How to Survive an Impossible Work Day as a Teacher

Believe us, we’ve all been there.

Tough times as a teacher

As educators, taking time to reflect on our teaching practice is essential for professional growth. We definitely need to celebrate our strengths and successes.  But we also need to reflect on a hard work day to figure out not only new teaching strategies that will work in the classroom, but coping strategies that will work best for our own balance and well being.

This question was posted recently on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE:

“What has helped you get through your tough times as a teacher? What lifts up your spirits to feel new again?”

Once again, our amazing community came up with lots of tips and tricks for making it through the tough times as a teacher with flying colors.

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1. Time away is essential.

We ALL need time for rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Vacation time should be a great (guilt-free) investment in the longevity of your career.


“A great vacation.”—Alicia D.

“S-U-M-M-E-R!”—Tracy T.


2. Rely on good friends and family.

What would any of us do without the loved ones in our life that make us laugh, listen to our woes, and just generally make life more interesting and more valuable?

“I have some fantastic co-workers who I can go to or I can get a drink/dinner with after work if I need it. The best thing is that my sister is also a teacher so I can talk to her and she just gets it and gets me since she’s known me longer than any of my coworkers.”—Amy J.

Venting, complaining, and laughing till it hurts with my teacher BFF.”—Melissa Z.

I usually go in and talk to my school social worker; she is one of my biggest fans and she usually has some reason in her back pocket about why I keep teaching. She always has some good story about a student where I contributed to the situation.”—Susan M.

A good husband who makes me laugh. My husband has a rule that I can vent and then focus on family. I am a fixer and I dwell on things and this has helped me a lot.”—Michelle W.

“My mom! (and Pandora).” —Kelly S.


3. Focus on the main objective.

As Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And for teachers, that is unquestionably the kids! Keeping our hearts and minds focused on our students allows us to let the rest fall away.

“The kids! Their smiles, their stories, their enthusiasm for life!”—Mary A.

Students who just randomly hug me when I need it most.”—Susan M.

On one of my worst days, I had my seventh graders do a dance-off in my last period …”—Kristel R.


4. Keep reminders of your impactful moments.

All those little notes and letters, drawings, and funny stories may take up space, but they help preserve precious memories that get us through the tough times as a teacher.

“I have a box that I’ve put letters and drawings that kids have made for me over the years. When I’ve had a tough day, I look at them to remember the positive moments when I had an impact.”—Tabitha P.

I have done the same and include notes from admin, letters from parents, and emails when appropriate. My husband (who is also awesome to come home to) knows it as “The White Notebook” and knows it’s been a bad day if it’s out.”—Therese E.

I have a file labeled ‘Bad Day.’ In it is every sweet note and drawing I have ever received. And these are high school and junior high students. It helps!”—Katherine K.

“I go back and reread the scrapbook my student teaching kiddos made for me, and the notes my kids write throughout the year.”—Abby H. 


5. Take the long view.

It’s so easy to focus on the here and now, and forget that all of the kids whose lives we touch will inevitably grow up and move on. Staying in touch helps you see that even the kid you thought you totally blew it with turned out just fine!

“I started an ‘Instagram’ board on my classroom bulletin board. Many, many former students have given me pictures or we’ve taken pictures together that I have on the board. I have it located in the back of the room so when I need a reminder as to why I love my career I just glance at the board. It does work too!”—Dana H.

“Honestly, Facebook helps. I am friends with a lot of my former students. Seeing them succeed as adults … finish school, get married, have kids … it reminds me that I am but a blip on the radar of their lives and it’s my job to be the most effective and positive blip I can be!!”—Meri M. 


6. Cultivate interests outside of school.

Many teachers attribute their resiliency to exercise—walking, running, cross-fit, dancing. Others have hobbies and creative pursuits that help them stay grounded in who they are outside of school. Whatever works—find something that speaks to you and commit to making time for it.

Find something outside of teaching that makes you happy. I like to sew”—Natasha F.

“I walk all the time for exercise. I’m an Irish dancer, and I’m in community choir. Those bits of time throughout the week help.”—Abigail H.

I’m training for a half marathon.”—Michelle W. 

“I love my movies! My girlfriends and I go to the movies just about once a week! We hang out at the diner and then go to a movie. We talk about everything. And we always end up laughing!”—Doreen G.

Other ideas suggested include a monthly massage, Friday night martinis, finding time to write, tackling a small organizing project, and setting goals for the future.


7. Refuel with solo time.

Teaching can be a very overstimulating activity—lots of people, lots of activity, all the time. Taking time by yourself to decompress and let your nervous system calm down is essential.

“I work out and go to bed early to give me complete alone time. Having alone time helps me recharge.”—Sherrie B. 

“It helps to take a long drive in the country or a hike in the woods.”—Elisabeth H.


Join our Facebook group WeAreTeachers—First Years! to connect with other new teachers, and learn more about how you can navigate your classroom and life.

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