Thursday, February 2, 2012

So You've Had a Bad Day...

Great meeting last night! I was very impressed with the turnout! Thanks much to the many teachers who participated in our meeting!
In addition to covering most of the material from the previous post, we always start off with some peer-to-peer problem solving. We had a great question to start our discussion:

How do you deal with a really bad day in the classroom?

Suggestions included:
  • Take a breath: Whether we like it or not, no matter how well-planned and exquisitely-organized your classroom environment may be, it is still a human system that is subject to random weirdness. Stomach flu causes projectile vomiting, and when one kid pukes others will, too. Noses bleed for no reason whatsoever. Custodians will mow grass outside your window when you’re teaching the toughest group to keep on-task. When it happens, stop what you’re doing, put your hand on your midsection, breathe in deeply, hold it for a 5-count, and let it out. Remember: Kids Happen. You CAN deal with it.
  • Do the SECOND thing you think of: When you’re stressed your brain goes into its fight-or-flight response mode. The first thing you think of will likely be something that protects yourself (emotionally or physically) or makes you feel better in the immediate short-term. However, that may not always be the best thing for kids. Try to control your emotional response, and instead try to respond after thinking rationally about the situation. Quick, immediate decisions are warranted, of course, when kids are in danger or when you need to regain control of the classroom environment (don’t worry, this happens even to the most experienced teachers). But usually the best response is the thoughtful one.
  • Remember that YOU have a choice: Just like we teach our kids, you also have a choice in how you respond to any given situation. Students do not control activities in your classroom nor how you respond to them. When (not if, but WHEN) they try, it is perfectly appropriate to stop the content part of your lesson and re-teach the classroom expectations. This shows that you are in control of yourself and what happens in that classroom. It also shows that you will not allow learning to be side-tracked by the behavior, and you will not allow others to be, either. Then explain students’ choices to them: They can choose to follow the expectations and contribute positively to the learning environment, or they can continue the previous behaviors and be removed from the learning environment. If students still choose to add to the bad day, then it is time to take that long, lonely walk to The Office. But what happens within that classroom should be largely controlled by the learning experiences you choose and by the routines and high expectations that you create.
  • Take time for yourself: From time to time you may need to leave the papers ungraded for one night and kick back with some friends, go out on the town, watch an old movie at home by yourself, or whatever else you choose to do to decompress. There’s a lot to be said for the phrase, “Take care of the caretaker.” If you’re constantly feeling stressed-out, others can probably pick up on it, too, including your students and co-workers. Part of being professional is being self-aware and knowing when to take care of yourself.
  • Engage with kids: Yes, ‘kids happen,’ but kids also happen to be pretty cool sometimes, too. I taught 7th graders for many years, and I can’t recall how many times I came into my classroom from lunch duty at then end of my rope, looked into the eyes of thirty 12-year-olds who hadn’t done a single thing to put me in that bad mood, and thought to myself: “It’s not their fault I’m stressed out. Why should they have to ‘suffer my wrath’? What does that teach them? Nothing.” After a while I learned that if I told kids I was having a bad day and asked them for their help in getting over it, they could be pretty darned understanding. Kids like to play. They like to create things. they like to “do stuff.” If I planned for opportunities that would allow them to be creative – even if it was something as simple as coloring a map for a few minutes while I got a grip on things – or participate in a group or cooperative learning activity, their energies were focused on having fun instead of contributing to what I perceived as a bad day. That usually made the bad day easier to deal with. If I participated in those activities right alongside them, the bad day almost immediately disappeared.
…And yes, I’m proud to say that I’m 43 years old and I still find it soothing to color maps with crayons and do puzzles on the floor… it’s just a lot harder to sit criss-cross-applesauce these days…