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Three Things to Do When You Have a Bad Day Teaching

Updated on June 19, 2013
this cactus is blooming, but it can also be thorny!
this cactus is blooming, but it can also be thorny!

Teaching is a difficult job. Today alone, I was not able to motivate a student to work, watched one co-worker complain bitterly about the teacher’s union, another co-worker lament the unproductiveness of his students, and unsuccessfully handled an unruly class. “This is my chosen profession?” I yelled at one point. “Yes, you chose it!” they yelled back. They are very astute in the most obscure moments.

The truth is, I love my job, but it hasn’t always been so. I realize that I have developed a set of coping skills that allow me to go home, recover, and return again the next day with a positive attitude. It is my hope that by sharing them I can give at least one teacher strength to carry on when the going gets tough. This approach has helped me countless times.

How often do you have difficult teaching days?

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as professionals, we must self-reflect...
as professionals, we must self-reflect...

Step One…Reflect on What Happened.

The biggest professional development tool is self-reflection. I frequently hear teachers blame the students for their poor academic skills, lack of motivation, poor behavior and everything else that is wrong in the classroom. The truth is, we cannot control the students. We can only control ourselves.

This does not mean to obsess over the scene and use it to feel bad about you. This is not for self-flagellation purposes! We work hard to be good at what we do, and utilize self-reflection only to get better. Feeling bad about ourselves serves no purpose, and is detrimental to all parties involved.

A private journal leads the way to epiphanies!
A private journal leads the way to epiphanies!

It is helpful to concentrate on what you could have done differently. Replay the scene in your mind, and pinpoint one or two things that you could have changed. Sometimes it is simply to pick up on cues earlier and take action to diffuse a situation. Other times, it is to suppress a reaction that ended up fueling the fire. Today, I could have used the power of proximity to help settle my unusually rowdy students instead of giving out directives (in an obviously preoccupied manner) from my desk.

Replay the scene again once or twice, substituting in your “new” actions for the old ones. This way, the next time a similar situation comes up; you are more likely to react in a new and improved way.

get to work on a plan to address the difficulty!
get to work on a plan to address the difficulty!

Step Two…Be Proactive.

Do something. Make a concrete change somehow. Even something small will help you to feel like you are taking steps to address the problem. I think that this is extremely important. Are we beaten, discouraged, and helpless? Or are we assertive and in charge of our careers and our classrooms?

Some concrete changes that I have made this school year are: moving student desks, clarifying classroom expectations in writing, making a sign, changing lesson plans to return to practicing routines and procedures, writing behavior contracts, and creating “contests.”

Armed with a plan, no matter how small, we address the problem and take proactive steps to improve our working conditions and our career experience.

make a list of a good support team
make a list of a good support team

It is also important to create a team of supporters. On my team: the educational assistant, the vice-principal, the behavior health counselor, and the parents. At a minimum, I debrief with the educational assistant and clue her in on the plan of action. At a maximum, I hold a classroom meeting during school hours and invite all parties in to join the students and myself. Expectations are made clear, and then there is a team of clued-in supporters on your side.

choose healthy ways to de-stress
choose healthy ways to de-stress

Step Three…Start Fresh the Next Day.

After you make your plan, drop it! Do not continue to ruminate on it all evening. Make a point to de-stress (in a healthy way). Exercise, play with your kids and/or animals, take a bath, read, eat a good dinner, and get a good night’s sleep!

The next day, implement your new plan with confidence. Perhaps it will work like magic. More likely, it may need some tweaking. No matter how it turns out, you have taken positive steps in the right direction! Repeat the entire process as necessary…

a sunrise on a beautiful new day!
a sunrise on a beautiful new day!

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