The Wisdom of Swatting at Bees

How does it feel when a student challenges you or gets in your face? Threatened? Insulted? Do you feel mad, afraid or embarrassed? How is your response to that student driven by those feelings? Do you give a forceful response? A timid one? An angry one?

When students are in conflict with teachers, it’s natural to have a strong emotional reaction. How do teachers prevent that reaction from causing their own responses to escalate the intensity of the interaction rather than reduce it to a manageable level?

Think of how adults learn to integrate cognition to override other emotional responses. For example, when we were children, many of us had certain fears, such as fears of thunderstorms, barking dogs, or bees. When exposed to those situations our reaction may have been to panic, causing us to flee, hide, or swat at the bees. As we aged and developed experience, we learned that those situations might not have posed the dangers that we perceived (although that knowledge may not have eliminated our fears). When we realized that the bees were not interested in stinging us, they were just looking for food, other bees, or their hive, we learned to tell ourselves to remain still while waiting for the bee to fly away. We learned to train our thoughts to override our feelings and to delay our emotional reaction until the perceived danger was gone.

As teachers we can do the same thing. When in conflict with a student, we can tell ourselves that questioning authority is a natural part of child development and that we are not in any danger. Recognizing this, we can remain calm and provide a more thoughtful response. We may present the student with choices, consequences, or distractions or even choose to ignore them. We do not need to respond with increased forcefulness, greater hostility, sarcasm, or other behaviors that are likely to escalate the conflict.

Teachers are adults, complete with the wisdom of experience. Children are only in the process of developing experience. Armed with that awareness, we can train ourselves to respond more effectively to children.


June 30, 2009. Uncategorized.


  1. thebehaviorcoach replied:

    Your analogy makes a lot of sense to me.


  2. Sarah Hubler replied:

    I agree with and am appreciative for the suggestion of what we can “tell ourselves” when in conflict with a student. I believe this advice really would help me to “remain calm and provide a more thoughtful response”. Thanks.

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