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Hello Winter Break!

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The weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break in an elementary school can sometimes feel like a countdown to crazy, fueled by tired teachers, excited children, and looming report cards. Add in regular holiday stress, mid-year testing, and the realization that half the school year has already flown by and you still have SO much to teach your kiddos, and the result can be downright exhaustion.

Of course as the years have gone by and I’ve become more experienced, I’ve learned some techniques for handling this stress. Please take them with a grain (or more) of salt.

limit expectations – yours, your students’, and your family’s

Grade every piece of paper? Nope

Plan the greatest lesson you’ve ever taught? Not likely

Organize three art projects and a family night? Not in December

Frozen pizza for dinner? Again? You bet

plan on getting sick

Kleenex Tissue Box.jpgYour students are germy. They cough on you during reading group. They hug you with hands that have wiped noses. They touch every surface in your classroom. They are averse to hand-washing. You have a custodian who loves to vacuum and do little else. More than likely you will get sick, in spite of washing your hands thirty times a day. Plan on it. Have sub plans ready and the number of a good sub available. Trust me on this one.

pull out the extra special bribes

Okay kids, if we manage to do a great job on these mid-year assessments not only will there be an extra recess, but there will be jolly ranchers for everyone!

add new books to the classroom library

Nothing gets kids excited about reading a book more than having it “sold” to them. Save up some of the books you get with your book order points for this time of year, then give short book talks to generate interest. Books go out to the class and you get engaged readers who have something productive to do.

keep careful records of all holiday gifts received from students

If a child or family is kind enough to remember you at holiday time with a card or gift you must acknowledge it and write a sweet thank you immediately. Don’t let kids just pile stuff up on a desk or table. Call them over and ask them if you have their permission to open their gift. They will say yes. They want to see your excitement. Let them see it.

81wpFtLNKsL._SY355_.jpgIt doesn’t matter if it’s a generous gift card, a bag of cookies, or a smoky old stuffed bunny that your student has decided they want to give you because they love you. Every gift is worthy of your profuse thanks. Yes, even a candy cane. Your kiddos deserve to see you happy as a result of their efforts. Write those thank you’s during your prep or lunch and let kids take them home the same day. It’s important.

don’t decorate your classroom for the holidays

grinchBanner1200x675.jpgSo many reasons for this one. First, not everyone celebrates, and if you’re a public school teacher you should try to respect this. Second, the more normal you keep the atmosphere, the more normal behavior tends to be. Third, it can be a lot of work to change decor, which leads us to the fourth reason (and in my mind the most important): nobody wants to come back from winter break to holiday decorations, and nobody wants to hang around on the last day before break taking them down. Just do yourself a favor and don’t do it.

it’s okay to give academic work

PAPER-AND-PENCIL.pngSome people seem to think that the weeks leading up to winter break are fair game for throwing the regular curriculum out the window and focusing on holiday themed activities. Seriously, people, kids are excited enough without you fueling the fire. Keep it academic and you’ll have far better behavior, and when you do get to the final day and let the students have some fun, they’ll appreciate it all the more.

movies and recess are your friends

Let me rephrase that. Movies and recess are your friends if you use them wisely. Our grade level generally does one movie before fall break (based on a book we’ve read), one before winter break (also based on a book), one before spring break (based on Greek mythology) and one on the last day of school. We also show a movie of a tall tale and compare and contrast it to the text. We don’t do blankets and stuffed animals and popcorn. Sticks in the mud? Maybe. But our kids are well behaved and enjoy themselves, and we get some time to work on things like entering grades and finishing report cards.

plan for January

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll do your plans over break. You’ll just end up dreading it. Get them done in December. Copy what you need for the first week back (or at least the first 3 days) and allow yourself to forget about it as you rest and recharge.

bring a big tote on the last day before break

112636_2253_41.jpgPlan on taking your gifts and goodies home with you. Nothing should be hanging around the classroom that reminds us of the holidays once school starts up again in January. See “don’t decorate” above for more information.

Now that I’ve shared my tips with you, I hope you have a tremendous winter break and truly use it to reconnect with family and friends, and to relax. You’re going to need all your energy when you get back to school for the big push toward spring testing!

 


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No November

unnamed.jpgI’m shocked at myself. For the past several years I’ve participated in NaBloPoMo, that crazy challenge to publish a blog post each day. Not only have I participated, I’ve been successful. This year, however, I did not. And by not, I mean NOT. Not one single post has graced this blog since October, and now here we are knee deep in the winter holiday season.

Of course there are reasons, but none of them are terribly compelling. I could have done it. Maybe not a post a day, but at least one post sometime during the month. But nope, I did not. In fact I hummed along day to day more of less ignoring the fact that I even have a blog. A blog which I’ve nurtured for the past five and a half years. A blog that I’ve poured my heart into, not to mention quite a few hours of my life. And yet, there it sat, neglected.

Well, I’m here to apologize. I apologize to anyone who has wondered where I’ve been. I apologize to my poor lonely blog (as if it has feelings). I apologize to myself. I deserve to take the time and spend the energy it takes to sort out my thoughts and share them, even if nobody reads them. I’m back, and hopefully I’ll be around for a long time to come.


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The Halloween Candy Quest

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This has been a bit of a challenging time for us. At the end of August my sweetheart unexpectedly ended up in the hospital for several days following emergency surgery. It was stressful to say the least. It’s taking a while for him to fully recover, and as a result the pace of our lives has slowed down.

I’m good with the slow down. I’m a homebody at heart, so spending evenings reading and watching Harry Potter for the millionth time on the weekend works for me just fine. The thing is, the outside world hasn’t slowed down. Time keeps passing, and we’re already days away from the annual Halloween hoards.

Let me explain. Our neighborhood is family friendly. Very family friendly. The street behind us, in particular. They do a huge Christmas light display every year, and bring in a horse-drawn carriage, hot cocoa, local school choirs, and more. For Halloween, it looks like something out of a Hallmark channel movie, with dozens of kids and families happily criss-crossing the street, filling their pumpkin shaped buckets with candy. It’s lovely. Incredible, and lovely.

Being on the back side of that, and across from the park, we get a lot of foot traffic as well. So much that it doesn’t pay to go inside and shut the door. For the past several years I’ve parked myself on the driveway with a tv table and a large bowl of candy. A second large bowl sits ready just inside the door. Bags of candy lay on the dining room table, waiting to be opened. My sweetheart delivers candy to me several times during the evening using this trade-off method.

We get the good candy. No crappy cheap stuff for us. After all, if there’s leftovers we’re going to eat them. We also get plenty. Running out just doesn’t seem like a good option. So far we’ve avoided toilet paper and eggs, but I don’t think those are too common in our neighborhood anyway.

Well, here’s the thing, we don’t have any candy yet. Normally we would be loaded and ready by now, but we haven’t gotten a thing. I also haven’t done any decorating. No outside lights, no cute pumpkin quilts hanging on the walls, not even the spooky haunted mansion tea-light holder. The decorations are all in the attic, which is accessible only by ladder. Normally my sweetheart gets them down, but this year that’s not possible. I could try to, but I just don’t feel motivated to take the risk of falling off the ladder (it’s a very real possibility).

So to recap: no decorations, no candy, no Halloween spirit.

Can we just turn off the light this year and hide in the back of the house?

No, that wouldn’t be right.

So off we go to the supermarket. They have a 50% off coupon on candy. The good stuff. Hopefully there’s some left. Happy Halloween.