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
Your 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.
It 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
So 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
Some 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
Plan 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!