Like all teachers, I can get angry from time to time. I can feel angry over disrespectful students who interrupt me or their fellow classmates. I can get angry over student apathy, and I can get angry when students fail to follow the directions that I’ve given multiple times. I dislike getting angry with my students, and I do what I can to work through my frustrations before the proverbial “blow up.” I think my students would say that I don’t often get angry, but you’d have to ask them. No student likes when his or her teacher gets angry, even when that student realizes the teacher’s anger is justified. Anger is unpleasant and awkward and makes all concerned feel kind of crummy. But I would much rather someone be angry with me than disappointed in me, and I hope my students feel this way as well.
Anger, at least the kind I’m talking about in the context of a teacher feeling angry with her students, is fleeting. It’s also usually not completely rational. A few students fail to follow directions, perhaps for a few days in a row, and it can seem for a moment like no student follows any directions ever. But it’s just for a moment that the anger flares up. The teacher walks away, has a laugh with a colleague, and realizes that all in all she has a great bunch of kids to work with and she’ll take that group of kids over any other. By the next day, she’s apologizing for being short with the students, and the students are promising to get the next assignment in on time. No biggie. The anger is gone.
Disappointment is different. Disappointment cuts deeper. Disappointment, unlike that kind of fleeting, ephemeral anger that I just discussed, is intimately connected with character. Anger is often about someone’s actions; disappointment is often about someone and the disconnect between who we thought that person was and who we now perceive them to be. Whether our perception is accurate or not is to a certain extent irrelevant. The feeling of disappointment makes it unlikely that in the immediate future our perception will be accurate; it masks our very ability to perceive the person who disappointed us outside of the feeling itself.
If we want to convince our students that honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness matter, we need to help them see that it is far, far better for a teacher or a parent to be angry with them than to be disappointed in them. We need to help them buck up a bit. So your teacher got angry? Did you deserve it? Are you going to self-correct? Good. Now, move on. Take your lecture, take your punishment, and get on with it. Chances are if you do this – if you take responsibility without complaint – you will actually rise in the teacher’s estimation. He or she will actually think better of you. Imagine that.
BUT, and this bit is important, if you attempt to lie your way out of or around a little bit of justified anger or irritation, you’ve just entered disappointment territory, and disappointment territory is much more treacherous to escape. Recently, I thought one of my students was headed for disappointment territory, but by telling the truth, accepting the punishment, and then moving on, the disappointment evaporated. Sure, there was a little bit of anger or frustration, but it didn’t last long at all. Now, if we could just convince all students of this.