How to Survive a Bad Day as a Substitute Teacher

Bad days happen, fellow teachers know. Here are a few ideas to deal with it.

You were late to school, your students weren’t engaged, your computer froze, you forgot to print the worksheets, and to top it off, your coffee is cold.

Bad days happen to everyone. However, bad days as an educator often mean smiling through the negative emotions and pretending like you feel better than you actually are.

On days when you wonder why you teach, treat yourself like you treat your students who are having a tough day: with empathy and care. Walk away from the negative thoughts and treat yourself with kindness.

Table of contents:

1) Don’t quit on a bad day

2) What to do during the school day

  • Prioritize 
  • Get a drink
  • Play relaxing music
  • Do something nice
  • Focus on your students

3) What to do after school ends

  • Call a loved one
  • Do something you love
  • Keep reminders of good days
  • Disconnect 
  • Don’t beat yourself up

4) Don’t let a bad day get you down

Don’t quit on a bad day

Don’t let yourself feel worse - you matter as a teacher!

This may sound obvious but giving up on a bad day, with so many negative thoughts running through your head, may lead to more remorse in the long run.

Instead of going home halfway through the day or even giving up on teaching entirely, take a second to briefly close your eyes and breathe. Give yourself a minute or two to calm your racing thoughts before you dive into tackling all your projects!

We have compiled a few substitute teaching tips to help you as you accept, reflect, and move forward from your bad day.

What to do during the school day

How to turn a bad day into a good day when you're a substitute teacher

Once you recognize that you’re having a bad day, or a bad start to the day, follow the ideas below to help you finish the day out strong.

1) Prioritize

Hopefully, the regular teacher provided you with materials and an agenda of what needs to be done during their absence.

If they didn’t, no worries. Something like this won’t stop a stellar substitute teacher like yourself. 😉

Write down all the things you have to do on a piece of paper. Then, figure out what absolutely needs to get done today.

Make sure to notify the classroom teacher about tasks you weren’t able to finish! You can recap the day on a piece of paper and leave it on the teacher’s desk.

The act of physically writing down your important thoughts can provide you with a sense of relief as your brain starts to organize your responsibilities.

2) Get a drink (no, not that kind of drink)

Reusable water bottles are a substitute bag essential! The last thing you want is to battle a stress headache on top of an already difficult school day. Fill your bottle with water and start chugging!

Taking a moment to hydrate your body can also give you valuable seconds to gather your thoughts and clear the chaos in your mind.

3) Play relaxing music

Even if you only listen to quiet, relaxing music for a couple of minutes, those are minutes well spent. Allow yourself to take a small break when you can to decompress before you jump back into your work as an amazing educator!

If you don’t have a playlist of relaxing music, search for lo-fi playlists and radios on YouTube that you can play during a free period or when your students are doing a self-study activity.

4) Do something nice for someone else

Studies have shown that doing something nice for another person can help you feel good. Here are some ways you can do something nice for your students:

  1. Give a compliment: Tell a student you like their shoes or compliment their handwriting when you get the chance! You don’t have to do something big to do something nice.
  2. Check in: Even if it’s a simple, “How is everyone doing?” to the entire class, it can still mean a lot to your students. Ask the class to hold up a thumbs up, middle or down depending on how they feel and ask them to share if they feel comfortable.
  3. Listen: Each student has their own unique personalities and interests. Ask them about their hobbies and watch as they open up about themselves!

We have more tips to help you show your students that you care about them on our blog. It’s a great feeling to support your students while you overcome a hard day! 

5) Focus on your students

Take a minute to ask a student about their day and their plans for after school. Talking to your students can help you form meaningful bonds while getting your mind off all your stressed thoughts.

If you’re feeling stressed, your students are likely feeling stressed too. And the best way to get rid of those anxiety jitters is to take a brain break! Mind in Bloom has a great list of fast and easy games to move your body before diving back into work. 

What to do after school ends

How to relax, refresh and recharge after a bad day as a substitute teacher.

Finally, the long day is over. What do you do to unwind after a rough time in the classroom?

Don’t give in to your first instinct to give up your teaching career while you’re feeling low. Instead, try one of our tips to help you get over that slump!

1) Call up a loved one who will validate your feelings

Call some friends or close family members who you know will give you the kindness and compassion you need during this bad day. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is vent to someone who will listen.

Many educators suggest calling a friend who also works in education since they know firsthand how difficult teaching can be. 

Want to meet more educators and join a “tight-knit community of aspiring teachers”? Become a TeachStart Fellow today and you’ll be placed in a cohort of others who are also working on becoming a credentialed K12 teacher! 

This is a great opportunity to not only get your credentials, but avoid debt and find motivated people like yourself. Join our community of aspiring teachers today!

2) Do something you love

Spend the rest of your day doing something you enjoy. Decompress with a short walk around the block or sit in front of the TV with a box of takeout – just make sure to prioritize your mental health by reducing your stress hormones!

3) Keep reminders of the good days

If you haven’t already, start keeping a journal of all the nice things students, parents, and other teachers have said to you! This is a great way to remember why you teach. It will also motivate you to continue changing the lives of the students you meet.

4) Disconnect from work

Leave your emails for tomorrow! They’ll still be there in the morning so the best thing you can do is forget about the tough day you just had. This means disconnecting completely from the thing that stressed you out – work.

For today, crawl into bed and get enough sleep so you can tackle the next day!

5) Don’t keep beating yourself up

While it’s good to reflect on the day you had and find things you might have done better, don’t give in to negative self-talk! Understand that what happened, happened and the best thing you can do is learn from the experience and move on.

At Scoot Education, we’ll make sure you always feel supported, not just during these bad days. As a Scoot sub, you’ll have exclusive access to Scoot Camp, our free professional development course that acts as a refresher for best practices as an educator. We strive to help you continually grow in your career as an educator.

Don’t let a bad day get you down

Stress comes with being an educator - don’t let a bad day stop you

Bad days aren’t easy to get over but don’t let them ruin the rest of your week!

Just because you’ve had one day as an educator does not mean that teaching isn’t right for you. Go home, eat something tasty, get some rest and remember that you have positively impacted so many of your current and former students.

Remember that another better day is right around the corner. You’ve got this!

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