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Back to School, Back to Reality

Jordan Catapano

As many of us return to our classrooms, our minds are filled with ideals. We’ve spent the summer reading profound texts about teaching. We’ve used our time to find fantastic resources from our PLN (professional learning network). We’ve planned plenty of get-to-know you first day of school activities. And we’ve prepped our flawless lesson plans for our courses. We couldn’t possibly be more prepared for having our best year of teaching ever, right?

Well, unfortunately, there’s something we may be forgetting: Some days are just going to suck.

That’s right. What I noticed is that while I have done everything in my power to ensure that I am the best teacher possible, there are still going to be some days that aren’t my best. In my head I can imagine how perfectly everything would go; but when it comes to execution, the reality just doesn’t always match up.

Case in point, I recall reading books about teaching writing, like Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This.” I remember plotting out a fantastic, step-by-step curriculum for my writing class that was destined to transform students from so-so high school writers to stellar adult communicators. Then, as I plodded through each day, I realized that the picture of perfection I had in my head wasn’t coming to fruition. The students had a hard time coming up with topics, I struggled to conference with as many as I needed to, and their words stuttered rather than flowed to their pages. What had I done wrong?

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I felt like a failure. I often feel like a failure. Even though I had been teaching for years and should have known better, I was surprised that my meticulous plans had fallen short. Even though my students were learning, my joy was dampened because they hadn’t reached the heights of growth I had imagined they would. All my hard work felt like a waste of time.

Of course, it doesn’t help that my colleagues seem to be having great experiences all the time. And all the teachers I follow on social media appear to have an interminable stream of advanced ideas and student successes. What am I doing wrong? Am I the only one who feels like some days of teaching just stink?

It doesn’t take very long into the school year to realize that no matter how much hard work we put into our plans, sometimes we’re just not going to be as perfect as we imagine. And that’s normal. Here are some bits of advice I keep in mind to get me through those more disappointing moments.

Bad days are good days to learn from. When our students don’t respond the way we’d like to our lesson, or our first day of school activities, or when we just don’t shine as an educator as much as we’d like to, we have the chance to ask, “Why?” Learn from your lackluster moments.

Students tend to remember the good moments and forget the poor ones. Over time, our worst days are not the ones that linger in students’ minds. They receive dozens of lessons each week – how many of those are they actually going to recall by the end of the year? The ones they learn from are the ones that last, so don’t sweat the bad days.

Other teachers put their best foot forward. Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere might be buzzing with amazing posts, but it makes sense that teachers are going to share the highlights of their experiences rather than the lowlights. Believe me when I remind you that they have experiences just like you, even if those aren’t as prominently shared.

Remain optimistic. Don’t let one day, or even a series of days, get you down. Students don’t grow from one lesson. They grow over time from a consistent and dedicated instructor. So be consistent and dedicated, not capricious.

Keep aiming for the ideal. Ideals and realities don’t always mesh well, but the higher the standards you strive for, the greater the success of your students. Just think about the opposite: wouldn’t it be tragic if your standards were so low you achieved them easily every time?

Share your mistakes. If you talk about your errors, your lackluster moments, and your feelings of disappointment, you’ll be surprised at how similar you are to others. While we don’t openly discuss our failures often, it can be rather relieving to do so. And you’ll notice that colleagues will have plenty of similar experiences as well.

So if you’ve spent countless hours preparing for this school year (including first day of school activities), if you’ve stretched yourself with new ideas, if you’ve challenged yourself to grow as an educator, and if you still feel like some days of teaching just suck, then you’re doing something right. Keep at it. Stay encouraged that your hard work pays off for your students, even if it doesn’t feel like it every single day. 

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