Thursday, December 14, 2017

5 Tips for Going Strong into Winter Break

The winter break in my district is short this year. It's short every year. Probably so we get out of school at Memorial Day instead of going well into the month of June. Which is good, because Quinnmas is June 12th, and we don't want to be stuck in school for THAT. Because our winter break is short, we go right up until December 21st. It leaves less time for shopping, less time for travel, and makes some things more stressful around the holidays themselves. This last week of teaching kids, I know a lot of us are in survival mode. If we can tread water long enough, we'll make it. I get that feeling. I feel that feeling. But I also want to go into the break feeling good. Here are five tips to go strong into Winter Break. These would also apply to Spring Break, and Summer Break, and a Compound Fracture. Actually, avoid that last one.

1. Keep Teaching. 
This one seems pretty obvious. Like, it's our job. But with all of the other disruptions -- assemblies, dances, student body officers stopping by with singing telegrams and candy canes -- it can be easy to kind of throw up your hands and do Five Days of Christmas Movies between now and when you go on break. There are teachers that do. Personally, I hate classroom parties. I didn't like them as a student, I didn't like them as a teacher. If your students have seven classes, there's a good chance they'll have parties in at least four of them next week. I love the idea of being the teacher that they get a break from the partying and they actually get to do, like, school stuff. That doesn't mean you don't have fun. It doesn't mean you don't do something winter-themed or holiday-themed. You can mix it up with clips from Elf or A Muppet Christmas Carol or The Tale of the Merry Chupacabra. But get your content in there. Keep teaching. You'll have students complain, but also have as many be relieved that they get to do something.

2. Clean Your Room.
ZOMG this is the worst Play Like a PIRATE post ever. I heard that. Winter Break is nearly halfway through the school year. You've been teaching at least eighty days by now. Which, if you're like me (some of you aren't, and are completely tidy all the time, and God bless you, every one), you have...accrued...stacks of things. Graded papers. Ungraded papers. Projects. Post-It Notes. Books. Over the next week, do the kind of cleaning that you do at the end of the school year. A purge of the archaeological layers of schoolness that have already built up between September and now. Get the graded things back to students, finish the grading of the ones that you haven't. Get it out of the way so that when you come back in January, it's to a clean classroom. I know for a fact that I won't be losing weight over the holidays, but I can move a metric ton of stuff out of my classroom and feel good about it.

3. Let Them Have a Break, Let You Have a Break.
I have my students do a long-term project every quarter. It's the only "homework" thing I ever have them do. Even then, we do a lot of that in class. And I  have it due the week before Winter Break. I don't want my project (which I think is valuable and important and good) to ruin the holidays for my students and their families. I want to build goodwill with those families, not cause contention within them. So anything big, I'd have due before the break. The other piece of this is that you, yourself, deserve a break. I used to bring home those 210 (yeah. Utah. Big classes.) middle school projects, and would spend days grading them. I'd wait until after Christmas, but it would be a big, stressful chunk of my own holidays. When you lock your classroom door, do everything you can to leave that classroom behind you until January. It's not easy, because even when I'm not teaching, I'm a teacher. I'm always thinking about it. And that's cool. But take a break. You need it.

4. Be Healthy.
(He said, while caffeinating at 6:34 AM) we've already had one wave of flu hit us this season, things are a little congesty, it's cold and smoggy outside, it's dark and somewhat depressing. Find something each day of winter break that will improve your health. Your physical health, your emotional health. For some of us, that's doing things with family. But. For some of us, it's saying no to a family member asking us to do one more thing. Maybe it's only spending six hours with family instead of ten. (It sounds like I have more family issues than I actually do.) Sleep in. Get up early. Go to the gym. Go on a hike. Play with your dog. Eat some fruit and nuts instead of candy. There are as many ways to make healthy choices as there are to completely bottom out during the Winter Break...do what you can to make that break restful, but also rejuvenating. Taking a break doesn't mean going on a sugar bender for ten days.

5. Get Yourself Something Completely Unnecessary.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, they all have an element of gift-giving. Of generosity, of fun. If you don't celebrate any of those things you probably have fewer family issues than I do, you can do this too. Find something you want to do, and do it. That may mean buying a LEGO set for yourself. It may mean going to see The Last Jedi 27 times. It may mean planning a trip for later in the year (or going on one now). Teachers by nature give a lot. Time, energy, work, thought, love. Our careers are built on those things. Leading up to Christmas, I see my students and others who have great need, and I think I'm generous in donating to Sub for Santa and Toys for Tots and Angel Tree and Food Bank and all of the many ways I know families are hurting in December. I'm guessing you do too. And we should. I've been that kid, I've been blessed by the generosity of others. Don't forget yourself. I know some people only want practical gifts, and I'mma let you finish, but there is a time for something frivolous, something fun, something that will make you laugh. It doesn't have to be big, doesn't have to be expensive...but do something for you.

All of the images in this post are from P.J. McQuade, who has the most geektastic Christmas cards and ornaments you've ever seen. P.J.'s Etsy site is the place to buy them. I don't know P.J. But dang. Good stuff.

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