"These kids drive me crazy" - Actually they don't, you do
MOST TEACHERS HAVE AN EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL
You hear it in teacher lounges all the time. “These kids are driving me crazy” or “That kid makes me so angry”. Like so many others, teachers typically
see their jobs as being stressful. Looking at things this way is called having an external (outer) locus of control. Teachers see something outside themselves as the cause of how they feel.
There’s just one problem. That’s not really the life works. Those are scientifically and semantically inaccurate descriptions of how teachers come to feel “crazy”, angry or feel stressed out. If it were totally harmless to talk these ways, or look at how stress comes about this way, it would be no big deal. However, looking at things these ways creates a number of problems.
HOW AN EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL WORKS AGAINST US
1) It makes how a teacher feels depend on kids they can’t and don’t really control.
Many adults think, talk and act as if they control kids, but they really don’t. All it takes is one out-of-control student in your classroom to drive this point home.
2) Looking at things this way puts a teacher at the seeming mercy of student behavior.
3) Teachers are more likely to end up feeling like victims because of this.
4) It gives kids seeming power and control over how a teacher feels that they really don’t have.
5) A teacher gives away the real power and control he/she does have over how he/she feels without realizing it.
6) A teacher will typically end up feeling worse than necessary or helpful, for longer than necessary.
7) Perhaps more importantly, the teacher misses many opportunities to feel better, and be less stressed out.
8) A teachers prognosis for feeling better or being less stressed does not look very promising because looking at things these ways implies that kids or the job have to change for better for them to feel better or be less stressed out. What if neither ever does?
TEACHERS CAN EVEN REINFORCE BEHAVIOR THEY DON’T LIKE
Believing that kids upset us can even reinforce the very behavior we don’t like. If they think they upset us, and we do too, it gives them a false sense of power and control over us whenever we do get upset. It’s false because they really don’t upset us, we upset ourselves by the way we choose to look at what they do before, while and after they do it. Many times misbehaving students will even have the “mistaken” goals of power and control, and/or revenge in behaving the way they do. If they do, getting visibly angry, and having both teacher and student look at things in this erroneous way just helps them achieve their “mistaken” goal(s). That makes it more likely that the student will repeat the behavior in the future. The satisfaction they get from this false sense of power and control, or even revenge, will trump any consequences a teacher might give them for misbehaving.
THE TRUTH ABOUT HOW FEELINGS COME ABOUT
The truth is, we drive ourselves crazy, and make ourselves angry by the way we choose to look at what kids say or do, before they say or do it, while they are, and after they do. And we stress ourselves out by the way we look at what happens on the job, or what is expected of us.
There’s a simple formula for the way feelings come about: EVENT + THOUGHTS = FEELING
Anything that students, or others say or do, or that happens is technically just and event in this formula. It’s our thoughts about such events, and any imagined or remembered events we create in our minds, that really determine how we feel. Thoughts cause feelings, not events.
We all have a host of cognitive choices we make all the time that really determine how we feel. For example:
1) How we LOOK AT things
2) What MEANING we attach to what happens
3) What we REMEMBER about the past at any given moment
4) What we IMAGINE will happen in the future
5) What we FOCUS on
6) What we COMPARE things to
7) What we EXPECT of ourselves, others and life in the first place
8) How much IMPORTANCE we attach to what does happen
Usually we make them so automatically that it doesn’t seem like any choice is involved. We make them so automatically because the way we make such choices are so well practiced and rehearsed over a life time and deeply “rutted” in our brains. So it’s perfectly understandable that we make these choices the way we do.
But we always have choices, and the way we make them is never “cast in stone”. However, once we create “ruts” in our brains, we can’t get rid of them. We can create new ruts by practicing and rehearsing new ways of looking at things and making our other cognitive choices, and hope they compete for use with our old ones. However, we can always slip into our old ones, and probably will.
IT’S OUR CHOICE HOW WE WANT TO FEEL
Since the way we choose to look at things really determines how we feel, and we always have a choice as to how we want to look at things, then technically and logically, we also have a choice how we want to feel. It’s our choice how we want to feel. The way we choose to look at things, and make ourselves feel because of it will always be understandable given our life experiences, but we do have a choice.
When I first had a counselor (and good friend) tell me, “Look Ray, it’s your choice how you want to feel”, I didn’t take it well. I just got even angrier. It felt like he was saying “It’s your fault you feel
that way”, “There’s something wrong with you for feeling the way you do”, “It’s okay those kids did that in your class” and “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”. Some would say it’s an
example of “blaming the victim”.
But what my friend (a counselor) was actually trying to do is help me learn to not feel like or be a victim of my students’ behavior. The simple fact is that some ways we choose to look at things will make us feel better, others worse. Some will make it easier to deal with kids, and our jobs, others harder. But we always have choices. So why not find better ways?
DEVELOPING AN INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL
Learning the real cause of our feelings, and how they really come about, and the many cognitive choices we always have is a big part of developing an INTERNAL (inner) locus of control. You can read more about how to do so at:
You can read about four "tools" I think every teacher should be given to help them feel better, and the way they’d like to feel at:
PROTECTING KIDS FROM THEMSELVES
One final point. My mentor once said, “Sometimes the job is about protecting kids from themselves”. Many misbehaving students have a deep sense of powerlessness from the own life experiences, both in and outside the classroom. They will have a tendency to have the “mistaken” goals of power and control, and/or revenge. They will try to upset teachers, wrongly believing that they do, and suffer and tolerate all kinds of consequences in trying to achieve their “mistaken” goals. Learning to not get needlessly angry is one way to protect such students from themselves. A big part of learning to not upset ourselves needlessly is learning how our feelings really come about, and reminding ourselves of the choices we always have. In other words, learning to have an internal locus of control.