Posts Tagged 'Christmas'

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Incorporating Multiculturalism in the Classroom around the Holidays

xmas treeBy Nick Rocha – Teaching during the winter months can often inspire teachers to integrate Christmas symbols and topics into their classroom activities. The holiday season is a wonderful time to reflect on the previous year, spend time with friends and family, and show compassion to the less fortunate. But integrating Christmas traditions and practices into the curriculum can alienate students who do not share a similar faith or cannot afford presents under the tree. How can teachers instill the fundamental principles of Christmas, such as compassion and generosity, without isolating students?

The Christmas season and consumerism has been deeply connected. Many companies and industries advertise holiday deals and reinforce the idea that Christmas gifts should be something physical and material in nature. Telling students that they will be rewarded with physical goods for being “good” around Christmas time also reinforces that idea. Asking students specifically what they want for Christmas can bring about disappointment if their families cannot afford presents for the holidays.

According to the Child Defense Fund, more than one out of five children live in poverty, and the proportion increases to one out of four for children below the age of six. One method that teachers can utilize in the classroom is to ask students about what they are grateful for and focus on giving instead of receiving. This allows students to reflect and to appreciate the goodness that is around them without feeling disappointed or feel like they are in a contest with their peers.

The Christmas season can also bring about ethnocentrism. “The intensity of the Christmas curriculum in non-religiously affiliated schools and centers isolates children of minority faiths, while contributing to the development of ethnocentrism in majority children” (Schlachter, 1986). Highlighting Christmas traditions and symbols without highlighting other religious practices and holidays can advocate Christianity as superior over other religions. Teachers should appreciate multiculturalism and note that some students do not celebrate Christmas or have other religious celebrations throughout the year. Educators should allow students to be open about their religion and integrate other religious symbols and festivities (besides Christmas) into the curriculum so that no student feels left out.

Educators need to appreciate multicultural diversity in their classrooms and to take into consideration the socioeconomic status of each student. Christmas is a time to appreciate what we have and to teach students how to be compassionate and generous. Celebrating other religions and allowing students to explore their spirituality will bring about cultural appreciation and a greater understanding of diversity within the classroom.

Wishing You All a Very Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas ornament

The College of Education wishes you all a very Merry Christmas 

and hopes that your holiday celebrations are filled with

family, friends, laughs, and love.

Christmas Lessons from a Middle School Counselor

christmas-928332_960_720By Sabrina Bartels – While wrapping Christmas presents and listening to the Christmas station on Pandora, my husband began reading a Facebook post to me. The Facebook post not only sparked a lot of discussion between the two of us, but judging from the number of comments on the picture, it triggered a lot of thoughts and concerns in other people.

Here is what the post read:

Just a reminder to all you parents out there to be modest with your gifts from “Santa.” Not all parents have a ton of cash to spend on making their kids’ Christmas special, so it doesn’t make sense to have Santa give your kid a PlayStation4, a bike, and an iPad, while his best friend at school gets a new hat and mittens from Santa. You know? Give something small from Santa and make the more expensive presents from you.

You can explain the value of money to kids, but you can’t explain Santa’s discrimination to a heartbroken kid. Keep that in mind this year and always … 

As Rob and I digested this post, several thoughts came to mind. I thought about how there are students at my school whose parents can’t guarantee that they will receive a gift this year due to financial problems. For some of those kids, will Santa be able to give them anything at all? And then I think of the students who will get things from their families AND Santa. How will my less-fortunate students feel hearing that?

Now, to be fair, a lot of my eighth grade students are at the age where they are slowly realizing the truth about Santa. And I promise that I am NOT trying to criticize anyone for how they distribute presents. It’s just that this Facebook post made me actually stop and think about Christmas and Santa through a kid’s eyes. We have a number of students who still believe in Santa, and I would believe that a good majority of them think that Santa will either “forget” them this year, or that they were so sassy that Santa won’t bring them anything.

This always makes me sad, when you ask a student about their break, and they mention that they must not have been good, because Santa didn’t come for them. It’s times like this that I really wish I could win the lottery and give it to families who need the money.

As a counselor, there are so many things you can do to help keep the Christmas spirit alive in your students. If possible, do a gift-giving tree among your staff for students who are less fortunate. There are also some organizations who will take students’ names for their own gift-giving tree. When it comes time to give students the gifts, do so in a way that doesn’t arouse too much suspicion. We always tell our students that they won a Christmas raffle. While parents may know the truth, our kids think it’s fun. And since a lot of these kids are from struggling homes, they think it’s great that they win something!

I also am VERY mindful of how I talk to my students. I try to ask a lot of open-ended questions, like “what are you doing over break?” Asking students if they are excited for Santa or for presents may lead to some awkward feelings if the student’s family is struggling. When they come back from break, I do the same thing, so as not to call attention to the fact that they may, or may not, have had a visit from Santa.

Christmas is also a great time to recognize the staff you work with. As much love and devotion that I give my kids, I think my teachers do the same, but tenfold. They are with your good students, motivating them to reach their full potential. They are there for your sassier students when they are having a hard day, and are constantly supporting your students that occasionally fly under the radar. Recognizing the hard work your staff puts in will really make a difference!

And finally, just be there for your students, both right before the holiday break and right after. Holidays are often the hardest days, whether that’s due to parental discord, financial strain, or distant families. You are a constant for your students, and are so incredibly important to them!

The Greatest Gift of All

By Peggy Wuenstel — It is a common theme for a writing assignment during this season of the year, “What is the best/greatest/most life-changing gift you have ever received?”

Christmas-Gift

This has always been a difficult task for me. Christmases in my house were always joyful, full of redolent smells, jingling bells, and a house aglow with Christmas spirit and family togetherness. I have always loved the annual Christmas concerts, (Now politically correctly renamed Winter Sing) both as a performer and a spectator. Somehow the season does not begin for me until I hear the voices of young children.  There is something about these smiling faces, some with the proverbial front teeth missing, in their holiday finery that calls my Christmas spirit forth.

But it has never been about the gifts. I remember a wonderful, much longed for navy blue Nordic print sweater, hooded and tunic length, that I wore to a premature death. There were the unexpected  blue sapphire earrings and  necklace, that I am now making an effort to wear on more occasions than the most special ones. There is a grainy black and white photo of me opening a phonograph, but to be honest, I think I remember the snapshot more than the actual event.  This is not to say that my family was not generous and thoughtful in gift-giving. It was just not my favorite part of the holidays.

That changed a bit this year when I opened our chest of holiday ornaments. Many of the items within are gifts from children over the years. In the bottom drawer was a salt dough ornament that had valiantly outlived its predicted shelf life. It had disintegrated into a crumbly mass this year, stuck to the bottom of the drawer.  For more than two decades, it had held the green image of a tiny handprint from a former student named Geoffrey. His mother made it for me when he was just over a year old, while I was his speech pathologist. We lost Geoffrey several years ago as a teenager, but his spirit was alive every Christmas on my tree. And even though the tangible keepsake is gone, the gift still remains.

It took longer to decorate the tree this year, and not just because I am slowing down a bit. I looked at each ornament that I hung on the tree a bit differently this year. I remember where most of them originated. The ones with a personal message penned from a student or family bring back the strongest emotions. Gil, who connects with others despite the challenge of being on the Autism Spectrum added “Nice Snowman, Mrs. Wuenstel” to his creation. It never fails to bring a smile. There are the commercial-made, but personally chosen items than mean so much. The angels with personal thanks and the things in purple in recognition of my favorite color show that I am known and appreciated by the givers.

That is when it the recognition dawned, why I can never remember my favorite gifts. The most meaningful moments of my Christmases, past present, and hopefully future, have been about the opportunity to give. Teachers are endowed with this opportunity every day of their working lives. It is what keeps us fresh, and motivated, and inspired. It is not about the paycheck or the benefits or the retirement package. Although these things are important, and need to be a true reflection of educators’ worth in our society, they are  not WHY we show up ready to face a classroom each morning. We yearn to be known for who we are and what we do. We need to be appreciated for our commitment as much as for our skills and knowledge. It is so much more about what we give than what we get.

I read somewhere that if you measure your value by your bank balance, your accumulated possessions, and your physical attractiveness you will always be unhappy. Someone will always have more money and nicer things than you do. Someone will always be better looking. When I think about what has made my Christmases merry over my lifetime it has not been about what I have gotten, but what I have given. I remember bringing tears to senior’s eyes while caroling with the girl scouts. I relished decorating the house and setting the table. I remember my sons’ and grandchildren’s faces when they opened a carefully chosen gift. I will always cherish the joy with which students present a holiday gift. So now I can answer that thorny question: The greatest gift I have ever received is to be in a position to give.

I have the financial security to support causes and come to the aid of those in need. I can express my thanks to those I work with and who work for my welfare in the community. I have the education and drive to share my love of learning with children. I Teach.

Family First: What really matters during the holiday season

giftBy Sabrina Bong — After nearly half a year as a middle school counselor, I have started making a list of things I wish could be forbidden: girl drama, dating before high school, parents who have absolutely no interest in their child’s life, and parents who take a little bit too much of an interest in their child’s life.

But most of all, I wish I could eliminate poverty among the families in my school. As an intern, I knew that several of my students were struggling to get by: a lot of them were on free or reduced lunch, or came to school in the same dirty clothes for the entire week. But now that the holiday season is in full swing, I am seeing firsthand how poverty can frustrate a family.

This past month, I have had several families reach out to me, asking for help. Many times, the parents start off the phone call or email with, “I am so embarrassed to ask, but …” Some of the stories I have heard are absolutely heartbreaking: parents who have lost their jobs, parents who suddenly have more medical bills than they expected, or parents who lost their home and are now moving from friend to friend in an effort to keep their children fed and sheltered. Of course, this struggle has also meant that they are worried about creating a happy holiday for their children.

Sometimes, the students aren’t aware of this. But sometimes, you run into students who are painfully aware of their difficult circumstances. I remember one of my students coming into my office and telling me how, if he had any money, he would spend it on his little sister so she can get the Barbie she wants. When I asked him why he would do that, he explained that his sister was only in second grade, so it was more important that she get a toy instead of him. I was shocked. At the tender young age of 12, he was able to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, despite the circumstances.

As hard as it is to hear these stories, they also touch my heart. It is incredible hearing the selfless acts that people do in an effort to make Christmas a happy time for others. Teachers will willingly donate their time and money to ensure that their students get a little present. Local organizations have “giving trees,” where employees can pick the name of a child and buy them a present. Friends of students are making sure that everyone has a place to have Christmas dinner and celebrate.

Every day, I am thankful to have a job that I enjoy. It is a struggle on some days, but it is also a lot of fun. Most importantly, this job reminds me that I am incredibly blessed in life. Many of my students have been, unconsciously, showing me what really is important this holiday season. It is not the presents, the food, or the cards. Truly and simply, the holiday is about being with family. And whether family consists of parents, grandparents, or best friends, we should all be thankful for who we have surrounding us.

May you have a blessed Christmas season, and a wonderful start to 2014!


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