Losing your patience as a teacher is inevitable. Like all adults, you likely have certain pet peeves and moments of spontaneous irritation and annoyance. For instance, one of my fellow teachers absolutely hated the banging and scratching of chairs on the classroom floor. It was like the sound of nails on a chalkboard and it drove him nuts! Another colleague hated the sound of wet tennis shoes squeaking across the floor. And personally, I have little tolerance for when kids play with their retainers in their mouths, making it virtually impossible to understand anything they're saying.
So how do you handle this type of scenario when you can't take a coffee break or walk around the block to chill out? Here are some tips to help you stay patient.
1. Have a Discussion on Preferred Behaviors
It's important to remember that you're not the only one with pet peeves; students have them, too. Talk to your class about being mindful so that as a group you can strive to create an environment in which everyone feels at ease. I start by sharing that it drives me a little crazy when kids turn in crumpled homework, repeatedly sniff instead of blow their nose (I call it snorkeling), or call out incessantly. Then I ask my students, "What bothers or distracts you in the classroom?" The list is always very eye-opening. You'd be surprised how many habits you have that students find distracting.
When everyone has shared their pet peeves, we post them for all to see. Then everyone in the classroom knows what behaviors to avoid so they can put their best foot forward. From time to time, you'll have an antagonist who intentionally does things to bother you or a peer, but for the most part, making a list helps minimize problems in the classroom. Sometimes, when you admit you have a problem, the problem amazingly goes away.
2. Create the Best Classroom Setup
Simple systems in the classroom can help curb the occurrence of pet peeves. For example, I had a colleague who hated the sound of chairs scraping the floor. He called a local tennis pro and asked for old tennis balls, and then made a small incision in each one and attached them to the feet of each chair. Problem solved! Sniffling really irks me, so I have boxes of tissue in every corner of the room.
Take your list of pet peeves and develop strategies on how you can deal with them as a community. Are the books in the classroom library always out of order? Create a job for it. Pencils on the floor? Get pencil boxes. Brainstorm with your class about what you can do. Your students might even have better ideas than you!
3. Always Practice Empathy
Your patience as a teacher is going to be tested, and you're going to have to do some deep breathing at times to keep your cool. I try to follow the mantra: "Everyone is doing his or her best at this moment." So when a kid is snorkeling uncontrollably, wiping their nose with the back of their hand and dripping it on their desk, or incessantly interrupting me to ask to go to the bathroom—we developed a hand signal to avoid this—I try to remember that they're trying their absolute hardest in that moment. I breathe deeply and ask them calmly whether they thought before they acted, and usually the answers is "No." Instead of getting upset and watching your student's face crumble like a wrinkled piece of paper, this method encourages self-reflection and thought.
Whether a kid burps loudly in the middle of your lesson, someone calls out, or someone writes in permanent marker on a dry erase board, there are going to be irritable moments in your classroom. That's the beauty about being in a classroom with kids who are learning. But if you approach these situations as solvable issues, you can address them with your class. Just remember that everyone is trying their best, and you might even surprise yourself and get over your pet peeve. (But please, you can see that tissue box—just blow your nose!)