Frustrated By Your Students?

I don't think I need to say this, but if you have been teaching for any period of time, I know there have been times when you have been frustrated by your students. Teaching is hard. Students can be challenging, a mix that undoubtedly can lead to feeling stressed and impatient. We are human, after all.

However, in our role as teachers, we are also role models and mentors. How we act or react impacts students, how they feel about us, and, at times, how they feel about themselves. In those moments of frustration, reaction is not the best course of action. There are some common themes that tend to lead to frustrations with students. Here are a few suggestions to consider to help you better navigate that frustration from a place of pause and reflection. 


So many times, frustrations arise from a mismatch or a misunderstanding of expectations. Have you been clear about your expectations for the course? Do you believe students have a complete and accurate understanding of those expectations? Are your expectations reasonable? Are they doable? Frustrations can flare when you feel as though students aren't meeting the expectations of an assignment. The tip-off here is when you start getting a lot of questions about clarifying what is expected. I appreciate that you may have a clear understanding, but have you effectively communicated that to the students? Sometimes, it is good to use the reflective practice we do with patients and have the students share their understanding of what they need to do for the assignment or project or where to focus for an exam. 

Unfounded Judgments

Many times, our frustrations arise due to a particular student. Sometimes, we may be quick to assume, judge, or believe we know why the student is behaving or reacting. But do we? This is about taking the time to discover what is true about this student. In one program, I had a student who constantly showed up late to the day's first class. She was consistent in her lateness, and even more concerning, she would show up with a cup of coffee 5-10 minutes after the class started. The attendance policy clearly stated students were to arrive at least 5 minutes before the start of class. Rather than stop the class and say something to her,  I waited until after class and simply reminded her that she was late and needed to show up on time. She just said, "Sorry, I know." 

I started to hear from other faculty they were having the same issue. We all felt this student's behavior was unprofessional and disrespectful, and she didn't seem to care. So, I called her in for a meeting because we were all frustrated by having reminded her of the policy several times, for which we saw no change. We felt disrespected and annoyed because we were setting a bad example for the class. She kept showing up late, and it appeared we weren't doing anything. When I sat with the student, I shared our concerns about her habitual lateness. I re-explained our rationale for requiring students to show up on time. Only then did I learn she was a single mom with two young kids, and getting them up, dressed, fed, and to the daycare before class was a real challenge. We brainstormed some ideas, and we were able to help her get to class on time. 

The take-home message here is when we feel frustrated by a student; perhaps the best thing is to just sit with them and ask them what is happening. Sometimes, we can brainstorm together and come up with potential solutions. 


Have you noticed that there is a particular type of student that tends to get under your skin? Is there a pattern to the nature or type of student that makes you feel frustrated? The truth is, there are some students we simply like and others not so much, just like our patients. But we must treat them all equally and hold everyone to the same standards. We can't be harder on some students and easier on others. This is especially true when grading students. We must be fair, no matter our feelings. One thing that works is to blind the student's name when grading essays or assignments. 

Many years back, the student class president was in a position to fail my ethics course. My colleague had been working closely with this student, mentoring him in leadership, and had grown quite close to him. He was doing well in all his other courses. When I shared that he may potentially fail my course, which meant he would be dismissed from the program, my colleague was horrified that I would even consider failing the class president. He even suggested I had to pass him. We have to be clear and consistently apply all policies and expectations to all students equally, regardless of how we feel about them. When we fail to do this out of frustration or for any other reason, it will only lead to potential unwanted problems. 


Feedback is an essential part of teaching and learning. It is a two-way street. We need to provide students with feedback to help them learn and be successful, and we gather student feedback about our courses and teaching to help us continue to grow as educators. Regardless, the key to feedback is that it provides usable and actionable information that is clear, direct, and honest but is also provided through kindness and compassion. The goal of feedback isn't to point out everything wrong. I am sure all of you have read a student's evaluation of you that felt like a gut punch. That is not the goal of feedback. We can help model effective constructive feedback by providing it regularly to our students and making that feedback specific by clearly identifying what was good and specific ways they could have improved it. Remember, simply saying "good job" is not enough. Recently, I have noticed that students tend to expect a higher grade than they received because my feedback said, "Good work." Their interpretation of "good" seems to mean a high A grade. 

Stepping back and taking a few moments to check in with ourselves when we are triggered or feeling very frustrated by the actions or behaviors of a student can go a long way in our management of stress as well as role model effective ways of navigating and managing challenging situations. Not being reactive, jumping to conclusions or judgment, but being open and curious to learn more about what is true for the student can open a pathway of honest and compassionate communication that fosters a healthy, trusting teacher-student dynamic. 


Barnard-Bahn, A., & Le Pertel, N. L. (2023, October 11). Feeling frustrated with your students? Ask yourself these 6 questions. Harvard Business Publishing Education.


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