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How To Reflect and Recharge When Things Go Wrong

African-American teacher writing in notebook

This year was going to be amazing, but it’s not. Now what?

This year was going to be amazing. You planned, you prepared, you knew it was going to be the best yet. But it's not. Now what?

First, know that every teacher has experienced this—at least to some degree. Maybe there is a particular student who undermines your classroom management. Perhaps you have an entire class that just doesn’t seem to get it—or care. Whatever it is, you’re not alone. Take a minute. Breathe. Know there is help.

When facing a tough classroom situation, your colleagues and other teachers are your greatest resource. They can help you brainstorm, reflect, and plan strategies. And, remember, colleagues can be from other schools, other districts, Facebook, or wherever. What matters is that they understand your situation. Don’t be afraid to branch outside of your school or team for advice! Find fellow educators with positive ideas and advice, not those who simply bemoan the “bad” students. You want solutions, not snark.

To get the best advice, be prepared to explain the issue and its roots. This means taking a good, hard look at yourself, your teaching, your planning, your class setup, and your students. As a seasoned teacher, I do this every day. But, it’s hard. You must honestly evaluate yourself—not just what you wanted the lesson to be, but what it honestly became for that class.

When something doesn’t work out the way you planned, consider possible causes for the disconnect. Was it because students weren’t interested in the lesson? If so, you’ll want to ask colleagues for ways they keep students engaged. Maybe a particular student was disruptive. If that’s the case, you’ll want intervention ideas for that student. Others who know this student—parents, counselors, teachers, administration, even the disruptive student—may suggest insights that will help.

Did the climate of your class lean more toward fun than learning (when you wanted both)? If so, ask your colleagues about ways to reset your class expectations and goals with the students. The hardest part here is being honest with yourself. Remember, you only grow as a teacher if you reflect on your teaching honestly. Asking for help will facilitate that growth.

Once you have identified the reasons you’re struggling, you can begin to find solutions. No one solution works all the time, so ask, try, ask again, try again. What works in one situation may not work the next time. This is building your skills for the future.

In a few years—maybe next year—colleagues will come to you for advice. And you will have success stories to share with the new teachers who will use them to overcome their own challenges.


Hilary Richardson, a member of the Jefferson County Education Association, has taught American government and U.S. history at Bear Creek High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, since 2004.

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