While out of the classroom and at a workshop a week ago, I looked ahead at the calendar and realized a few things. Due to workshops, trainings, and conferences, I will not be in my classroom with my students for a whole consecutive week until December 3rd. At that point, I will only have two full weeks with them before breaking for the winter. Where did the time go?!
It feels like only yesterday that I was getting to know my students and teaching beginning-of-the-year routines and expectations. This thought reminded me of how crazy busy this time of year is for me, both personally and professionally. Sometimes, I can let that thought of “craziness” wash over me and a little Grinch will emerge.
However, this year, as I have written about in previous blogs, I am really focusing on the quality of time, versus the quantity of time I have available. Even though the busy calendar makes me a little uneasy, I am choosing to be thankful for what that “busy-ness” really means… Quality time with family and friends who I love dearly.
This year has also been the year of focusing on empathy. I have tried, in all facets of my life, to maintain empathy for others. To really try and think about how it must be to live in another person’s shoes. Although I’ll admit that after maintaining empathy all day, it’s my husband who gets the least amount of empathy from me. Luckily, he’s simultaneously maintaining empathy for me because he is well-versed in the challenges of being teacher – he’s been married to one for 7 years and was raised by one before that.
With an empathetic mind, I thought about the holiday season, and what it means for my students. This is the time of year when people start “countdowns.” Countdown to Thanksgiving Break…. Countdown to Winter Break. Countdown to the time when I can sleep in a little longer, watch all four hours of the TODAY Show, and stay up late without the concern of the early alarm clock. For some of my students, “countdowns” to Thanksgiving and Winter breaks mean countdowns to a vacation, spending time with extended family, and the opening of many presents. For others, that “countdown” means something entirely different.
For some of our students, breaks from school mean a break in routine, expectations, and consistency. Their Christmas morning may look very different from their classmates’, and the thought of spending extended time with family may be layered with uneasiness. Knowing this, and maintaining that empathetic mind, I am going to be thoughtful in how I choose to talk about the upcoming breaks with my students and in how I spend my time with them during the school days leading up to those breaks.
First and foremost, I am going to maintain routines. Students thrive on routines (and let’s be real, so do I), and it provides stability for some of our neediest students. I will maintain our daily schedule, I will continue teaching in a way that shows them that school is still “in session,” and that we are here to work hard and have fun. Even when I am absent in these upcoming weeks to go “develop myself” as an educator, I will make sure that I leave meaningful and thoughtful lesson plans for my substitute. Again, this will be letting my students know that they can count on school to be a stable environment, with routines in place, every day it is in session.
I will also maintain expectations. This is the time of year when everyone is tired, and behavior can slip. Students are tired of making the right choices, and teachers can get tired of following through with expectations. In my experience, students’ misbehavior is always a form of communication. For some, they will misbehave at this time because they are anxious about NOT coming to school during break. Others will misbehave because they know vacation is ahead, and they are willing to see how far they can go before being held accountable. I will hold students accountable. It may be exhausting, and it may require more work on my end, more patience, more reminding language, etc…. But I will show my students how much I care about them by continuing to expect the best of them.
So as we look ahead to the holiday season, remember to be empathetic in our countdowns. Remember that a break from school is not something all children look forward to and that their behavior leading up to that break may reflect those feelings. Maintain routines and expectations so that our students can thrive. Our consistency in the classroom is a way to show our students that we value and care about each and every one of them.