A few weeks ago, I had my first “bad” day of the semester. It wasn’t all bad; in fact, a lot of it was good. I got flowers and two cards from students for my birthday and my last two classes sang to me and were extremely well behaved. The first two classes of the day, however, did not go as planned.
Last year, I fell into the trap of assuming that my students knew certain things: how to use a ruler, how many centimeters are in a meter, how to create a graph. They’re tenth graders, after all. But in reality, many of them only read on a 4th grade level and they never mastered the use of the metric system. They struggle to even figure out which side of the ruler is inches and which is centimeters. I resolved that this year, I would start out by explicitly teaching these skills rather than assuming the students already possessed them.
Of course, that in itself is disheartening — it is sad to realize just how far behind some of these students are. My students took twice as long as I had expected they would just to do a simple lab on measuring. It wasn’t like they were goofing off. They genuinely struggled to use a ruler and distinguish between centimeters and inches. I started getting frustrated that it was taking so long and the students were getting frustrate by their lack of ability. It led to unhappiness on both sides.
So, in this type of situation, how can you come back the next day and reinspire the same group of kids?
1. Take a step back and evaluate what went wrong.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we get upset about things that don’t really matter that much in the scheme of things. It’s hard for us as teachers to admit that we’ve made a mistake, especially to our students directly, but we’re only human and of course we do sometimes mess up. In this case, I realized that the second part of the lab we were doing was unnecessary and too difficult for my students without a strong math background. So I truncated it the next day and told the kids not to worry about it.
2. Don’t take things personally.
Kids get frustrated for many different reasons and they also respond to their frustration in different ways. Sometimes that manifests as silence, but sometimes as outbursts and lashing out at teachers. If you take things personally, you won’t be able to teach the student in the same way you teach the others, which will only compound his or her frustration. So shake it off and realize that kids are mean, but they don’t really mean it. They are simply trying to get your attention, so help them more, not less.
3. Plan a stellar lesson the next day.
OK so this isn’t always possible when you have certain material to cover, but the idea is that if the day didn’t go well, the lesson probably wasn’t right. Maybe you were covering too much material, it was too hard, or the lesson itself wasn’t engaging. Make your next lesson better and the kids will respond accordingly.
It took me three days to fully recover, but I ended the week with a great lesson and now I’m reinvigorated to plan a great week next week. Hope you can do the same!