I define irrational as meaning that something you think, feel,
say or do makes your life worse instead of better. It never
makes sense to do that to yourself. You choose to think, or
look at things in a way that makes you feel worse than is
necessary or helpful, and that causes you to say or do things
that makes your life worse in some way. It never makes
sense to do that to yourself, but students do that a lot.
Sometimes teachers do as well.
Rational means the opposite - what you think, feel, say and
do makes your life better. It allows you to generate a more
functional amount of emotion, which in turn allows you to
respond to life events in the best possible way instead of
Most of our irrational beliefs are well rehearsed and
practiced, and therefore "rutted" in our brains. "Ruts" cause
thoughts to become automatic. Dr. Ellis used to call the
kinds of thought that make people feel worse than they need
to, and to do things that aren't good for them automatic
irrational beliefs. Some people now call them Automatic
Negative Thoughts, and say people have ANT problems.
Both teachers and students often have ANT problems, and
often don't realize it.
Dr. Albert Ellis identified four basic types of irrational
thinking. He called them Demandiness, Awfulizing, Can't
Stand It-itis, and Label and Damning. It's relatively easy to
learn to recognize this pattern of thinking in yourself and
others. He contended that if you have one type of thinking,
the other three will be there as well. It's also easy to teach
students to recognize such thinking.
There are three basic ways we can look at things. One, we
could not care. Two, we could want, prefer of desire
something. Three, we could think we need it instead of just
want it, it's a necessity instead of just a preference, and
demand it instead of simply desiring it. I teach people five
Rule #1 - You have the right to want whatever you want
This means a teachers has the right to want his/her students
to behave. He/she has a right to want students to put their
best effort into what they do. Of course, students also have to
right to not want to do things they don't like. The mistake
teachers make is to start to demand such things of their
students. The mistakes students make is to demand that they
not have to do things they don't like, or that they be able to
do whatever they want. The reason this is important is
because of Rule #2.
Rule #2 - The greater the difference between expectations
and reality, the more emotion you'll generate.
If a teacher wants, prefers and desires that their students
cooperate, and they don't, he/she will be frustrated, irritated
and annoyed if they don't. How frustrated, irritated or
annoyed he/she becomes will depend on how badly he/she
wanted, preferred and desired their students to cooperate,
and how big of a difference there is between their
expectations and their students behavior. However, if he/she
thinks their students need to behave and do what he/she
wants, it's a necessity, and demands that they behave, there
will be an ever bigger difference between his/her
expectations and reality, causing them to be angry instead.
How angry they get will depend on how much he/she thinks
their students need to behave, it's a necessity, and demand
that they do, and how big a difference there is between those
expectations and reality.
There's a qualitative difference between inviting cooperation
and demanding obedience. Kids have always, and will
continue to do things adults don't like. But it's where adults
set their expectations that will make a difference in whether
they simply get frustrated, irritated or annoyed, or get angry.
That will make a difference in whether they are free to
respond to behavior they don't like, or react to it.
When people are being demanding, they use verbs like need
(to), have to, can't, should or shouldn't. If they are making
themselves angry, it's because they are making demands of
others that don't get met. That means they would be using
pronouns like you, he, she, or they. For example:
They need to be more respectful
They have to be quiet while I'm talking
They can't do other class work in my class
They should be paying attention at all times
They shouldn't be texting anyone during class
There's nothing wrong with wanting, preferring or desiring
students to be respectful, to be quiet while you're teaching, to
not do other class work in your class, to pay attention at all
times, and to not be texting during class. But by thinking they
need to, have to (or can't) and should (or shouldn't) do such
things, it just sets you up to get angry if or when they don't
Rule #3 - When someone starts to think they need something
they simply want, to treat a preference as a necessity, and
starts to demand what they simply desire, it can make
otherwise smart people do stupid things
A perfect example was a headline from the Grand Junction
Sentinnel. "Substitute wallops 4th grader". Every teacher has
been told in college that you never put your hands on a
student except to protect him/her, or protect others from
him/her. And that to do so could cost you your job. This was
most likely the result of a teacher making himself angry.
Anger will make otherwise smart people do stupid things
because it causes them to react to what is happening
instead of respond to it. And the reason he got angry was
probably because he started demanding that the student do
what he wanted.
Rule #4 - Behavior intended to satisfy a perceived need will
win out over behavior intended to satisfy a rational
This rule works better for health related behavior than any
others. For example, know anyone who struggles to quit
smoking, or lose weight?
Rational preference I want to quit smoking
Perceived need I need a cigarette. I can't go all day
without a cigarette
Rational preference I want to lose weight
Perceived need I need my favorite foods every day. I
can't eat vegetables and fruit.
Here's a possible classroom example.
Rational preference I want to get along with my students
Perceived need They need to do what I tell them
You can make demands of others, yourself or life. If you
make demands of others and they dont get met, you'll get
angry. The essence of anger is to demand that "Everyone
has to do what I want, and be the way I want them to be".
How old does that sound? That's why Albert Ellis said
getting angry is an adult throwing a temper tantrum.
If you make demands of yourself before some event, you'll
make yourself anxious (instead of concerned). When people
are feeling stress, they typically use the verb phrase "have
to" (or can't) instead of "want to" (don't want to). The
essence of the demands people make of themselves to
make themselves anxious are often "I have to be perfect and
do everything perfectly all the time. I can't make any
mistakes". Anxiety is also caused by making demands of life.
For example, "Everything has to turn out the way I planned it
or want it to. Nothing can go wrong". Good luck with either of
these when you're a teacher.
If you make demands of yourself after some event, you'll
make yourself feel ashamed or guilty. More often than not
people will use the verbs "should" or "shouldn't". It's jokingly
called "shoulding" on yourself. As a general rule, it's not
good to should on yourself or others. The essence of the
demands you might make of yourself to make yourself feel
ashamed are, "I should be doing better/more than I am. I
shouldn't be doing so poorly." For guilt, it would be "I
shouldn't have done that. I should know better. I should
always do the right thing."
Depression comes from making demands of life. For example
"This shouldn't be happening to me. I shouldn't have to deal
with this. It shouldn't be so hard. It should be easier than
this." These are thoughts any teacher could start to have
about their job.
Boredom comes from making demands of life as well. For
example, "School should be more fun and interesting. It
shouldn't be so boring". Students are more likely to make
such demands today than ever before because they've been
subjected to so much stimulation everywhere in their lives.
There are many things in life that are unpleasant,
inconvenient and uncomfortable. That includes many things
that kids do, or that happen in classrooms. The mistake
people make is to start telling themselves that what happened
Remember than anxiety is a figment of imagination. It's about
things that haven't happened yet. Things that could, but
haven't yet, and often never do. The formula for anxiety is:
CATASTROPHIZE + AWFULIZE = ANXIETY
First you imagine something bad happening. For example,
you lose control of your class, your kids don't test well on
standardized tests, you don't do well when you're being
evaluated. Then you tell yourself it would be awful if such a
thing did happen. If you said, "So what, who cares?" you
wouldn't feel anxiety. If you think or tell yourself that it would
simply be unpleasant, inconvenient or uncomfortable, you'd
be concerned. Concerned, but not anxious. In order to feel
anxious, you have to tell yourself something that might
happen would be awful. So awfulizing plays a crucial role in
making yourself feel stressed (anxious)
Rule #5 - You have a right to like or dislike whatever you
You have a right to dislike students disrupting your class, or
doing any of the many other things they do in classrooms.
The mistake people make is to tell themselves they can't
stand things they simply don't like. Once again, that creates a
bigger gap between the way they choose to look at things
and reality. When you tell yourself you can't stand what
students do, you're more likely to make yourself angry.
If you tell yourself you couldn't stand something that might
happen if it did, you'll make yourself feel anxious, and stress
yourself out. If you tell yourself you can't stand something
you've done or haven't done, you'll be more likely to feel guilt
and/or shame. If you tell yourself you can stand the way your
life is, you'll depress yourself.
Rule #5 says that you have a right to like or dislike whatever
you want to. You have a right to dislike something your
students do, or that you yourself do. The mistake people
make is to label and damn the person, either someone else,
or themselves. Label and damning is called blatant over
generalization. It's condemning the doer instead of a deed.
It's like calling an apple "bad" because it has a bruise, even
though 95% of the apple is still perfectly edible. Smart
people do stupid things all the time, but that doesn't make
them a stupid person. Label and damning others will just
make you angry, and make it harder to find common ground
with them. It will escalate any conflict there might be between
you and students, and make it harder to find a resolution.
Labeling and damning yourself just makes you generate
shame needlessly, which in turn can lead to anxiety, and
being stress out.