By Nick McDaniels — Any classroom teacher will tell you that the week before the winter holiday break is a week that is seemingly filled with full moons. The students amazingly forget all the routines you have worked so hard to put in place and you are left scratching your head, hoping your supervisor doesn’t pop in and see children dancing like sugar plums throughout the classroom. All of us want to ensure that instruction continues up until break, but find ourselves searching for ways to curb the season’s enthusiasm.
If you are teaching in an impoverished area, you must understand the complexity of the situation before attempting to suppress the holiday happiness. The holiday happiness is not always happiness, but rather a reaction to the stress of a holiday season that might be marked by hunger, violence, and hopelessness. With that understood, there are a number of things a teacher can do to ensure that as much learning as possible takes place the week before the holidays and that the experience is rewarding for everyone.
- Unless you are incredibly comfortable with your students, avoid holiday-themed assignments that speak about love, religion, family, feasting. These could cause unnecessary longing and stress and result in negative behaviors.
- Do not assign work that is worth a lot of credit or will be difficult to make up. Because many students will have spotty attendance around the holiday season, making sure the assignments that are given will not severely penalize absent students will help minimize the compounding negativity that the holidays can sometimes carry.
- Redirect energy into positive ideas. Instead of trying to suppress student energy, redirect it into calm positiveness by playing music while students work and having student assignments be directed toward being giving toward others, rather than receiving from others.
- Be sure your students know that you will miss them over break. Even if this requires lying, students need to feel loved and wanted during the holidays. Explicitly talking about what you are preparing to learn about after break will help students to know that you are dedicated to teaching them and would rather be with them than home for a week.
- Know your students well enough to know which parents to call for negative reports and positive reports the week before break as you have the power to greatly influence a student’s holiday experience.
I realize that these ideas are somewhat unspecific and do not provide a foolproof way of maintaining sanity as a classroom teacher around the holidays. However, keeping in mind the fragile emotional period that the holidays represent for many students in poverty will only help you to be the positive force your students need this time of year.