Winter break is almost here, and everyone in the building is looking forward to the time off. Many teachers in my building are working hard to get that last bit of material covered or getting their students ready for one last assessment, anxious to get some time off. And we have to do all of this while shopping for presents and going to holiday parties and concerts.
So our break is well deserved. However, it can easily seem like we never had a break if we let it happen. If we spend too much time on schoolwork during winter break, we don’t have time to recharge. And if all we do is think about what we are going to do when we get back, it can seem like we’re working even if we aren’t really doing anything. Then we go back to school grumpy, complaining about how teachers really don’t get any time off at all.
Doing some work over break may be inevitable for some teachers. You may have a few papers or tests to grade, or you may be taking down Christmas decorations and putting up new ones. However, one way that I’ve found that saves my sanity over break is this:
Have your plans ready for the week you get back, especially on Monday.
I never leave the building to go on break without knowing exactly what I’m going to do when I get back. I will plan out my Monday more thoroughly than any other day of the year, because I don’t want that day hanging over my head for two weeks.
Here’s an example of why this is important. Last spring break my wife and I were planning a unit together that we were doing right after break (we teach the same class, but in different schools.) Our children weren’t on break, so we had plenty of uninterrupted time to figure out what we wanted to do. We put it off until break in part because we were still teaching the week before, but mostly because we had the time to do it then. Even though we didn’t spend all that much time planning – maybe a few hours each day – it still felt like we never really went on break because we had created PD for ourselves almost every day. To make matters worse, it was something neither of us had taught before, and this only compounded the anxiety.
Winter break can become like that if you’re not careful about managing your time. One of my rules for teaching that applies here is this: If I’m trying to decide which of many tasks to do, planning trumps grading.
When I’m choosing between whether to plan or grade, I always choose planning. During the school day, I get more stressed if I don’t have a good handle on what I’m doing in class than I do by a stack of papers I need to grade. If I find myself going through the day teaching good lessons that could have been great lessons with a little more planning, I feel frustrated and discouraged. If I’m properly planned for the day, I end the day with an “I’ve got this” confidence and it makes it a lot easier to tackle those papers when I get the chance. Grading will eventually get done; planning has to be done once the students arrive.
Therefore, starting two weeks before winter break, I start planning my lessons for after break even though I have grading to do. In particular I want to make sure that I have Monday nailed down, sometimes to the minute. I make my copies, leave my lesson plans on my desk, and allow myself the luxury of not thinking about what I’m teaching at all because I’ve got it covered. Here are some good tips for a back to school lesson:
Teach something you’re really familiar with.
In English 9 we’ll be doing Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which I’ve taught numerous times (it also involves some movie clips, which is always nice). I know exactly what I’ll be doing because I’ve taught it eight times.
Students will forget a lot over break. The first few days back in AP Lit we’ll be reviewing poetry terms and how to annotate a poem. I’m not really teaching anything I have to plan for – I can use material I’ve already created.
Stay off your feet and make the students do most of the work.
The first day back can be tiring, and standing in front of the class leading a discussion or covering material can be hard, especially on your voice which hasn’t been used vigorously for a couple of weeks. Try to have the students do the heavy lifting. They’ll be a little tired too, and an activity that keeps them engaged will be a good choice.
We’ll all probably have to do a little work over break, but look on the bright side- it will keep you engaged and focused on your job if you approach it the right way. Just don’t put it all off until the day before you go back or you’ll have it hanging over your head for two weeks. Enjoy your break and your time off. As teachers we get two weeks off at a very convenient time of year. Don’t spend your break worrying about what you’re going to do when you get back.
Would you like to read more great holiday tips from teachers? Check out Twelve Days of December page! There are lots of great giveaways too – like Target gift cards, Amazon gifts cards, and much more! Here’s a link to the giveaway: The 12 Days of December
Learning should be fun! Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store for fun comic resources like those below.