Friday, November 1, 2013

A Teacher's Thoughts on the Holiday Season

Today is Friday, November 1, 2013.

OK, Halloween is over, so that's one down.  My feelings about the year-end holiday season are still heavily influenced by my experience as a teacher.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas always represented serious interruptions to the normal schedule.  These days, with so much testing required at the beginning of the school year, teachers don't even get to establish much of a classroom routine until early October.  Much of October seems to be spent by kids Waiting for Halloween. 

I used to dread Halloween for several reasons, especially when it occurred at the beginning or the middle of the week.  For one thing, the time leading up to Halloween is very intense for kids, whose imagination is fired up by all the dress-up possibilities.  For the little kids, it's really cute, and they truly are what they dress up as.  A little boy in a pirate costume is a pirate.  A little girl really is a princess.  For some kids, Halloween is much more exciting than Christmas, and I have to admit that I was excited about it, too, when I was a child.  For teachers, this means that kids are not really paying much attention, especially the day or two before the actual holiday, and the older elementary kids seem to expect a class party for the last hour or so of school on Halloween day.  Since no other work will get done, most teachers either do a party or show a video. 

The day after Halloween is even worse, because the kids bring their entire stash of candy to school and munch on it all day, causing no end of sugar shock. The kids who were not allowed to go trick-or-treating are inevitably envious of the ones who did.  General goofiness, fights on the playground and other discipline problems tend to happen after Halloween, when the kids are all pumped up on sugar.  By the time the final bell rings, the teacher has had to peel kids off the walls and ceiling a number of times during the day.  At the end of the day, there are always quite a few extra candy wrappers all balled up under the desks and around the wastebasket thrown by those who are never going to make any basketball team, ever.

Eventually, everybody's stash gets eaten up and things return to normal at school for a little while, but quickly get thrown into high gear as report card time approaches. Thanksgiving doesn't make quite the dent in the kids' attention span that Halloween did, so it's not quite as hard to get kids to learn the material.  Thanksgiving is more of an adult holiday, and those who plan to entertain family for the day of thanks have their own reasons not to pay attention in school.  Fortunately, the kids don't generally expect a party before the Thanksgiving recess, but most teachers do play videos the last hour or so of school on Wednesday. The four-day weekend vacation is a godsend to teachers who are worn out from getting report cards ready and conducting parent conferences.  Unfortunately, many teachers spend the weekend entertaining family at home or visiting relatives, often a very stressful activity.

There is a short time in early December when a bit of work can be accomplished at school, but by this time, lots of kids are starting to get excited about Christmas, and their heads are filled with images of toys and games that they want Santa to bring.  On the last day before winter break, kids often come into the classroom, saying, "Do we have to do anything today?"  Good luck to anyone who tries to get them to focus
on anything academic.  Instead, the day is generally spent reading about Christmas, Hanukkah, and the new year, making holiday art projects, watching a video, listening to the school band or choir give a concert, and having a classroom winter holiday party.  If the weather is decent, recess might be a little longer that day, or the teacher might organize a game day, an afternoon of free reading, or extended time in the computer lab playing computer-based learning games.

F0rtunately, teachers don't have to deal much with New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.  When the kids come back to school in January, they have had their fun and are generally pretty quiet, although not for long, because Valentine's Day is just around the corner....  :-)

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