(This is a guest post from the wonderful Sam Rangel!)
Bad days happen. I wish I could promise you that you won’t have a bad day, but I can’t. There will be those days when the final bell rings, and you’re relieved to see the students leave your class. There will be days when Johnny will be Johnny and cause you to lose your temper or when you begin to doubt yourself because a lesson didn’t turn out like it was supposed to or when a colleague will do something or say something that disappoints you or makes you feel unappreciated or brings you to tears. It’s just part of the teacher’s life. Bad days happen.
Have you had those days?
I’ve had plenty of bad days in my 30-year career. I would leave school in a bad mood, and then when my wife would ask me, “How was your day, honey?” I would tell her all about it. I would vent about all that went wrong in my day, and because my wife is amazing, she would listen, remind me that tomorrow is a new day, and feel bad.
I realized that by coming home in a bad mood, I was having a negative effect on my wife and family. That wasn’t fair to them. I regret doing that.
Since then, however, I’ve discovered some great strategies to lessen those negative emotions and invite more happiness into the day before leaving school. Not only has it been good for me, but my family has benefitted as well.
These steps won’t be easy. In fact, you’ll not want to take these steps at all. Your natural inclination will be to stay mad or frustrated because that is just how we are. Before you disregard these action steps, however, I want to encourage you to consider how you and others will benefit from you going home in a good mood.
Strategy #1: Write the Right.
If you don’t have a positive journal, you need to get one. A positive journal is like any other journal, except you are only going to enter positive events in it. I know it’s common practice for teachers to write in a journal, so they can reflect on the events of the day. I did this as a new teacher, and it was helpful. The problem is that when I went back and read some of my entries, they were mostly of the negative events that I had in the classroom, and they just served to bring back those negative feelings.
There is greater benefit in identifying what went right in your day, and writing those events down in your journal, especially when you’re so focused on what went wrong. Take some time and identify three good things that happened, and write them in your positive journal. Perhaps while Anna was disrupting the class, Juan was on task and finished his work. That’s a good thing. Perhaps the traffic was especially light today on your way to work. That’s another entry.
You’ll find an immediate change in your mood because you’ll be forcing your brain to look for the good in the day. You’ll also experience a sense of gratitude for those three events. Like I’ve always said, “You can’t be grumpy and grateful at the same time.”
Strategy #2: Surprise the Custodian.
I don’t know how it works at your school, but at mine, the custodians work through the night cleaning classrooms and getting the school ready for the next day. I’m pretty sure it’s similar for most schools. The custodians stick around after the students and teachers leave.
In this action step, before you go home, find one of the custodians; it’s better if you can find the custodian who cleans your room. Surprise him or her with some genuine appreciation. Say something like, “I just want to tell you that I really appreciate all you do here. I love it when I walk in every morning to a clean classroom. It makes me happy, and when I’m happy, my kids have a good day. Kids learn better in a clean environment, so thank you for helping my students learn.”
Make it a point to connect the custodian’s job to student learning. Your expression of gratitude not only makes him/her happy but helps connect the job of the custodian to the greater purpose of the school. By doing this, you can’t help but feel better.
Strategy #3: Call a Parent.
I know that most of the time when we call parents, it’s because we have some bad news to share. You have to let parents know that Katie didn’t behave in your class today or you have to call parents to set up a meeting. In this action step, however, you are going to pick up the phone and call a parent to share some good news.
I ask the teachers at my school to fill out Positive Phone Call forms on which they write down a few words of praise for a student. They submit these forms to me and other members of the administration so that we can make the phone calls. I save these phone calls for the end of the day because I know that after making these positive phone calls, I head home in a happy mood. It’s awesome. It really only takes one positive phone call to make your bad day not so bad anymore.
When you make the phone call, make sure you do two things: 1. Praise the student. Parents love to hear someone say good things about their kids. 2. Thank the parents. This second part is so powerful. When I call parents, I always end my call with, “I would like to thank you for everything that you’re doing at home to help Kofi be successful here at school.” When you thank parents for their efforts, it validates all their work as parents. You will undoubtedly get comments like, “Well my son loves your class. Thank you for teaching him.” That has to make you forget all the bad stuff that put you in a negative mood.
These three action steps are based on sound scientific studies on happiness. When we practice gratitude and praise or we purposely change our focus to the positive, we release chemicals in the brain that are connected to happiness. These three action steps are just ways to trigger the release of these happy chemicals.
If you’re like me, and you want to save yourself and others from having to suffer when you get home in a bad mood, I would encourage you to take these three action steps.
Until next time here’s to your Success In The Classroom!
Sam Rangel is an Assistant Principal in Southern California. He is the author of Teach Happier – 21 Stress-Reducing, Joy-Inspiring, Burn-Out-Avoiding Strategies to Help Teachers Love Their Jobs and Have More Success in the Classroom. Sam shares practical tips and strategies for new and soon-to-be teachers on his website – SuccessInTheClassroom.com.