Management of Angry and Passive-Aggressive Students

By Hazel Morley

Anger and Aggression

To respond to anger and aggression, we should identify which stage of aggression is being displayed by the student and what is it’s trigger. This enables us to drawn up a plan of action to address the problem.

There are four stages of anger. To help the student learn to manage their own anger, teach them about the four stages, to help them to talk about their feelings and identify for themselves the stage of anger that they experience.

  1. The trigger
  2. The build up
  3. The outburst
  4. The aftermath.

To enable the students to talk about their feelings and to identify their own stages of anger, it can be useful, especially with young children or students with learning disabilities, to use a metaphor they are familiar with, such as that of a volcano.This can be presented in the form of a poster, which you can keep in the classroom and refer to whenever students are showing the signs of anger.

Once you have worked with this, you can teach the students methods which they could use to respond to situations, or triggers, which make them angry. Working together with the student enables them to learn to manage their anger, which is more constructive than responding with more aggression, or with passivity. You can talk them through the following points, and ideally engage them in discussion:

  • Enable students to recognise the triggers for the anger.
  • Enable students to ask questions of the person aggravating them – what does the person want? Enable students to listen well and try to understand the problem.
  • Enable students to try to identify non-violent strategies – calming the situation or moving away.

These strategies can also be presented in poster form, to be able to refer to it easily when needed. Key vocabulary for expressing feelings and emotions can be taught as an integral part of the class. Older students can be encouraged to create their own posters, personalising the topic of anger management whilst reinforcing the use of vocabulary in English, and encouraging thought and expression about the causes of anger, and how to deal with it.

Passive Aggression

Passive Aggression in students can be difficult to identify, yet is relatively common and can be extremely frustrating for the teacher. It can lead to a breakdown in communication and a deterioration in both teacher-student relationship and the learning environment. To identify passive aggressive behaviours, it is useful to carry out an audit of students such as the one shown below.





This audit sheet identified some key indicators of passive aggression in my students:

  • Generally “loses” things or arrives without the necessary things.
  • “Slow Motion” actions when looking for things, getting in line, getting in place for games and activities.
  • Needs a lot of reminders to stay on-task and needs constant watching and reminders to complete work set.
  • Often fails to have the homework – generally because the note of what to do was “lost” or she “didn’t hear” what she had to do.
  • Can be extremely pleasant and personable, when no demands are made of him – but when a set target or time frame is introduced, he becomes sullen and uncommunicative. Alternatively, he will present an excuse that seems designed to make the fault someone else’s.

These are typical passive-aggressive manifestations, which can “manipulate” and disturb the learning process without being outwardly aggressive. Once you have recognised some signs of passive aggression, you can identify and prepare appropriate methods of response.

Draw up a plan to develop a response to repeated bad behaviour, so that you can be prepared and respond calmly, avoiding letting the situation get worse. Be assertive in your communication, to avoid becoming angry or passive yourself. Get to know which of your responses are effective, and focus on these. Do make it clear what is accepted or not in the classroom and remember to reward positive behaviours even if the student doesn’t outwardly respond. Be persistent – responding to passive-aggressive behaviour requires a longer-term approach. Avoid becoming demoralised – remember to reward yourself as well as the students. The aim is to make the learning process more effective and pleasant for all – including the teacher.

Acknowledgements: This paper results from my course work as part of the “Managing Extreme Behaviours” Advanced Course (Pivotal Education UK).

Written by Hazel Morley for June 2012

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