December is here. It's the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most trying time of the year for teachers. Between the projects, parties, programs, and general holiday excitement, students are... shall we say... slightly distracted from the learning. Here are some tips for staying sane and surviving for those three-ish weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break.
1. Maintain high behavioral expectations.Whatever your usual behavior plan is, stick to it! It's easy to tell yourself that this is the holidays, and kids are going to be a little crazy, and that's just how it is, but that attitude can totally backfire! When the teacher backs off of behavioral expectations, students know it immediately, and their behavior reflects it. Be sure students know that whatever the event, they are expected to behave appropriately. If that means you have to line up for the holiday play three times before leaving the classroom, so be it.
2. Stick to your routines.
There's a reason we use routines in the classroom. They make students feel comfortable, creating a sense of security. They're easy to implement, because your students already know the procedures and related rules.
During December, keep using those routines that have been working well all year. Keep up the morning work, guided reading groups, and math rotations. Set the expectation that these are regular school days, and we still have lots to learn and do before Christmas.
3. Incorporate some holiday fun... but keep it simple.
Just because you're sticking to your routines doesn't mean you have to do the same old work. During the holidays, try to find fun holiday activities that can be incorporated in to your regular routines. Swap out your math games for holiday versions. Put a holiday themed Roll-N-Write in your writing center. Use holiday books for your literacy instruction.
Do not, do not, do not plan a super involved holiday party with tons of crafts and high energy activities. This will stress you out and leave you exhausted on the last day before break. Instead, plan something low key and calm that will allow you to relax and enjoy the day with your students. I like to do a themed party with just a few snacks and a movie of some kind. This year, we're watching the movie version of the holiday book we'll be using for our literacy instruction for the week. (Tip: Use SignUpGenius to ask parents to send things in for your holiday party!)
4. Don't try to keep up with Mrs. Jones
We've all seen them - the extravagant holiday door decorations, the elaborately themed holiday parties, the handmade student gifts. They're all over Instagram, Pinterest, and teaching blogs. Resist the urge to try to keep up with all these teachers you don't even know. And while we're at it, resist the urge to keep up with Mrs. Jones down the hall, too.
Learn not to compare yourself with others. You are not a bad teacher if you don't give every student a handmade Christmas ornament with their name and a favorite hobby featured. Likewise, if that's something that's important to you, do it! Keep it simple. Pick and choose activities you will really enjoy. Figure out what will make your holidays brighter, and do THOSE things... not all the others.
5. Take care of yourself and your own family.
With everything else going on, it's easy to forget about yourself. Take some time out to relax this holiday season. Put schoolwork on the back burner to decorate the tree or bake cookies with your kids. Sit down and watch a holiday movie as a family - without a stack of papers to grade. Go to a holiday party. Drive around and see the Christmas lights. Relax!
A teaching mentor and friend once told me to have my lesson plans and copies ready to go for the first week of January before I left school on the last day before break. I am so thankful for her advice, because it has really allowed me to relax and enjoy family time during my Christmas break. Even if it means staying a little late that last day, I know I'll be able to relax for two weeks, not needing to think about school at all!
Above all, be sure to take time to enjoy the season... both at home and with your students! What tips do you have for staying sane during these busy, but fun weeks? I'd love for you to leave your ideas in the comments!