How I Learned to Stop Yelling

Learn how one teacher overcame the urge to yell when frustrated, and how that impacted her classroom. 

By Brianna Sanford, Third Grade Teacher | May 16, 2016
Learned To Stop Yelling

I’ve always been, shall we say, a loud talker. I’m also highly passionate about a lot of things. So when you combine those traits, you have a recipe for yelling. I never meant to be a yeller, but sometimes I would get worked up and my method of communication definitely fell into that camp. I didn’t start out by yelling at my students. But I noticed that as the year went on, and my frustrations rose, the yelling would creep up in my classroom too.

At several schools that I worked in prior to Momentous School, I got the advice, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” This was the common advice given to teachers of upper grades – and at more than one school! The idea is that you have to be the adult. You have to show that students that you are in charge, that you are not their friend, and that you have the power in the relationship.

But you can imagine exactly how this all plays out. A new teacher, trying to follow the sage advice of the more experienced teachers, who has a predisposition to raising her voice when frustrated… Well, let’s just say, some moments weren’t as pretty as others. When a student misbehaves, and a teacher raises her voice, the student talks louder. The teacher then begins yelling, the students gripes, the power struggle goes on and on, and the teacher never really wins. Yelling never achieves what we want it to.

One day I had an epiphany moment. I was thinking about my career choice, and how much I loved working with kids, but I was also thinking about some of the really amazing veteran teachers at my school. I noticed that they all had these former students come back and visit them, and tell them how important they had been in their lives. They were inspiring students and making a difference for these kids. I thought about it for quite a while. I thought, “Am I being the teacher I want to be? Am I inspiring my students? Or am I just intimidating them?”

I wish I could say I never yelled again. I probably slipped up a few more times after that, but it did mark a big change for me. I started to think really differently about my students. I noticed that we really don’t treat students like we treat other people. We really don’t encourage them to be their best selves when we’re yelling and lording over them. We really aren’t treating them like we would want our bosses to treat us. I would be miserable in a work environment where I was yelled at, threatened or required to follow certain directions a specific way every single time. But I was doing that to these kids.

When you work with kids all day long, every day, it can start to feel like their bad behavior is personal. If a student doesn’t do what I ask him to do, it’s because he is disrespectful and he doesn’t like me. And that’s when it feels like the right reaction is exerting some sense of authority. But when you take a step back, you can see that it’s not that at all. If a student doesn’t do what I ask, there could be a hundred reasons why. Maybe he doesn’t know how. Maybe no one taught him that skill at home. Maybe he is tired because he got a bad night’s sleep. We expect a lot from these kids. We expect them to sit in their seats, look at the teacher, listen to the teacher, focus their attention, follow directions. But if they don’t know how to do that, because they haven’t learned it or they aren’t there yet, we have to teach it to them. That becomes part of the teacher’s job.

When I made a conscious effort to stop yelling, I didn’t magically become less frustrated. So what do I do now instead of yelling? When I notice the yelling creeping up, I take a quick break. I stop for just a second, and I lower my voice. Just like when I raised my voice, and the kids raised their voices right back, the same thing is true for lowering it. When I take a minute to stop and lower my voice, the volume of the whole class comes down. And so does the tension, the high energy, and the frustration.

I also pay extra attention to what’s going on with my students. Rather than yelling when a student doesn’t follow directions, I think about what might be happening that’s making this task difficult for him.

And then of course, I apologize when I mess up. We’re all human. So sometimes I make a mistake – I raise my voice, or I jump to conclusions, or I am stern when I should be empathetic. But when I do this, I acknowledge it. I say, “I made a mistake and I would like to apologize.”

I no longer believe in the idea of not letting them see me smile. We are a team, and we work together to make sure our learning environment is built on mutual respect, kindness, compassion, and of course… joy. There’s lots of smiling in our room! Trust me – smiling is much better than yelling. For all of us.