Five Mistakes NOT to Make After a Bad Day of Teaching

BookCoverPictureIf you’ve had a bad day recently – or even a string of bad days – you’re not alone. It’s important to find ways to nurse yourself back to mental health when necessary. Equally important, though, is knowing what NOT to do. Start by avoiding the five common mistakes below, which can make a bad day feel even worse.

Watching “inspiring” teacher movies: When you watched these movies before you started teaching, you probably thought, “That will be me one day! I’ll be the teacher who (pick one) shows I care / never gives up / makes learning fun!” Now, you’re just wondering why the movie teacher has only one class of high school students, and why she never seems to grade any papers. Movies are a lot less inspiring when the non-Hollywood, unscripted version is playing full time in your classroom. Leave these films for their intended audience – the non-teaching public. Watch “inspiring” shows about doctors and policemen instead.

Talking to people who cautioned you against being a teacher: Hey, they were only looking out for you when they told you the pay was (pretty much what it is), the kids would act (more or less they way they’re acting), and you would feel (more or less the way you feel right now). They don’t want to say they told you so… but they told you so. And since they were right about it the first time, they’d like to share a few more thoughts about just how bad a career choice you’ve made. Try to end these conversations as soon as possible. Anyone who doesn’t understand why you wanted to teach in the first place won’t be able to motivate you to teach tomorrow.

Confiding in a teacher who says, “That would never happen in MY class:” By all means, turn to other teachers for advice, but note that the line above is not advice. It is self-serving non-advice that makes the speaker feel good at your expense. It is not the mark of a stellar educator, either, since colleagues who act like they’ve always been perfect are passing up an opportunity to teach you something meaningful. When I was collecting stories and tips for See Me After Class, I looked for contributors willing to say, “That has happened in my class, and it’s not an easy problem to solve, but here is how I’ve learned to deal with it.” You’d do well to find unofficial mentors who can do the same.

Reading about education politics: No matter where we stand in current school reform debates, watching people who didn’t get up at five o’clock this morning argue about our jobs can leave teachers frustrated and demoralized. In addition, many reform ideas seem to suggest dedicated rookie teachers are the solution to what’s wrong with education – not a comforting thought on a day that makes you feel like part of the problem.

Quitting: There are millions of teachers in the United States, and most of them wouldn’t want to relive their first years on the job. As a beginner, you have to lay the tracks as you drive the train, and you spend most of the year feeling like you are about to crash.

For now you just have to believe there are moments ahead of you that are everything the movies suggest they are… just a little less cheesy and scripted… and no background music.

Your job is not to be a perfect teacher the first year. It is to keep working at it and get better so on some October day years from now, when you’ve (mostly) figured out this whole teaching thing, and you (usually) love it, you can offer guidance to some newer teacher who is carrying around a resignation letter “just in case” or fantasizing about driving off a bridge.

Just don’t say, “That would never happen in MY class.”

© Roxanna Elden


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