According to psychologists, yelling is like a human fire alarm. We are equipped with the ability to yell to warn each other about dangerous situations. Yelling is a natural part of dealing with a high stress, high stakes situation. It is frequently misused during high stress situations where the anxiety is coming from anger or frustration, and not from providing a warning.
“The raising of your voice does not increase the validity of your argument.”
Why do teachers yell and how can we fix it?
Yelling in the classroom has been a recurring theme that I have observed as an early childhood educator. As an owner of a preschool, it has been a particularly challenging subject. Oftentimes a teacher won’t start out yelling in the classroom (those who do don’t make it through their initial observation period). It is something that creeps in slowly, a raised voice here, a sharp tone there. How and when should co-workers step in? What is causing the problem, and how can we help solve it?
Yelling is a learned behavior
Many times adults yell because it is what they observed as children. They were either yelled at by their parents, or they had teachers who would gain control of their classroom by raising their voice. This can be tricky to change because yelling is a normal part of their home culture. Teachers who yell as a learned behavior are often unaware that the volume of their voice is inappropriate and they see nothing wrong with that type of classroom management.
There are several ways to help a teacher who is yelling as a natural tendency. Visit with them about it privately. Remind them when their tone is too elevated. The biggest key is to model the correct tone of voice and to try to help them bridge the gap and recognize the difference.
This is the most challenging yelling circumstance to correct, as frequently the yelling teacher will be unable to realize that they have a problem. If necessary it can be helpful to have a third party classroom observer come in to make an unbiased documentation of what their impression was of the classroom.
Yelling to control and intimidate and solutions through better training
Some teachers are not consistent yellers, but they will utilize it when they become unable to manage student behavior. A lot of the time I think this is from new teachers or assistants who love children but don’t have a lot of training for how to interact with large groups at one time, or how to handle challenging behaviors.
Positive modeling comes in handy with this group again, as they may simply not know many tricks of the trade that we find so common place. Giving children warnings before a transition, using transition songs and activities, and changing words from, “Don’t run!” to “Use walking feet.” are all tools that are so vital in crowd control, and some of our newer teachers and assistants simply haven’t learned the language yet.
Yelling out of frustration and how to de-stress teachers
Sometimes you have an excellent seasoned teacher who one day blows their lid. The ideal is to avoid any lid-blowing altogether. Our parents are horrified by the thought that an early childhood educator could ever have a “bad day” and have a moment where they lack self control in our environment. These are the same parents who may have a meltdown at their desk, yell at a supervisor, or walk out of their building to cool off after an altercation with a co-worker.
Early childhood educators by design must be more patient, understanding, and controlled than the average human being. In spite of all of this, discord with coworkers, a death in the family, or a higher than normal workload can take its toll on the best of us. Just like any other work situation, it is important to provide support and understanding to those going through a hard time. Yelling from a teacher who is normally calm and collected of course is not excusable, but it is also a BIG RED FLAG that they need a little extra help.
We utilize a phrase called “teacher time out,” where a teacher can have an assistant with their class while they step out of the room to cool off. Other teachers are also allowed to use this phrase with each other in a supportive way to suggest they take a moment outside. It is important to be aware of the stress of those around you and look for ways that you can help or rearrange tasks, schedules, etc to improve the environment.
What if it doesn’t work?
Many studies show that being yelled at is bad for kids, like this one from the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Child Psychology. Even with our best intentions, some teachers won’t give up their addiction to yelling. If interactions don’t improve these teachers have to be removed from classrooms in the best interest of students. Many teachers with a talent and passion for working with children have been lost to our profession because they cannot overcome this learned behavior as an effective behavior management technique. We can provide modeling, training, and resources, but we cannot force anyone to change their behavior. Not even if we yell at them!