Every good teacher has a toolbox.

Experienced teachers have it within their own minds. It’s where words of wisdom and tried and true techniques lie dormant — ready to be used in the case of a classroom emergency.

Other teachers may have gone as far as to write these things down and keep them filed away in a literal cabinet somewhere.

In college, teacher toolboxes were a required part of the final semester before student teaching. They were supposed to be ideas for activities, projects, and techniques that could be translated into any subject level for various grades. I remember turning in my teacher toolbox for a grade to my professor, asking her to look over what I had found, worried that it wouldn’t be enough to get me through my semester of student teaching.

I discovered something during my time student teaching, and more so during the years that followed: that even if you have the most chock-full-of-fun teacher toolbox ever; if you go into your day or lesson with a bad attitude, you will probably forget where exactly the key to that toolbox might be.

I learned quickly that your toolbox should not only contain techniques and activities for students, but also some small notes just for you as well. Here are the top 5 best principles I’ve found to help boost the confidence and mood on some of my more trying days.

#1: Never confuse a bad day with a busy one.

My first supervisor, who had the most vivacious and unrelenting spirit, shared this at a department meeting. It was difficult to picture her mad, sad, or stressed, however, that day she admitted to us that she had been feeling overwhelmed lately. While admitting these feelings, she then shared this piece of wisdom, and I try to remember it whenever I can.

I read recently that teachers make more minute-to-minute decisions than most brain surgeons. Regardless of how accurate that statement is, it’s easy to say that if you haven’t answered 40 questions (not only from your students, but colleagues and your administrators as well ) before lunch, you work in candy land.

Also, I’d love to hear where you are so I can come join you. The amount of questions and decisions, no matter the size, that need to be made throughout the day can become crushing. The important thing is that you stay grounded and remember that being needed and being helpful is far from the worst thing in the world.

#2: Remember, what you’re teaching is not rocket science (unless it is).

This was revealed to me at a Q&A session between veteran teachers and future college graduates. This piece of advice was doled out in response to someone asking, “What if the students don’t ever get it?” We, as teachers, want to not only help kids, but also challenge kids, make them think, make them work, make them want it.

It is important to remember, that some kids, depending on their level of competency in the subject and work ethic, need a back-to-basics approach to education. We should make them work, but not make them hate it. We all know that the more simple lessons with true heart, minus some bells and whistles, are more often than not the more successful ones.

#3: “No Child Left at the Top”

This catchy phrase was coined by an old school AP English teacher at the high school where I did my student teaching. It was a spoof on the previous generation’s two educational movements: “No Child Left Behind,” and “Race to the Top.” No matter what your political affiliation may be, we can all agree that the way education moves is sometimes random, sporadic, and usually not quite geared towards what is actually necessary in the classroom. This joke always reminds me that government education trends, no matter how nutty, will always come and go. The best thing we can do, as educators, is focus on our work, play by the rules, and work with students the most productive and useful way we know how.

#4: Don’t forget to enjoy the kids.

Another one from my student teaching career. On a particularly stressful morning, when I couldn’t decide how to word the almighty objective for the day. My mentor, who had been on the job for 15 years at that point, sighed, and said “Don’t forget why you came here. Don’t forget to enjoy the kids.” It’s easy to get wrapped up in the politics of education, or the red tape of the lesson or curriculum. When that happens, take a break, and never forget the people sitting in front of you. Do not forget to enjoy the kids.

#5: Vow to never have two bad days in a row.

This advice was my favorite. This is a bit ironic because it was told to me by a man whose name I do not know, and will probably never see again. We struck up conversation in the food store a few days before my first year teaching. He was a retired teacher, and I would guess he felt the need to impart some wisdom onto the next generation. What he said to me I will never forget.

Bad days are inevitable, in any profession, in any life. What matters most is how you handle those bad days, and how well you weather the storm to come out positive on the other side. One bad day is unavoidable. Two bad days is wallowing.

What do you think are essentials for your teacher toolbox? Let us know in the comments.

Mandi Waldron

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