October is one of the hardest months of the year. The honeymoon period is over. The kids start to push back. This year is especially difficult (at least in New York City) because it starts with five full weeks of school before a day off. In light of the season, I’m going to share a strategy that’s helped me get through so many of my tough days.
I remember very clearly one day during my first year of teaching when, after a very long day capped with a horrendous final period, I had one singular thought: This is unsustainable. I was exhausted, stressed, and worn down—and it wasn’t even winter break yet. I remember thinking I couldn’t make it through the winter, let alone through June.
That night, though, I was put in touch with a veteran teacher through a friend of mine who gave me some advice that probably saved my teaching career. We spoke for about 2 hours, and she gave me a lot of ideas about how to add structure to the classroom and build relationships with students. About how to make my classroom about learning and not about disciplining. What I remember, though, is a piece of mental health advice.
She told me that whenever I have a bad day, I needed to grab a piece of paper—a journal, a loose-leaf page, a napkin, anything I could—and write down three things: one thing that went well (to help focus on the good parts of the day); one thing that I learned either about myself or a student (so that even the worst days aren’t unproductive); and one reason I was coming back tomorrow (since I would be coming back, I might as well have a reason).
I wrote quite a bit of these entries my first year teaching, and I decided to keep them all in a book. After I collected a few, I would look back at them and feel better. It helped me focused on the positive aspects of my job, even when things weren’t going my way. It allowed me to take all those bad days and use them to generate positive energy.
I still write those entries every now and again. Over the past two years, I’ve gained a little more balance. My lows aren’t as low, and my highs aren’t as high, but every now and then we all need a pick-me-up, a little perspective.