias is the topic of session one on September 23rd at 10am.
  • Harvard University’s bias awareness test includes self-administered tests that measure bias related to a variety of characteristics of others including race, gender, weight, and disability, among others. There is also a menu of tests that measure implicit biases that we have about ourselves regarding mental health.
  • Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching: Diversity and Inclusive Teaching highlights a number of issues related to communication and behavior of students who do not share the instructor’s culture, language, or nationality.

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