Never give up: How to recover from difficult teaching days

Never give up: How to recover from difficult teaching days

We’ve all been there, you have a new class or a difficult student and you really don’t feel like teaching today. You spill your coffee on the way out of the house and that makes you leave five minutes late. By the time you get to the train station or bus stop there are more people there than normal and you have to wait for the next train or bus to come along or you end up getting stuck in traffic on the way, it looks like it could be one of those days… When you finally arrive in the classroom it doesn’t get any better, your new class don’t respect you yet and their English level is a lot lower than you expected, your difficult student proves more problematic than ever and you’ve left some important materials behind at home for your last lesson of the day. It’s on days like these that you can be truly tested as a teacher and wonder whether or not it is all worth it. The question that can arise for some teachers in this case is ‘should I really carry on with this?’

As English teachers, and indeed teachers of other subjects, these feelings are often suppressed or not talked about, because it is a profession that we chose and as a person you may not want to appear like a quitter or display insecurities in front of your friends and colleagues. However, nearly all teachers will have doubts and negative feelings about their job at some point so you’re not alone. Really, it is how you deal with these feelings that will determine the extent of your recovery and recuperation from them, and help you to continue educating your students to the best of your ability as you no doubt set out to do in the first place. So with that in mind, how can you recover from those difficult teaching days and are there any ways to try and negate them in the first place? You might already have some ideas of your own about this and use your own techniques but it can never hurt to have some more, so we’ve put together a few of our ideas for you here:


We’ll start with an obvious one, think. It is important to get to know yourself and your own thoughts. You don’t want to spend time over-analysing but if you can understand what is behind your thoughts and feelings or the cause of the bad day you may be having, it can help you turn those thoughts, feelings, situations or events into something more positive. This can be of great help in resolving problems, both if you’ve had a tough day teaching or in your life in general. Obviously this won’t be as easy for some people as it is for others and this is where talking to your friends and family can come in.

Find a trusted confidante or mentor

If you’re ever feeling isolated or are struggling to overcome a problem, speaking to a trusted colleague, friend, family member or mentor can be a great way to regain some perspective. Colleagues in particular will most likely have been through similar situations to you in their teaching lives and will be able to provide advice and support, whilst you can lean on close friends and family for anything more private and for your emotional needs. Having a mentor is also a great way to prepare for those inevitable difficult teaching days and learn ways to circumvent them. If you can find someone who you admire, respect and trust, or someone who has been teaching for some time, they can offer you guidance for the challenges you will face during your career and help you to progress through them, which will be an invaluable tool in your armory.

Work on building relationships

Build positive relationships with your students. It is important to maintain a clear teacher and student divide, but if you can engage your students on a personal level and learn a bit about their culture and language it will make your job as an English teacher much easier and gain their respect. Don’t be afraid to experiment where appropriate, a new approach in class could yield much greater results with your students and if you have a difficult student it could be that they are going through problems of their own too. Reaching out to your students in different ways could see your interaction and relationship improve, and it is good to remember that everyone can be reached in different ways.

Keep hold of positive feedback

When you receive positive feedback, praise or thanks from your students keep hold of it or print it out and put it in a file to refer back to when you need to. Then, if you ever feel down or negative, or start to question your ability as a teacher, refer back to this file and remind yourself of all of the good work  that you have done and the positive impact that you have had upon your students' lives throughout your time as an English teacher.

Tomorrow is another day

No day is the same. If you’ve had a bad day it doesn’t mean that you will have another bad day tomorrow, and it is up to you to try and develop a positive mindset to avoid carrying any negativity across to the next day. A good way to do this is to make sure you are well prepared for the next day and then go and do something you enjoy; take part in your hobby, play sport, spend time with close friends and family or relax. This will boost your happiness and if you can also get a good night’s sleep you’ll wake up the next day feeling fresher, more positive and ready to go again.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

You’ve no doubt all heard this at numerous times in your lives, but it couldn’t be truer for English teaching. If you don’t prepare, don’t have the right materials, leave some materials behind at home, go to a lesson without a plan, don’t manage your schedule correctly or fail to keep good records it can lead to numerous problems that usually result in one of those difficult teaching days. In order to avoid this try and be as organised as possible, develop routines and stay up-to-date with your record keeping and planning. A good way to do this is to use online tools to help you manage your day-to-day teaching, which has become increasingly easy now that most people own a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and there a number of great resources online.

For example, one of the things we offer English teachers are free online tools that enable you to schedule all of your lessons, the lesson location and the details of the materials you will need for that lesson onto a dedicated online calendar. You then receive automated daily reminders of the lesson and required materials to your e-mail. This way you won’t ever forget a lesson and you’ll also remember to bring the right materials with you. Essentially, you’ve got your own PA helping you avoid some of the potential pitfalls that can lead to a bad day.

However you prepare, it is always better to be ready and tackle the root cause of potential problems rather than their consequence, so preparing properly and developing good habits will lead to a more relaxed teaching existence for you.


If you have a huge list of things to do and are starting to feel overwhelmed this can be one of the main causes of having a difficult day teaching. It is easy to freeze and do nothing in these instances, which can then lead to more things on the list for the next day and this becomes a vicious circle. To help avoid this happening you should write down exactly what you need to do and make a list of your top three priorities, as these will likely be the things that are causing you the most stress. The act of writing them down will give you a feeling of control and you can then focus on completing your priorities, with the most urgent one first. Once you have got one of your essential priorities done, tick it off the list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and the impetus to get on with the other tasks at hand. How you approach your list of things to do is of course up to you, some people prefer to do the quick tasks first to lift that initial weight off their shoulders and then focus on the more complex tasks. However, we’d recommend prioritising the more complex tasks first (depending upon their urgency) because this will provide the greatest sense of relief and achievement when they are done. This could be anything from marking 30 pieces of student homework, writing the lesson plans for the next week or filling out your students' lesson records but whatever it is, prioritising will help you both recover from and avoid those difficult teaching days in future.

Develop a perspective on life

Although teaching is probably a key part of your life, it is not or shouldn’t be your entire life. Work-life balance is essential and burnout is real, so make sure that you give the necessary attention to other areas of your life as well. Family, friends, hobbies and having your own personal time should all be respected and allocated your time, and you’ll find that if you take care to do this you’ll likely be happier as a result. A happier person often equates to a more productive person, which will allow you to teach your students to the best of your ability and feel more fulfilled as a result.

At the end of the day it is important to find what works best for you and apply techniques that you are most comfortable with to help you recover from a tough day and hopefully reduce the frequency of any difficult days going forward. That way you can feel happy in what you do on a more regular basis and continue to follow your teaching passion, which can only be a positive thing!

Let us know how you recover from your bad days.

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