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 even worse.

Do not watch an “inspiring” teacher movie after a bad day in your own classroom.

When you watched inspiring teacher 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. Inspiring teacher movies become a lot less inspiring when the non-Hollywood 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.

On a day that makes you question your career choices, don’t talk to the people who have always questioned your career choices.

Hey, they were only looking out for you when they told you teacher 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—jeez, this is awkward—they TOLD YOU SOOOOO! 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 avoid these conversations or end them as soon as possible. There was a reason you ignored these voices when you decided to become a teacher. Anyone who doesn’t understand why you wanted to teach in the first place won’t be able to motivate you to teach tomorrow.

Never confide in a colleague who says, “That would never happen in my classroom.

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—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.

Beware of tuning in to education politics after a bad day of actual teaching.

No matter where you stand in current political debates, watching people who didn’t get up at five o’clock this morning argue about your job can leave you frustrated and demoralized. In addition, many political ideas seem to suggest teachers have the power to fix what’s wrong with education if only they would just (insert strong half-baked opinion here). Not a comforting thought on a day that makes you feel like part of the problem.

Don’t stay up all night preparing for tomorrow.

I often get asked for the one piece of advice I’d give to any teacher. Here it is: Get enough sleep. When you haven’t slept, you automatically become a worse version of yourself. You become forgetful. You become impatient. You have trouble thinking critically, and you take everything personally. This is a summary of the huge amount of sleep-related science out there. I wish I’d learned about it earlier in my teaching career; my most regrettable moments in the classroom almost all happened on less than five hours of sleep. Sleep can also help you gain clarity and perspective on the more complex issues that made today so hard. In fact, it may be that the best thing you can do on a bad day is to end that day as soon as possible. Go to bed early. See how things look in the morning.

Want to talk through a bad day in a confidential, one-on-one Zoom or phone session?

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