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Getting angry at kids


Rabbi David Samson

9 Tammuz 5763
I am a teacher of junior high school students in a Yeshiva Day School in Brooklyn. Our school in general suffers from problems of discipline, and my class in particular. If I don’t get angry at the kids every day, they take over and turn the class into a zoo. The problem is that I get so riled up that I find myself getting angry at my own kids at home. I realize that anger is not a positive quality. Can you offer some suggestions on how I can separate my behavior at work from my behavior at home?
Anger, whether at work or at home is to be avoided. The Rambam teaches: "Anger is an extremely evil trait which an individual should avoid at all costs to the furthest extreme. He should teach himself not to get angry, even over things that provoke anger."[1] Our Sages teach that a person who gets angry is like someone who worships idols, because at the moment of his anger he forgets G-d.[2] Furthermore, they say that an angry person is someone whose life isn't worth living.[3] Rabbi Chaim Vital calls anger one of the most serious transgressions. He explains that when a person is angry, his soul leaves him and an external impure psyche is implanted in him. For this reason, when a person gets angry, his wisdom departs from him, even if he be a great rabbi. Even if he has many good deeds to his credit, they are all lost when he gets angry.[4] Rabbi Abraham Yellin, in his book Erech Apayim, states that if a teacher cannot control himself from getting angry at his students, he should seek another field of endeavor.[5] The Shulchan Aruch says that even if a student does not understand the lesson, the teacher should teach it over and over without getting angry. However, if the student is simply lazy in his study and indifferent, then it is appropriate for the teacher to rebuke them angrily for not respecting their learning.[6] The Rambam clarifies that anger can be used as a tool of education and discipline, however a person should only express a display of anger and not feel true anger inside. Thus when a teacher or parent disciplines a child, he should merely pretend to be angry. Within his heart, he should be at ease with himself like an actor in a drama.[7] From my experience as a teacher and parent, if one cannot control his anger at the moment, it is better to discipline the child at some later time, when he is calm and collected. The Rambam summarizes, "The desired path is the middle of the road in every character trait. It is the middle path of both extremes…For instance, a person should not be prone to extreme anger, nor should he be like a cadaver who feels nothing. Rather his anger should be in the middle, getting angry only over great matters, so that the misdeed should not be done again."[8] As for tips on how not to get angry, a person needs to delve into the root of his anger and the lack of faith that causes it. At the moment of his anger, a person forgets that G-d brings about everything that happens – including the behavior of rebellious students and children. 1. Rambam, Laws of Knowledge, 1:4. 2. Pesachim, 66A. 3. Pesachim, 113A. 4. In the name of the Arizal, in the book Shaarei HaYichudim. 5. Erech Apayim, pg. 89. 6. Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Teaching Torah, 246:10. 7. Rambam, Laws of Knowledge, 1:5. 8. Ibid, 4:3.
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