Two Options for Dealing with Bad Days

I had a rough day. Students weren't awful, but every tiny misbehavior felt amplified by my own impatience. Two kids shoved each other in line when coming back from lunch. During silent reading, three kids had no interest in reading. When I read a passage aloud and students whispered to one another, it felt like a megaphone of "I don't care." It wasn't. The reality is that the students were into the passage.

It's in this moment that I have two choices as a teacher.

My first option is to blame the class. I can wish for a class that was less energetic or one that read at a higher level. I could say, "these kids are awful" and then rant about it. I went there today, briefly, with my assistant principal. Not quite the "these kids are awful" comment, but more of "I've never had to work this hard to keep a group interested, engaged and following class routines."

The problem with this first approach is it doesn't work. It's like Jay Cutler yelling at the offensive line. It won't fix anything. It won't lead to a solution. It lacks the humility that leadership requires.

The second option is to examine what I could have done differently. I should have planned the lesson differently, with more breaks for small group discussion. I should have prepared better discourse questions. I nagged. My tone of voice was impatient and bordering on angry. I wasn't as energetic as they were. Ultimately, these are things I can control.

The other part of the second option is that it often leads me to see the positive side of the class. The truth is that almost every kid read aloud and that they are more into literature than ever before. And, while students pushing one another caught me off guard, the reality is that nearly every student walked respectfully into class. As far as the read-aloud goes, they thought well about the articles they read and wrote amazing blog posts about whether or not kids under 14 should have Facebook accounts.

I missed all that in the moment. I allowed my perfectionism to paint how I viewed my students.

I know that tomorrow has the potential to be really rough. It's a full day with no prep period the day before a holiday break. But I have two choices. I can go into it and say, "these kids are rough and this day will be tough." Or, I can come in with high-interest learning activities, a solid night's sleep and an intentionality about dealing with issues as they come up. Ultimately, the second option is the only one that will work long-term.
John Spencer

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
I want to see schools unleash the creative potential in all teachers to transform classrooms into bastions of creativity and wonder. Read more →
Email me at john@educationrethink.com for speaking inquiries on design thinking and creativity.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I, too, had a rough one and am bracing for tomorrow. One thing I try to focus on during trying days are the majority of students who are doing the right thing.

  2. When I have days like this I acknowledge the mood I'm in, sometimes even saying to the kids "For some reason I am feeling a bit irritable today and little things that usually don't bother me are getting on my nerves. Ever have days like that?" Just bringing the feelings to the light like that usually cheers me up, if not the kids usually do! :)

  3. Well, one hopes you have Tums and Tylenol handy.
    And a ingrained ability to "Count to 10".

    Failing that, you need to find some private little mantra, motto, or bit of meditation that helps you cope. A verse, a poem, a song.... something.

    Then again, (and this works in any job, but only after a fair bit of experience and time on the job)....

    1. Remember your worst day so far? As long as it is not today, well, then you can say "Hey I got over that!"....

    2. Now if today is the worst day so far.... Then ask yourself: "What are the odds that something this bad will ev-ver happen again?" Slim, right? COOL! Then you have had your worse day, and you are about to get it over with....

    3. After this, everything will be a piece of cake (you hope).

    Hang in there.

  4. My tough days are often followed by great days of teaching. Usually the tough days point out a need for change and revision, sometimes small and sometimes big. It's the same with family life. Thanks for sharing--we've all been there and will return again.

  5. The second option is to examine what I could have done differently.
    "I allowed my perfectionism to paint how I viewed my students. "

    You are speaking my language here, John. I hope today was better. I appreciate your transparency.

  6. " It lacks the humility that leadership requires."

    What a great observation! And what an honest, self-reflective post that could have been written by most of us at one time or another.

    "I missed all that in the moment. I allowed my perfectionism to paint how I viewed my students."

    And this observation as well. As a perfectionist myself, I often wonder what a lesson would have been like if every child was completely engaged; if I wasn't "wasting" time with behavioral issues.

    The thing is, if we view ourselves and our students with an open mind and an open heart we won't view our days as "tough", we'll feel more rewarded, and we will have more success with our students.

  7. My friend and I have been searching for this type of blog post Two Options for Dealing with Bad Days with the longest time,Thanks for excellent blog post,

  8. Bad days happen to good people..........

  9. Hi John,
    Thank you. This was just the moment that I needed to hear these thoughts.


Contact Form


Email *

Message *