Surviving Bad Days (What to do, what not to do)

For those who don’t know, I taught high school in Houston for a number of years. I also ran a Teach For America content team to support new teachers, and I still post regularly on TFA discussion boards for teachers.

This is the time of year when I start getting semi-desperate, despairing emails from new teachers (Teach For America or otherwise). Because about this time, idealism starts wearing thin and the hard realities and challenges of shepherding students–especially those who are significantly behind their privileged peers–begin to sink in. (Here’s one post with a page of angst from my writer’s notebook and some bad day antidotes.)

Once I get over my flashbacks to my own “dark days” at the beginning of teaching (including one session crying behind my filing cabinet during a planning period), I write these teachers the most encouraging letters I can. I tell them to focus on what they can change. I tell them that even their most out-of-control class can be reshaped. I tell them that teenagers forget quickly and that teachers can introduce new systems and expectations in their class whenever they have a plan to follow through with them.

But it’s also good to know what not to do when you are feeling desperate and overwhelmed as a teacher. Roxanna Elden has a great piece on just this topic. Here’s my favorite tip on what to avoid:

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 nonteaching public. 

Read the whole article, The Five Worst Things To Do After a Bad Day. And while you’re at it, if you have a teacher in your life who needs a dose of down-to-earth advice, send them a copy of Roxanna’s book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. It’s the tell-it-like-it-is kind of book that will help teachers realize they’re not alone with their challenges–and get down to doing something sane about it. You can read an excerpt of See Me After Class here.

Teachers: be gentle with yourself. Be patient, be persistent, and be peaceful. Oh yeah, that’s my personal motto, inspired by the challenges of teaching.


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