Monday, December 16, 2013

Dear New Teacher: Some Advice for Your Winter Break

You have almost made it through the first half of your very first year teaching.  Seriously, this is HUGE.  The fact that you have survived thus far speaks highly of your willpower and commitment to the job.  I mean, I don't know any statistics or anything, but - based on my personal experience - I think it's probably accurate to say that one in three new teachers has a nervous breakdown some time during the first six months of teaching.  Maybe?

Honestly, it feels like NO time has passed since I was in your shoes.  I remember thinking, "how does anyone do this for twenty-five years?" and, now, here I am, going strong halfway through my seventh year in the classroom.  Time flies when you're having fun. ;)

The truth is, it does get easier.  This is a tough job.  You are probably never going to complain about being bored or be able to use your 1/2 hour of planning to surf YouTube videos, but second semester will be a little bit easier than the first, and so on and so on...  If you feel like your job is exhausting and (at times) seems never-ending, chances are... you're just doing it right.

For now, though, let's focus on the fact that 156 research papers, 35 thank you notes for tins of homemade cookies, and a staff potluck are all that stand between you and ten glorious days of "vacation."  #letthatsoakinforaminute.  At least for a couple of weeks, there is an end in sight, and you are almost there...

More than likely, your friends - the one that chose "regular" jobs and are lucky to get December 25th off from work are cursing you right now.  Also, I'm going to go ahead and give you permission to admit that the nice break schedule (hello summer!) was a least part of the reason you went in to teaching in the first place... But, let me clarify something for you and everyone else who things you've got it easy.  Teachers have those breaks because we NEED them.  Our physical and mental health DEPENDS on them.  You might go in to teaching for the lovely schedule; but, I assure you, anyone who has ever pulled back-to-back all-nighters to grade papers, had a student call them a b*@%$, or proctored a five hour standardized test knows that those breaks DO NOT keep you in this profession...  They are perks, yes.  But so is a one hour lunch break and a clear-cut stop-time.  Trust me, you've earned this little break...

Now, I know how you work.... You've already scheduled ten million things for your break.  You need to do ALL of your Christmas shopping/wrapping/cooking/decorating, you intend to plan for the next six weeks of classes, and you've promised yourself you will finally get around to organizing your basement and re-painting your bedroom because you never have any time anymore.  We teachers, we are nothing if not a little crazy! :)  Instead, dear new teacher, here's a little advice for your winter break: 

1. Prepare.  It's true, if you plan ahead a little bit and make sure your classroom is neat, your immediate "to do" list is complete, and you have something prepared for your first day back to work in January, you will enjoy your break more.  Even if you have to stay a little late on the last school day, it is worth it to walk away knowing you won't come back to a huge mess and an overwhelming pile of papers. 

2. Be realistic.  That huge bin of journals you brought home and planned to grade?  (I have one too.) You'll be lucky if you ever get them out of the car!  Be honest with yourself and your students.  I don't give my kids assignments over the holidays, so I tell them to expect that I won't be working either.  Those journals will still be there in two weeks.  Resist the urge to use this break as a time to catch up on ALL THE THINGS school related.  I promise, after a little break, you will be MUCH more productive and motivated. 

3. Rest. Don't set your alarm.  Go to bed early.  Spend a day in pjs watching Christmas movies.  I know you have things to get done; but, for the love, don't stay up all night baking cookies or scrubbing your baseboards.  You NEED this time to rest.  The WORST thing you can is go back to school in two weeks even more exhausted than when you left. 

4. Play. Almost as important as rest, you need to have some fun too.  Reconnect with your old self - the one who wasn't constantly thinking of lesson plans and grading tests.  Remember hobbies?  Schedule time to see friends you haven't connected with in a while.  Have adult conversations.  Read a good book just because.  Go to a movie.  Do the things that YOU like to do.   

5. Plan a "spring cleaning" day for the day you return.  I implemented this "tradition" a few years ago, and I love it.  That first day back is HARD.  You - and your students - need some time to ease back in to routine and work.  Plan for that resistance.  I love using my first day back as a "spring cleaning" day.  We review the class syllabus, talk about where we are headed in the next few weeks. And - literally - clean up the classroom.  Have the kids help you re-do your bulletin boards, organize your book shelves, and wipe down your furniture.  You will feel SO much better and ready to get going again on the second day back - especially with a clean room and a renewed focus. 

Believe me, these two weeks are going to FLY by; and, when they're gone, it's a long road to summer break...

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  1. This is so true! This is my third year teaching my own class, but I was a para for years before that. The one thing about being an art teacher at my school is that my group of kids changes at break so I get a fresh new set of 100+ kids to look forward to. Plus, this year is different as I've been on maternity leave since Halloween. I don't know what to look forward to in my room when I return but I'm not stressing out. I will go in the day before kids come back, maybe, to get my syllabus and expectations ready and get anything else ready but that's it. The rest of it, bulletin boards and so on, can wait until the first week or two. Most of mine either stay the same or change for the kids' work. But there's no grading or lesson planning needed and that's a relief!

  2. Love the spring cleaning idea! I give my kiddos a fresh class expectations sheet and gave them create goals for themselves for the second semester. 4 More days... #butwhoiscounting

  3. Thanks for this post! As a first year teacher I feel like celebrating the fact that I have (almost) made it this far. I can't believe how much work it has been but also how much I love it. I really like your suggestions to not work during break. I think that would definitely be good for my sanity, now if only I can stick to that. Good luck the last 4 days before break!

  4. Very helpful. I'll share this to my friends.

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  6. This being my 7th year as well, I would agree with every single one of these. I love the break as well!


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