Dr. Fred Mayo suggests strategies to manage frustration in classrooms and help students deal with anger.
By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT
Last month, we discussed Civility in the Classroom and this month we will pursue a related issue: understanding anger and ways to control or manage it. Next month is about the correct level of listening to a wide range of emotions and their impact on the classroom culture.
Although expressions of anger, like bullying, is something we do not tolerate or invite in our classrooms, many students face frustration when learning new material or working hard to build skills, speed, and teamwork abilities. Helping students learn how to recognize and manage that frustration, and how it often leads to anger, can be a major contribution to their professional development and a significant way to change their careers.
Levels of Frustration
The first step in helping students involves creating a culture which recognizes the reality of students’ frustration and prevents persons from blaming themselves or others for the frustration. It means honoring the challenges students face and learning about the range of frustrations professionals face in many work situations. There are often various levels of frustration, ranging from the simple difficulty of finding a parking space or remembering to bring everything needed to class all the way to making errors in preparing food or not remembering how to plate a dinner entrée and accompaniments. Often, not doing well on examinations or culinary competitions also contribute to frustration.
Anger Management Strategies
The strategies for working with frustration – and at a more extreme level, anger – include the following steps:
- Establish a culture that recognizes frustration and anger but that does not tolerate acting it out on equipment or other people. This step requires establishing classroom norms around emotions and the ways they can be expressed. It also means clarifying, both implicitly and explicitly, that there is no room for bullying in a modern classroom, kitchen, or dining room.
- Show students it is acceptable to feel the frustration and help them learn how to take a deep breath, walk away from the situation, and learn how to cool down. Staying in the middle of the situation rarely helps a person learn to recognize and limit the power of the involved emotions. Sometimes serving as a role model – and pointing out what you are doing when facing frustration and anger – can give them ideas about what they can do on their own. Other times encouraging them to talk with a friend or colleague about the feelings before they grow in volume and intensity can make a difference as well.
- Provide a space – whether private or public – to listen to students talk about their frustration, its causes, and the way it can build in a situation. This strategy helps them realize they are not crazy nor alone in feeling these emotions.
- Lead discussions about recognizing emotions and acceptable ways to express them. These talks don’t have to be large formal lectures; often a spontaneous discussion with a few students may be enough to open their minds to other ways to perceive and act on their situation.
- Listen to students and affirm that you see the power of the emotions and compliment them when not acting out the feelings. Many students want someone to really hear and see them and their situation; once they feel recognized, they can often come up with solutions to their challenges.
- Help them learn from each situation by facilitating a discussion of what triggered the emotions and how they can lessen the influence of those triggers or see them as opportunities to learn and not just to dump feelings.
I know this list of strategies is easy to read and hard to practice. If it was easy, we would not need to consider it and remind ourselves what options we have and how we need to use these opportunities as teaching moments.
These same strategies were mentioned in the discussion about promoting civility since they work. In that Mayo Clinic, I wrote “Making these issues explicit calls attention to the value of a classroom climate where everyone is encouraged to challenge themselves, do their best, and continually improve. It also sets a pattern for professional behavior that we encourage in our classrooms and throughout the industry. It also means being clear that you will not tolerate rude or disrespectful behavior, vulgar language, bullying, abusive treatment of other students, ethnic or sexist slurs, racism, destructive competition, or physical taunting of other persons.” And our long-term commitment to our students, to our educational institutions, and to the industry demands that we continue to establish productive and supportive learning environments where students are treated professionally.
Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.