Seeing setbacks as opportunities

Allow me to blow your mind for a minute: In the teaching profession, setbacks occur on a daily basis. Oh, hold on…that shouldn’t blow your mind. At all.

The problem is that we tend to only notice the setbacks, and more often than not we dwell on them for far too long. Before we know it, we’re in a funk that is impossible to get out of. Don’t lie! You’ve been there. Something bad happens and it turns into all you can think about. And then you complain about it to your coworkers (which is fine–don’t bottle it up–but, don’t dwell on it too much), which adds negativity to their day. The point is, there is no avoiding this unfortunate phenomenon. So, how do we deal with it in a positive way?

My suggestion is simple: Try to see setbacks as opportunities.

Ok, so I lost half of you to eye-rolls and back buttons. For those of you still reading, thank you for sticking with me; I really think there is something to this.

I can think of a few major setbacks in education that can be seen as opportunities if you just shine the right light on them. Here’s what I think:


1. Having a student that is misplaced into a class that is above their skill level

This is not a fun situation to be in. You have a student (or several) in your class that just shouldn’t be there. Chances are, the parents chose to place them in your course even though their skill level is well below what is expected in the course. You know they won’t do well, and it has nothing to do with your ability or willingness to help them. They simply should have waited a year (or two) to take your advanced course. So, what now? There is no changing (in many school systems), so you have to somehow find a way for this to work. This is an opportunity in a few ways. First, you can test and prove your mettle as a teacher (and hopefully someone important will notice). Second, you can build positive relationships with the student, the parents, and the counselors and administrators (because you will probably have to work with them all while teaching this student). Being the teacher that “goes with the flow” and finds ways to make any situation work will help you in the long run.

That said, try your best to get the kid out before the class kills them.

2. Being told you have to write detailed lesson plans. For every day. Ugh.

I was told explicitly in college that I would NEVER have to write lesson plans. I find it reasonable to believe that there are better ways for administrators to ensure that their teachers are doing a good job. But, for the unfortunate few (myself included) we are required to write detailed lesson plans. For every single day we teach. I’m gonna let that sink in for a minute. Every. Single. Day.

I really can’t express in words (and certainly not on a public blog) how much I despise writing lesson plans like this. It is tedious, frustrating, degrading work. I see my colleagues’ lesson books, and although they are detailed, they are nowhere as detailed as the plans I’m required to submit. Essentially, I feel like a character in Orwell’s 1984. Ok, rant complete.

Here is the way I turn this inconvenience into an opportunity: I can (hopefully) turn these detailed, awe-inspiring lesson plans into something I can use in the future. I mean, I may need to do these for grad school, or for when I apply for National Board Certification. At that point I will probably give my administrator a great big smooch (which will probably be pretty awkward for him) and thank him for forcing me to do something that helped in the long run.

At the very least, I’m all set if I fall ill for a long spell, or if a new teacher comes in and needs my guidance.

Stranger things have happened.

3. Receiving poor marks on an official observation

I sigh as I write this, but I have been through this. I know…hard to believe, right? (This would be a great place for the new punctuation mark that was proposed a few years back to signify sarcasm). It was a really tough time, obviously, because it made me question my abilities as an educator. In the end, the poor marks were based on misconceptions and errors (not my own), but still, I felt like crap for weeks.

The mantra that got me through it was that any feedback, even negative, will help me become a better teacher. I tried my best to turn this setback into an opportunity to improve myself. This one is probably the hardest of the three examples I’ve given, but also one of the most beneficial. It is hard to learn how to accept criticism, but once you do you’ll be a better (and happier) person for it.

Alcohol also helps.

What all this boils down to is that you need to stay positive. Always. It is hard (so, SO hard on many days), but you will feel so much better. I promise.

If you don’t, I’ll buy you a drink.


I have a unique perspective on teaching. As a young guy, I still have that “world is my oyster” perspective on life, so I am more than willing to try new things in the pursuit of happiness. I have always been a naturally happy person and don’t shy away from trying to make others see that it’s easy to be happy! Thus, the blog you’re reading. The main impetus for actually putting all the work in to getting this blog up and running? A coworker stopped me in the hall one day and actually reprimanded me for being so smiley all the time. They actually said that I shouldn’t be so happy as a teacher! My response? Screw that! I SHOULD be happy. I now smile at that coworker EVERY time I see them…and usually say something like, “Isn’t this such great day to be a teacher?!” They don’t usually smile back… Don’t be like them.

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