How to Have Better Bad Days

Bad days happen. They just do. Even when you’ve planned ahead and executed the exact same plan, flawlessly, a thousand times before. You get ready in plenty of time on bad days. You head out to the garage having remembered your laptop, your phone and your lunch. You feel proud of yourself. Then you hit the garage door opener and hear what sounds like a cannon blast going off a mere six inches above your head. The door doesn’t open; it won’t open. And that’s it: BOOM! Bad day.

There are maybe twenty-four days out of my professional calendar when I can’t afford cannon blasts, or flat tires, or sick kids, or pet “stuff” on the carpet, or any significant delays. I train new tutors three times a year. It’s an eight-day course, and to call it “intensive” would be a vast understatement. It’s something like a graduate course mixed with the lighter aspects of Clockwork Orange. Or maybe the scene that gives Slaughterhouse Five its name would be a better analogy. At any rate, today was one of those twenty-four days. And today, a cannon went off a mere six inches above my head. A coworker came to pick me up. I was fifteen minutes late.

Orton-Gillingham is considered an approach to language instruction, which sounds fairly casual, but it is a highly structured approach. So much so, in fact, that if even one piece of the lesson plan falls or is weak, the others lose integrity as well. By missing fifteen minutes, my class missed a chance to review the intricacies of at least three separate drills: reading deck, spelling drill, and concept deck. Without those three drills, you have no structured review to scaffold any new skill. Without those drills you have, basically, nothing.

What I had today, at about 9:45 this morning, was an anxious class of newbie tutors watching me walk in. And then they watched me awkwardly warm up my computer for, oh, five minutes. And then we dug in, but my rhythm felt off by just a bit. The newbies may not have noticed, but I certainly did.

Bad days happen, and drills are missed. Sometimes, in a suburban neighborhood, the briefest round of cannon fire will blow a day, and a lesson, to bits. But it’s not tragic. If a lesson must start late, the young students that we work with love to be read to, or to play an extended game of hangman using review words. It’s your time that they want more than anything, and your eyes on just them. Once I pulled myself together this morning, I put my game face on and reminded myself that adults really aren’t that much different than kids. It’s an easy theory to test, so I did. And it turns out that if you full-on smile into someone’s face, regardless of age, while at the same time really listening to them, then that’s all they’ll remember you did.


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