Surviving December in the Classroom...With Sanity November 30 2009

December starts tomorrow!

Besides the first and last few weeks of school, December proves to be the most energy-draining of the year in a classroom. At this point, I've got these chaotic weeks before the Christmas holiday down to a science, but it took me several years. I've decided to include my top 5 ways to maintain sanity through the rest of this high-energy month with the kids in your classroom.

A Three-Week Plan

For years I worked with a teaching partner who called herself the "Door to Desk Planner." I'm not saying she didn't have her days or weeks planned, she just came up with better ideas at the last minute.

I learned from this strategy and still use it today. My plans are there more for my peace of mind than anything, because inevitably while I'm in the shower in the morning or driving to work, I'll think of something slightly better, more effective, or more fun. And because I've made pretty solid plans about the concepts I want to cover, I have the freedom to change them.

I encourage you right now to sit down and look at the next two to three weeks, and make a plan. What's on your building's schedule? Write it down in the planbook. Start looking through your files of holiday activities and plug them in to the calendar. I like to start with projects, like having my kids make presents for their parents and families. I start plugging that in two weeks before the break starts and the gifts HAVE to be done - invariably, students will be absent, there will be last-minute assemblies, the schedule will change or there will be a weather event. So two weeks ahead is a pretty good timeline. Then I plug into the schedule when I want them to wrap the gifts and make the card to accompany it - this is usually a day or two before school gets out for the break.

Now think about your other holiday or Christmas activities. Which ones are your favorites? Put those in first, making them a priority. Then plan around them, filling in the rest of the calendar the best that you can.

No matter how well you plan, there will be last minute changes. And there's nothing you can do about it, so it's not worth the stress of worrying! Plan that you will have to scrap some of your planned activities.

Activities Across the Curriculum

 I have favorite Christmas or holiday activities, and I try to keep a balance across the curriculum. For example, I like to include math worksheets and problem solvers that review relatively new skills. Other avenues to consider include:

  • Poetry and Art projects, including Christmas presents for parents/families
  • Diversity project, such as Christmas or Holidays Around the World, that could be a presentation or speech
  • Websites that will help with this or another holiday project or focus to use during technology times
  • Writing lesson plans - in a couple of days, I'll feature "What I Want for Christmas" to use in the classroom
  • Science lesson plans or experiments - one or two, depending on time
  • Videos, worksheets, stories and games

I used to try and ignore the holidays - this didn't work for me. I found that planning across the curriculum gives my students a perceived break from "regular schoolwork," just from making the subject matter match what's happening in the rest of our community during this time. I thought it might create more chaos, but it doesn't; in fact, I think students find it comforting, and they think it's fun.

Plan Plenty of Time to Finish

Something will happen during December to screw up your plans. Decide now what your most important projects are - for me, they are the present for parents and families and the diversity-focused project - and allow for plenty of time to finish. It might look like a lot of time now, but that "extra" time will be eaten up by unforseen changes. And if you're worried about having that "extra" time, don't - you'll have plenty of extra activities ready!

Photocopy Early

You've plugged in your favorite and most important activities into the schedule for the next two or three weeks - this doesn't mean you're done. What about those activities that are still fun but you might not have time for? Photocopy them now! You may need them in a pinch, and you won't have to worry about producing them at the last minute. And if you don't get to them, make packets and send the holiday activities home with your kids, offering a small prize for people who finish them and bring them back the first day school starts. Students will appreciate the prize, and they'll get some extra practice.

October is a dim memory, but keep in mind for next year that Fall is not too early to start photocopying materials for December. Call in some parent-helper reinforcements ASAP to get your materials copied and ready to go.

File Old Favorites

As you collect, print and photocopy activities for the next two or three weeks, make sure to keep a copy of everything for yourself, and file them away in an appropriately marked folder. Include a copy of your three-week plan to refer to next year when you sit down in front of the December calendar. You will most likely take away and add stuff each year, and that's great, I highly recommend it. However, your favorites will remain, giving comfort and sanity in this crazy time of year.