By Andrew Hawk
Any experienced educator knows to expect the unexpected. In the course of a school day, challenges can come from many different directions. All the teachers I know can tell multiple stories about days that were progressing normally and then suddenly ran off the rails.
How a teacher reacts can decide not only how much of a day is salvaged but also whether or not the days to come are reruns of the day gone wrong. Teachers need to learn how to steady themselves when things do not go as planned. Here are some ideas you might try the next time one of your days goes wrong.
1. Consider Your Perspective
Has your day really turned out to be bad—or just not as perfect as you would have liked? I am a believer in the concept that “perception is reality.” The tricky part of this idea is figuring out whether you have the reflective abilities to recognize if your perception is flawed. When you feel like you have had a bad day, ask yourself, “Was my day bad . . . or was it just not the way I wanted it to be?”
2. Look for Learning Opportunities
I have written about learning opportunities in past posts. This is a recurring theme because it is so relevant in teaching and in life in general. People have the potential to learn more from mistakes and failures than from easy successes. However, teachers must be able to glean new knowledge from situations they would often like to forget. If you have trouble doing this, I recommend reaching out to an experienced staff member for help.
3. Find a Silver Lining
Learning opportunities aside, I cannot think of a situation that was a complete failure. Even when a lesson does not go smoothly, learning still takes place in many cases—just not as much as you may have anticipated. Look for the good in a day that went wrong. I think you will find one or more good things that happened, even if the majority of events revolved around challenges.
4. Vent Your Frustrations
We all need one person to whom we can vent. I recommend having only one and making sure it is someone who does not gossip. Feeling frustrated? Go to your person and vent for a minute or two. If you choose the right person, they will help you find perspective, learning opportunities, and a silver lining. So choose wisely.
5. Model Appropriate Behavior
Educators are first and foremost role models. This being so, we should always be modeling appropriate behavior. If a student calls you out for making a mistake, point out how you are going to not make a big deal about it. All humans make mistakes. It takes confidence to be okay with making a mistake in front of students or peers. Have enough confidence to let yourself be human. If you feel yourself coming unhinged, take a deep breath before you move forward. How you react in challenging situations is how you are teaching your students to react.
6. Know When to Change Directions
I like the adage, “Do not force a square peg through a round hole.” There is a fine line between changing directions and giving up. Learn how to recognize that line. There is no shame in trying something and finding out that it does not work. It is all part of the process of developing into a great teacher, but you have to be able to evaluate a situation and know whether it is salvageable. Some people learn this skill faster than others, but we can all keep working on it.
7. Learn to Compartmentalize
This is easier said than done. I went to school once knowing that I was going to take a pet to be euthanized at the end of the day. Was I able to completely shut off the emotions that came with that situation? No. Did I try? Yes, and the trying will make it easier to compartmentalize in the future.
Professionals should attempt to leave work at work and home at home. This is challenging when major life events take place. Also, there are things in the classroom that teachers cannot forget once they have heard or seen them. Keep trying—I have found that it gets a little easier as I gain more experience.
8. Engage in a Menial Task
When I was a classroom teacher, I found much peace in straightening my room at the end of the day. I would line up all the desks, pick up all the dropped pencils, and straighten my bookshelves. When I come home after a difficult day, I find comfort in mowing the grass or doing the dishes. Tasks that are productive but take little concentration help the mind right itself and recover from stress quickly.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for eighteen years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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